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LeBreton’s exit leaves Newfoundland senator in the spotlight on Senate’s reforms

Elizabeth Marshall, shown in 2004 when she was still Newfoundland’s health minister, was appointed by Stephen Harper to the Senate in 2010.


Marjory LeBreton's resignation as government leader in the Senate could shift attention to Tory Senator Elizabeth Marshall, a former auditor-general for Newfoundland and Labrador who is poised to play a central role in ongoing efforts to reform the Red Chamber.

Ms. Marshall was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in January, 2010, and serves as party whip in the Senate. She is chair of the Senate's recently established audit committee, a key role where she will be responsible for managing an in-depth review of the Senate and senators' expenses by the Auditor-General of Canada.

The review comes after Ms. LeBreton tabled a motion earlier this year to ask the Auditor-General to look at the Senate more closely amid a damaging scandal over improper expense claims. The review is expected to take at least several months, and possibly much longer. Auditor-General Michael Ferguson said last month that it could also result in more than one report, depending on the information he gathers.

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Ms. Marshall spent 30 years with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, according to a biography posted to the Senate's website, first as a public servant and later as an MHA and cabinet minister. She was auditor-general for the province from 1992 to 2002.

Currently, Ms. Marshall is a member of the internal economy committee and chairs the selection committee.

The federal Auditor-General tabled a report on the Senate's administration last year that was generally positive but raised concerns about the documentation senators were presenting to finance officials to back up their expense claims. Mr. Ferguson said last month that the upcoming audit will be more detailed than the last, and will go beyond administrative practices to look more closely at individual senators. He has not said if every senator will face a review, or if he will look at a smaller sampling.

Ms. Marshall said at the time that her committee would place no limits on the information the Auditor-General can access in the course of his review. "I chair the audit committee and he certainly won't get any resistance from me," she said.

She did not respond to an interview request about her role on the audit committee on Thursday.

She is said to have an excellent reputation among her colleagues for her integrity. Conservative Senator Gerald Comeau, who chairs the Senate's internal economy committee, said on Thursday that he views her as an ideal candidate for leading the auditor's review.

Earlier this year, Mr. Harper referred questions about Senate reform to the Supreme Court of Canada. The possible reforms include new fixed terms, retroactive term limits and provincial elections for Senate nominees. The government also asked for a review of a section of the Constitution Act that requires senators to hold property worth at least $4,000 in the region they were appointed to represent.

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A lawyer representing Senator Mac Harb said the former Liberal planned to write a cheque to the Senate for about $51,000 – the amount he was initially ordered to repay in improper expenses. Mr. Harb has filed an application for judicial review of the Senate decision, and his lawyer, Simon Ruel, said Thursday that the senator would be making the payment "under protest," and still maintains that the Senate's decision was illegal.

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