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The Conservative Senator in charge of the Senate's internal economy committee issued a reminder to finance officials at a recent meeting, asking them to keep an eye out for improper expense claims as Senators head back to their home regions for their summer break.
Gerald Comeau, who was appointed chair of the committee last month, said he asked staff to look out for possible patterns in improper claims and report any concerns to the Senate Clerk. Mr. Comeau told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday that he made the request because he wants to make sure any potential abuses of the system are flagged – and dealt with – as quickly as possible in the wake of a scandal over some members' expense claims.
"Mistakes can happen, occasionally, in claims," Mr. Comeau said. "Routine mistakes can be made, and they're picked up by the administration, and so be it. But if there's a pattern of something – this is what we'd like to know."
Earlier this year, independent auditors found that Senators Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau all spent more time in the Ottawa area than the locations they had called their primary residences. All had claimed living expenses meant only for those whose primary residence is located more than 100 kilometers away.
The auditors noted that the Senate's rules on residency-related expenses were unclear, but the committee disagreed and ordered each Senator to return the money they claimed over the audit period for living expenses.
After new questions were raised about Mr. Duffy's expenses during the 2011 election campaign, Senate finance officials compared their records with the auditors' report on Mr. Duffy's housing expenses.
They found that staff had reimbursed Mr. Duffy for per diems on 25 occasions when the Senator was not in the city. They also found that staff had rejected 24 claims made for days Mr. Duffy was not in the city, including a stretch of time when he was staying at his cottage in Prince Edward Island.
"We were kind of saying to ourselves, at a certain point there should have been some kind of a process by which this should have been reported. I'm not sure if it was or not. But what I'm saying is, if it wasn't, it should have been," Mr. Comeau said.
Senator Pamela Wallin, who is still waiting for the results of a separate audit of her expenses, has admitted that she claimed expenses for trips that were not Senate-related. She told CBC last month that the improper claims were made by mistake.
Concerns over Ms. Wallin's claims were reportedly flagged by Senate staff last year after they noticed some questionable claims.
Mr. Comeau said there is no new plan for reporting expense claim problems. Instead, administrative staff were asked to send concerns to the committee through the Senate Clerk – following the same procedure they were expected to use in the past.
He added that internal economy members have also advised other senators to watch their claims "but I think it's been more verbal than the issuance of a directive," he said. "Because they're supposed to know, that if you do file a claim you do it right."
Mr. Comeau took over as chair of the Senate's internal economy committee last month after the previous chair, Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, stepped down from the position for health reasons.
Kim Mackrael is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.