‘Uncomfortable’ with claim, senator repays part of stipend

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu makes a statement following Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson's announcement regarding an amendment to the Youth Criminal Justice Act to strengthen its handling of repeat young offenders in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 16, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press/Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press)

Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu is paying back part of a housing allowance he collected last year, saying he followed the rules but feels “uncomfortable with the claim.”

Mr. Boisvenu is the third senator to return money in recent months, as the Red Chamber struggles to contain a growing controversy over its members’ expenses. Four senators have had their claims sent to an external auditor for review and Conservative Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin, who are both being audited, have either repaid some expenses or promised to do so.

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At issue in Mr. Boisvenu’s case is a housing stipend available to senators who live more than 100 kilometres from Parliament Hill. The money is meant to cover their living expenses while they are in Ottawa on Senate business.

Mr. Boisvenu came under scrutiny this week after news reports suggested he had continued to collect the stipend after moving out of the Sherbrooke, Que., home he shared with his wife and into a new residence in Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa. The move was reportedly due to a breakdown in the couple’s relationship.

On Thursday, Mr. Boisvenu issued a statement saying he would pay back a portion of the money he charged to the Senate for living expenses last year, while insisting that he did not break any rules. Mr. Boisvenu said he stayed briefly with a person with whom he had a relationship while he was moving from one residence to another in the Ottawa area.

Several senators have confirmed that the relationship was with an aide who worked in Mr. Boisvenu’s office.

“While I was transitioning to new accommodations in summer 2012, I stayed for a short period of time with an individual with which I had a relationship,” Mr. Boisvenu said in the statement. “While this was within the rules, I feel uncomfortable with the claim and have fully repaid $907.”

Mr. Boisvenu has since moved into a new residence in Gatineau, but continues to return to his home in Sherbrooke, which he considers to be his primary residence, a source familiar with the situation said.

The assistant with whom Mr. Boisvenu stayed no longer works in his office, several senators have said. The Senate committee on the internal economy, which reviewed all members’ housing claims last month, said it is satisfied that Mr. Boisvenu’s residency and expense claims are in order.

“While no rules were broken, Senator Boisvenu has reimbursed the Senate for expenses the senator has stated were mistakenly claimed,” the committee’s chair, David Tkachuk, said in a written statement. “The committee is satisfied with Senator Boisvenu’s explanation and has closed this issue.”

The Senate has tightened rules on housing allowance claims since the controversy began and will require senators who claim the stipend to provide documentation annually that proves their primary residence is more than 100 kilometres away from Parliament Hill.

A separate, internal audit of Senate administrative matters is expected later this month, government Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton has said.

Former Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, Liberal Senator Mac Harb and Mr. Duffy are all being audited for their housing claims. Ms. Wallin is being audited over her travel expenses.

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