A planned audit of senators' expenses will take months to complete and could result in more than one report on the findings, Canada's Auditor-General says.
Michael Ferguson met with members of the Senate's internal economy committee on Tuesday to discuss the scope and timing of the review. Senators voted last week to ask Mr. Ferguson's office to conduct a "comprehensive" audit of senators' expenses amid a damaging controversy over some senators' claims that has tarnished the Senate's reputation.
The Auditor-General tabled a report on the Senate's administration last year that raised concerns about the documentation senators presented to back up their expense claims. Mr. Ferguson said the new audit would be more detailed than the last, and go beyond administrative practices to look more closely at individual senators.
"We still have to determine exactly what we're going to look at, the whole scope of what we're going to deal with. But certainly one of the things that we will focus on is individual senators' claims; you know, how they're supported, and that type of thing," Mr. Ferguson said outside the committee meeting.
He said it was too early to tell whether all senators' expenses would be evaluated or whether the review would be limited to a smaller sample.
"Our understanding is that we will set the objectives, we will set what we want to look at and we don't expect that there will be any restraints on the work that we do," Mr. Ferguson said.
Conservative Senator Elizabeth Marshall said no limits will be placed on the information the Auditor-General can access. "I chair the audit committee and he certainly won't get any resistance from me."
The meeting was held shortly after Conservative Senator David Tkachuk announced he would step down as chair of the Senate's internal economy committee at the end of the week, citing health reasons. Another Conservative senator, Gerald Comeau, is expected to take his place as the committee prepares for the Auditor-General's review.
The committee was responsible for ordering a series of controversial audits of four senators' expense claims, three of which were made public earlier this year. Senators Mac Harb, Patrick Brazeau and Mike Duffy have been asked to repay tens of thousands of dollars in claims after their audits were completed. A separate audit of Senator Pamela Wallin's travel expenses is continuing.
Mr. Tkachuk said he will be stepping back from his role as committee chair to receive preventative treatment for cancer. He said he hopes to minimize his stress to give the treatment the best chance of succeeding. He will continue to be on the committee once a new chair is chosen.
"This is not a decision I came to easily. I do not like to leave jobs unfinished, but at the same time I do not want to add to the committee's problems," Mr. Tkachuk said.
The Saskatchewan senator faced criticism this spring after his committee softened the language of a report on Mr. Duffy's audit. Mr. Tkachuk said on Tuesday that any suggestion that he helped whitewash the report was "propaganda" from the Liberal Party. "Every report in the Senate is changed," he said. He has maintained that the report used less damning language for Mr. Duffy because he had already repaid the expenses in question.
The committee later restored the original language after it was revealed that Mr. Duffy had received money for the repayment from the Prime Minister's then-chief of staff.
The Canadian Press reported on Tuesday that the Senate subcommittee that has been dealing with Ms. Wallin's audit – also headed by Mr. Tkachuk – was warned 18 months ago about possible improper claims, citing Senate sources.
The committee has been under heavy scrutiny in recent months and unexpectedly opened its meeting to the media on Tuesday evening. It will meet again on Thursday to speak with the external auditors looking at Ms. Wallin's expense claims. The auditors, from Deloitte, have said they will need until the middle of the summer to complete their work.