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Latest Senate expense in spotlight underscores weak oversight, says NDP’s Angus

NDP MP Charlie Angus speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Feb. 16, 2012. Mr. Angus says an article in Montreal’s La Presse newspaper about Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu underscores that there isn’t enough oversight of the upper chamber.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

An opposition MP says a media report on a Conservative senator's expense claims is part of a disturbing pattern that points to bigger problems at the institution.

New Democrat Charlie Angus says an article in Montreal's La Presse newspaper about Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu underscores that there isn't enough oversight of the upper chamber.

"There's no other institution I know of in the world that allows you to walk out the door with $20,000 just on your word, so it raises questions, what else are they claiming," Angus said in an interview Saturday.

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La Presse says Boisvenu has been living in Gatineau, Que., just outside Ottawa in recent months – rather than at his primary residence in Sherbrooke, Que.

The newspaper says Boisvenu hasn't lived in their Sherbrooke condominium since he and his wife separated in February, 2012, despite claiming more than $20,000 for housing in the past 12 months.

Boisvenu told La Presse that he has done nothing wrong and his Sherbrooke home will remain his primary residence until they are officially divorced.

The Conservative senator who conducted probe into expense claims, Senator David Tkachuk, says Boisvenu satisfied all the residency questions – though he didn't respond to the specific allegations in the newspaper.

"Senator Boisvenu is among the 95 Senators who completely satisfied the residency questions," Tkachuk said in an e-mail Saturday.

"We have no concern in this regard."

Tkachuk declined a request for a phone interview and follow-up questions by -mail.

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Senators can claim up to $22,000 a year in living expenses as long as their primary residence is at least 100 kilometres from Ottawa.

As part of the Senate investigation, 98 sitting senators were asked for documentation by the committee, which reviewed their driver's licences, health cards and residency information on their income-tax returns.

It also looked at their travel expense claims to see if they lined up with their residency claims.

Angus dismissed the findings of the internal investigation led by Tkachuk when it was released last Thursday.

The Senate is in "full damage control and they'll say anything and do anything to get this scandal to go away," Angus earlier said in an interview on Thursday.

Only two senators didn't fully check out from their documents, according to the report. Senators Rod Zimmer and Dennis Patterson were cleared after being called in for interviews to explain their living arrangements.

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According to La Presse, Boisvenu was renting an apartment in Ottawa until September 2012, but then moved to Gatineau.

Boisvenu told the newspaper he still returns to the home every second weekend to meet with their lawyer and see his family. He said the Sherbrooke home still belongs to him and his wife.

Once the divorce is final, Boisvenu still plans on keeping a home in Sherbrooke, where his children and grandchildren reside, he told La Presse.

Neither Boisvenu nor his wife could be reached for comment on Saturday.

The expenses of four senators, meanwhile, continue to be examined by independent forensic auditors.

The auditors are looking at the housing allowances of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, Liberal Mac Harb and Senator Patrick Brazeau.

Auditors are also examining the travel expense claims of Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin.

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