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The Senate of Canada building and Senate Chamber in Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2019.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Members of a Senate committee in charge of monitoring spending for the Upper House are headed to London on a $167,000 trip that another senator says they could replace with Zoom calls.

But the Senate is backing the budget request from the standing committee on audit and oversight, which wants to consult with their counterparts in Britain.

The senator who chairs the committee defended the plan on Tuesday, saying the committee is mindful of the cost to taxpayers and did not make the decision lightly.

“We are looking forward to having frank and open conversations with our U.K. colleagues and we hope to learn from the challenges they have faced,” Senator Marty Klyne said in a statement from his office.

The committee, created in 2020 out of a need for oversight of Senate spending, is responsible for overseeing the house’s internal and external audits, and selected financial reports. Since it was launched, the committee has been doing work to get organized.

The cost of running the Senate has been increasing although the number of senators has not.

Mr. Klyne, who is from Saskatchewan and was appointed to the Senate in 2018, released a breakdown of the budget for four senators, two external members of the committee and three staff to make the London trip.

It includes $66,300 in airfare, $32,400 in hotel accommodation for the delegation for six nights at $600 a night, a $246-a-day per diem, and $5,400 in taxis. There’s also $3,750 a day to rent meeting rooms, and $15,000 for two interpreters at $1,500 a day, as well as $7,525 to rent their equipment.

The senator noted that the exact timing of the fact-finding mission has not been determined so the exact number of travellers could be lower than budgeted.

When the trip came before the Senate last Thursday for a vote on releasing the funds, and confirming the permission to travel outside Canada, one senator raised a reservation.

“As we continue to talk about carbon footprints, and as we talk about challenges in terms of fiscal expenditures and reining in spending, why is it necessary for your committee to travel?” Frances Lankin asked in the Senate.

“Why couldn’t a series of appropriately established meetings be done over Zoom or some such function?”

But, at the time, Mr. Klyne said in-person meetings are necessary so the delegation members can participate in an “important knowledge transfer” from their British counterparts.

As for the Zoom option, Mr. Klyne said it was “a good and valid question,” but that the committees are dealing with sensitive information in terms of internal audits, and there are no public records available.

“Therefore we can’t review or watch what they are doing. We will probably have some very confidential discussions with them face to face during which they will share some information with us in that regard,” he said. “So it is very important that we do that face to face.”

Mr. Klyne listed several groups the Canadian senators hope to consult.

They include the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the Speakers Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the House of Commons audit committees, as well as the House of Lords audit and risk committee.

“The purpose of these meetings would be to have candid, in-person discussions on various audit and oversight matters, many of which would be sensitive or confidential in nature,” said Mr. Klyne, noting the audit committees and parliamentary standards committee do not hold public meetings.

On Tuesday, Franco Terrazzano, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said in a statement that audits are important but it seems senators are looking for an excuse to bill taxpayers for a trip to Britain.

“It’s hard to believe there’s no one in Canada to help senators with audits,” he wrote.

He also referenced the increasing costs associated with the Senate. “The cost of the Senate has ballooned,” Mr. Terrazzano wrote. “They should start actually saving money instead of taking an expensive international trip to learn how to save money.”

The budget approved last December to run the Senate in the 2023-24 fiscal year is $126.7-million, up from $74.5-million in expenditures in 2015-16.

Ms. Lankin did not respond to a request for comment.

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