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Politics Auditors called to committee as Wallin expense review stretches into summer

Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin prepares to chair the Senate national security and defence committee in Ottawa on Feb. 25, 2013.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

An ongoing audit of Senator Pamela Wallin's expenses could continue until the middle of the summer, well after most parliamentarians have left Ottawa.

Members of the Senate's internal economy committee learned on Thursday that the independent auditors reviewing Ms. Wallin's expense claims have said they would need until the middle of the summer to complete their work. They were initially focused on an 18-month period, but have extended the review to cover at least an additional year of her time as a senator.

Conservative and Liberal senators on the committee – which requested the audit of Ms. Wallin's spending – met behind closed doors on Thursday morning and decided to call auditors from Deloitte to appear at their meeting next week, according to a source.

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Committee members are expected to ask the auditors why the process has taken so long when some had hoped the audit could be made public in the coming weeks.

Ms. Wallin has so far paid back about $38,000 in expenses, according to a source with knowledge of the repayments. Ms. Wallin has repeatedly declined to comment on whether she has repaid money to the Senate, saying that she would wait until the audit is finished.

The audit is focused on her travel expenses. Sources have said that she came under scrutiny partly because only a small proportion of her flights involved trips to Saskatchewan, the province she represents in the Senate. Ms. Wallin has said she often travels to Toronto and then continues on to Saskatchewan later.

News that her audit will not be resolved before the summer break came as Senators voted in favour of a Conservative motion asking the Auditor-General to conduct a comprehensive review of members' expenses. The opposition Liberals supported the motion, but said they viewed it as a distraction from questions about money that was paid to Senator Mike Duffy earlier this year.

The Prime Minister's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned last month after it was revealed that he secretly gave Mr. Duffy more than $90,000 to help him repay improper expenses.

The Senate formed a subcommittee on Thursday to manage the planned audit of members' expenses, which will be chaired by Conservative Senator Beth Marshall. Ms. Marshall is a former auditor-general for Newfoundland and Labrador and a member of the Senate's internal economy committee.

It was not immediately clear how long the audit would take. A spokeswoman from the Office of the Auditor-General said on Thursday morning that the office had not received any formal correspondence from the Senate.

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Liberal Senator James Cowan, leader of the opposition in the Senate, announced on Thursday that he will introduce a separate motion calling on the Auditor-General to audit expenses in the Prime Minister's Office.

News reports have suggested the PMO has a special fund that draws on Conservative Party donations to pay some partisan expenses. The PMO said there "is no separate fund" for this purpose.

Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said the organization does cover partisan activities, and that party funds – some of which come from taxpayers through tax credits and per-vote subsidies – were not used for Mr. Duffy's repayment.

"In order to ensure that partisan activities undertaken by the Prime Minister are never billed to taxpayers, the Conservative Party covers some legitimate expenses, such as party events that he attends," Mr. DeLorey said. "All funds spent by the Conservative Party are appropriately accounted for in yearly returns to Elections Canada."

Mr. Cowan said he wants the Auditor-General to look at payments made by anyone in the Prime Minister's Office to parliamentarians and for a message to be sent to the House of Commons asking MPs to support the idea. "The answers need to come from the Prime Minister's Office and I think the Auditor-General is an appropriate vehicle to get those answers," he said.

The motion will come up for debate next week. Senator Marjory LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate, said on Thursday that she does not believe the Senate should concern itself with the Prime Minister's Office.

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"If you look at it from the Senate's perspective, in terms of Senate resources, taxpayer dollars, it's an interesting motion but actually, I don't see how it fits within the purview of something that can be investigated," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Auditor-General wrote in an e-mail that the office has not audited the Prime Minister's Office, but "has the authority to audit the expenditure of public funds."

With a report from Steven Chase

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