The former Supreme Court justice who reviewed the disputed expenses of senators says the attention given to the issue will force members of the Senate to be more cautious about handling the money that is entrusted to them.
Ian Binnie, who was appointed to re-examine findings made last year by Auditor-General Michael Ferguson, reduced by half the combined amount that Mr. Ferguson said was owed by 14 senators who took issue with his assessment of their travel and housing reimbursements.
"The onus now is on the senator to really think, is this an expenditure that will stand up to serious scrutiny? Because odds are it will get serious scrutiny," Mr. Binnie told reporters.
At the same time, he said he was perplexed by the justification for some of the claims that were made.
"In some cases I was puzzled that an explanation would be put forward that to me just didn't make any sense," Mr. Binnie said. "I was surprised it would make sense [to] the people putting it forward."
While the final amounts that must be repaid by three of the 14 remain virtually unchanged after Mr. Binnie's report was released on Monday, many others saw significant reductions in the amounts they owe.
Mr. Ferguson said in a statement that he stands by his report of last year and remains convinced that the Senate needs to transform the way expenses are overseen and managed. His examination ended with 30 senators being cited for abuse of the public purse, either by wasting taxpayers' money or by getting the public to pick up their personal expenses.
Nine have since repaid, in full, the money the Auditor-General said they should not have taken. The remaining 21 are still on the hook for amounts that, after the readjustment by Mr. Binnie, range from $404.45 in the case of Senator Don Plett to $176,014 in the case of retired senator Rod Zimmer.
Those who owe money have 30 days to pay before the Senate will begin legal action to obtain it.
Mr. Binnie's findings come on the heels of a lengthy expense scandal that has seen Senator Mike Duffy charged with 31 offences including fraud and breach of trust. A judge is set to rule in his case next month.
Many of the senators who were found by the auditor to have misspent funds were indignant at being singled out in his report. And many said the rules of the Senate regarding spending were unclear.
Mr. Binnie said in his report that the policies governing Senate expenses must be interpreted with a degree of common sense but they are "workable in the hands of a senator who wishes to comply."
Last week, The Globe and Mail reported that the RCMP has dropped its investigation of 24 out of 30 senators whose expenses were found by the Auditor-General to be wrongly charged.
The only senator who took part in the special arbitration but whose case has not yet been dismissed by the RCMP is Colin Kenny, who sits as an independent Liberal. Mr. Binnie found Mr. Kenny still owed $27,458, compared with the $31,628 that the Auditor-General cited.
In a statement, Mr. Kenny said he will not be commenting on the report.
Some senators remain angry about Mr. Ferguson's report, which was conducted at the Senate's request. Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais, a former police officer who saw the amount he is required to reimburse the Senate reduced by 45 per cent as a result of Mr. Binnie's review, is so incensed by the auditor's findings that he has lodged a complaint against Mr. Ferguson with the College of Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario.
"When the auditor made his [report], he put my name in the newspaper, he attacked my integrity," Mr. Dagenais said in a telephone interview. "He is the Auditor-General of Canada and he made a mistake," he said. "It's a large mistake." But those who were talking to reporters on Monday seemed content with Mr. Binnie's revisions.
Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson, who represents Nunavut, charged the Senate for a legal opinion about his appointment, but both the auditor and Mr. Binnie said $13,762 was billed in the wrong fiscal year.
Mr. Patterson, who told The Globe and Mail he will be paying the money back, said Mr. Binnie did a "fair job" of hearing all points of view in his arbitration. "I thought it was excellent, it was informal," he said. "He allowed senators in my case to present the case themselves without complicated things with legal counsel and I was well-satisfied with the process."
Mr. Binnie gave Mr. Plett, a senator from Manitoba, "full marks for candour" for admitting he claimed a per diem on a personal stop to see a hockey game in Montreal.
"Listen, I mean, it was the Winnipeg Jets playing …" Mr. Plett had said in explaining the bill he had handed the Senate.
Other explanations left more questions than answers.
Retired Conservative Senator Terry Stratton said he travelled to Calgary with his wife in June, 2012, "at the request of my leadership" to deal with a person who had worked for the Conservative government who had "hooked up with a woman … let's just say, the two of them out in public caused … embarrassment to both to the (University of Calgary) and the (Senate of Canada)."
It was a sensitive issue, Mr. Stratton told Mr. Binnie, and one that could not be effectively handled by telephone. Mr. Binnie was unconvinced and said the retired senator had to pay the cost of the trip, which came to more than $3,000.
Senator David Tkachuk's claim for a trip to Vancouver with his wife to attend the 50th wedding anniversary of his colleague, Conservative senator Gerry St. Germain, who has since retired, was similarly unallowed. By way of explanation, Mr. Tkachuk told Mr. Binnie that he felt his attendance at the anniversary party was an exercise in "team building," and pointed out that Mr. Ferguson had to justify more than $23,000 that his own office had spent on "team building" events.
Kenny's expenses stand out
Of the 14 Senate expense cases he reviewed, special arbitrator Ian Binnie said the most serious is that of Senator Colin Kenny – one of six senators under RCMP investigation.
Mr. Binnie determined that Mr. Kenny owes $27,458 in travel expenses, down from the $31,628 originally referred to arbitration. In a statement, Mr. Kenny declined to comment.
During a two-year period, Mr. Kenny charged taxpayers more than $153,000 in total for travel to Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria and Edmonton and side trips, Mr. Binnie wrote in his report released on Monday.
"There's an air of artificiality about many of those trips," Mr. Binnie told reporters.
The report found the senator routinely charged for travel to meet journalists – including The Globe and Mail's national security reporter, Colin Freeze.
Mr. Kenny, who sits as a Senate Liberal, met with Mr. Freeze 17 times between April, 2011, and March, 2013, mostly over breakfast.
Mr. Binnie agreed with the Auditor-General that the meetings were "a pretext to go to Toronto the night before on personal business and have the Senate foot the hotel bill and other travel expenses." Mr. Kenny told Mr. Binnie it wasn't "unreasonable" to see his son and grandchildren while in town.
Mr. Kenny also charged taxpayers to meet journalists such as Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese, the CBC's Mark Kelley and Jonathan Kay, formerly of the National Post.
Editor's note: An earlier online version of this story said Senator Don Plett admitted he had expensed a trip from Ottawa to Montreal. Senator Plett admitted he claimed a per diem on a personal stop to see a hockey game in Montreal.
WHICH SENATOR GOT THEIR BILL REDUCED THE MOST?
In his report, former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie slashed the amount owed by 14 senators for the expenses. Here's the difference between the amounts referred to special arbitration by the Auditor-General and the amounts Mr. Binnie recommends be repaid to the Senate.
Senators Lowell Murray and Dennis Patterson are still on the hook for the full amounts the auditor asked for ($15,324 and $13,762, respectively). Robert Peterson and Terry Stratton got only some small change in savings: 39 cents and 30 cents.