Two Conservative MPs who hosted fundraising events featuring Senator Pamela Wallin say they didn't know she had billed taxpayers for travel costs.
Ms. Wallin attended events for Harold Albrecht and Kellie Leitch that were flagged by auditors in a report released this week. All told, the report found Ms. Wallin claimed $121,000 in improper expenses, some of it for partisan work.
In the case of Mr. Albrecht, who represents the riding of Kitchener-Conestoga, Ms. Wallin told auditors she spoke at a Sept. 18, 2010, event about "Canada's role in Afghanistan and Canada no longer being a spectator nation." The announcement for the event, however, doesn't make any reference to those topics. Instead, it was a fundraiser called simply a "Big Tent Event at Harold's farm, with Senator Pamela Wallin." Tickets were $20 each, or $60 for a family, and featured "food, camaraderie, hayrides and a very special guest." Auditors say Ms. Wallin should pay back $689.08 for a flight to Toronto, where Mr. Albrecht's office says she was picked up by one of its volunteers.
Mr. Albrecht's assistant, David Drewe, said the MP wasn't available for comment, but that he knew of "no communication regarding what the senator's activities in Toronto entailed."
The Jan. 17, 2011, fundraising event for Dr. Leitch featured Ms. Wallin, but took place before Dr. Leitch was an MP and two months before she won the Conservative nomination. She was a star candidate who ousted former Conservative MP Helena Guergis, who was running as an independent in Simcoe-Grey. Dr. Leitch is now Minister of Labour and for Status of Women. Auditors have asked the Senate to rule on whether this "networking" event, and several others, count as Senate business, and stopped short of suggesting Ms. Wallin pay back $119 in expenses for the Leitch event.
"Min. Leitch has no knowledge of what expenses Senator Wallin claimed. However, if any inappropriate claims were filed, we expect that they be repaid," Dr. Leitch's spokesman, Jan O'Driscoll, said in a statement.
Ms. Wallin was unavailable for comment. She has said the audit process was flawed and unfair, but acknowledged she "made mistakes" in her paperwork. NDP critic Paul Dewar said campaigns that brought in Ms. Wallin ought to have asked about her travel costs. "If they didn't ask the question or think it was important, it's because they just thought this was the way business was done. And that's a problem," he said.
Auditors raised concerns about events Ms. Wallin headlined for MPs Lynne Yelich, Brad Trost, Maurice Vellacott and Kelly Block, and Ontario provincial MPPs Rob Milligan and Lisa MacLeod, or their respective riding associations. All six didn't return messages on Wednesday. Ms. Wallin was a regular on the campaign trail, but events with several other MPs weren't red-flagged by auditors.
Ms. Wallin also filed $1,043.06 in Senate expenses to attend two events featuring or hosted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself, each of which auditors said wasn't actually Senate business. Mr. Harper's office once again distanced itself from Ms. Wallin on Wednesday. "We expect that any inappropriate expenses will be repaid. Senator Wallin is no longer a member of the Caucus and must be held accountable for her actions," Mr. Harper's top spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, said.
Ms. Wallin also billed $235.28 for a campaign stop made at the request of the Conservative Party, which auditors say should be paid back. The party, too, sought to distance itself. "These expenses were filed by Senator Wallin. Questions about them should be addressed to her," spokesman Fred DeLorey said.