Canada’s Senate, as you may be aware, is occasionally home to scandals related to its members' expense accounts.
Why, there was a rousing one just a few years ago that was fairly well covered in the media, if memory serves. It started with the suspension of three senators, segued into a criminal trial involving Prince Edward Island Senator Mike Duffy, a former prime minister’s chief of staff and a cheque for $90,172, and finished with Mr. Duffy’s acquittal.
Those events led senators to vow to be more respectful of taxpayers’ money and, just in case, also to tighten the rules around reporting expenses for travel, hospitality and living costs. Among other improvements, the Senate now posts quarterly records of members' expense claims online.
And yet now, we learn the Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration (CIBA) has told members to go ahead and fudge their budgets if they want to stay in nicer digs in Ottawa.
Senators who come from outside the capital region get $24,750 a year for meals and housing in Ottawa, money that is largely spent on rent or to defray the cost of home ownership. All senators get another $3,000 for “hospitality” (coffee, wine, chambré Camembert). The CIBA is now telling senators that, if they want to go over budget on their housing expenses, they can dip into any unused portions of their hospitality envelopes.
This sort of penny-ante book-cookery might be acceptable in a family-run business. But the Senate should operate at a higher standard and not find ways for members to play with the numbers at the public’s expense. If senators can’t stay within their allotted budgets, they can dip into their own pockets, not ours.
It is equally worrisome that, starting in September, senators will no longer have to file a monthly claim for housing costs, but will instead only be required to produce a relevant lease or a deed of ownership once a year.
The honour-based system has failed too often in the recent past for the Senate to expand it now. Senators are showing an indifference to public perception when they ought to be showing contrition.