An ongoing Senate investigation into Pamela Wallin’s expenses will likely remain behind closed doors even though the Red Chamber opened up a similar probe into Mike Duffy’s claims earlier this week.
The Senate’s internal economy committee took the rare step of allowing reporters to attend a meeting on Mr. Duffy’s expenses after criticism that its report on an audit of the PEI senator’s expenses was softened from an earlier draft to reflect the fact that money claimed improperly had been repaid.
Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, who chairs the committee, said the report was written before committee members knew Mr. Duffy had received more than $90,000 from the Prime Minister’s chief of staff to help him make the repayment.
During the open meeting, the committee rewrote the report on Mr. Duffy’s claims to restore critical language that had been removed from the original, and voted to refer the senator’s claims to the RCMP.
Mr. Tkachuk said on Friday that he expects the committee to write its report on an audit of Ms. Wallin’s expenses behind closed doors.
“In the normal course of events, a report is written, you know, in camera. So unless the internal economy [committee] decides to do otherwise – which it may – it’ll be treated as an in-camera meeting according to the rules,” Mr. Tkachuk said. The audit and the committee’s report would be tabled in the Senate and made public, he said.
Mr. Tkachuk said Mr. Duffy’s situation is unique because he was given money to repay the expenses. The Prime Minister’s Office has said it is unaware of any payments beyond the money given to Mr. Duffy by Nigel Wright, who stepped down as chief of staff after the payment came to light. Mr. Tkachuk said on Friday that he “can’t imagine” Ms. Wallin being in a similar situation.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said Ms. Wallin’s case is being considered separate from that of Mr. Duffy. “There is an investigation ongoing; obviously we want that to proceed in due course prior to looking at it further,” she said in an interview, later adding: “Each case is different.”
But while Prime Minister Stephen Harper previously defended Ms. Wallin, saying earlier this year that he believed her spending was comparable to that of other Saskatchewan senators, he appeared to take a harder line this week.
“She obviously will not be readmitted [to caucus] unless those matters are resolved,” Mr. Harper said in Question Period on Wednesday. “If she has in any way acted improperly, she will be subject to the appropriate authorities and the consequences for those actions.”
Senate expense reports show that Ms. Wallin spent more than $375,000 between September, 2010, and February, 2013, with only a fraction listed as travel between Ottawa and her residence in Saskatchewan, the province she represents. Ms. Wallin has stated that she frequently stops in Toronto en route to Saskatchewan because there are no direct flights, and that some of those trips are recorded as “other travel.”
The committee told auditors in April that they should look at Ms. Wallin’s expenses for her entire term as a senator if necessary.
Ms. Wallin has repaid about $40,000, according to sources familiar with the process.
In addition to her Senate duties, Ms. Wallin is on the board of directors for Porter Airlines and Gluskin Sheff + Associates, a wealth-management company based in Toronto. The audit of her expenses is expected to be released this month, before the Senate rises for the summer.
Revelations about improper expense claims by Mr. Duffy and Senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau have spurred renewed calls to reform or abolish the Red Chamber. And the Conservatives faced repeated questions throughout the week about the payment to Mr. Duffy by Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff.
A spokesman from the Prime Minister’s Office revealed on Friday that the Prime Minister spoke with Mr. Duffy once during the audit of his expenses.
“Following a caucus meeting, Mr. Duffy approached the PM in the caucus room regarding the situation with his expenses. The PM was adamant that he should repay any inappropriate expenses,” Andrew MacDougall wrote in an e-mail on Friday.
A source who was in the room said Mr. Harper had just made a comment about the need for inappropriate claims to be repaid, without mentioning anyone specifically.
With a report from Josh Wingrove