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Auditor-General expected at Senate committee meeting on audits

Federal Auditor-General Michael Ferguson speaks to reporters in Ottawa in April, 2013.


Canada's Auditor-General is expected to appear at a meeting of the Senate's internal economy committee Tuesday to discuss plans for a comprehensive audit of senators' expenses.

The Red Chamber passed a motion last week to ask the Auditor-General to review expense claims amid a controversy that has damaged the Senate's reputation and led to growing calls for the institution to be abolished.

Three senators were ordered to return tens of thousands of dollars in housing expenses after audits of their claims were completed earlier this year. A separate audit of Senator Pamela Wallin's travel expenses is still ongoing.

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Michael Ferguson's office declined to confirm his appearance before the committee, saying it was not in a position to comment on Senate hearings. But the office of the Senate committee's clerk said Mr. Ferguson had been invited to the meeting, and a source with knowledge of the committee's work said Mr. Ferguson was expected to appear. The committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday evening after the Senate rises.

Last week, the Senate created a subcommittee to manage the proposed audit. The committee will be chaired by Senator Elizabeth Marshall, a former auditor general for Newfoundland and Labrador and a member of the internal economy committee.

Ms. Marshall said on Monday that it was not yet clear whether the audit would cover all senators' expenses or if it would look at a smaller sample instead. "Consideration will also have to be given as to what period of time … for example, it could cover one year or it could go back seven years as Finance retains financial records for 7 years," she wrote in an e-mail.

A spokeswoman from Mr. Ferguson's office said the Auditor-General does not make the scope of an audit public until the report is tabled.

The Auditor-General tabled a report on the Senate's administration last year that highlighted some of the same concerns that are at the centre of the current controversy. The report noted that documentation was sometimes missing from senators' claims for housing, hospitality and travel expenses and urged administrative staff to report problems to the Senate's internal economy committee.

Senators Mac Harb, Patrick Brazeau and Mike Duffy were each audited over their housing expenses. All three claimed a housing allowance to help cover the cost of maintaining a secondary residence in the Ottawa area. But external auditors found that they spent a majority of their time in and around the capital, and the internal economy committee ordered each to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in claims.

Ms. Wallin's audit, which focuses on her travel expenses, is not expected to be completed until the middle of the summer.

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