Politics
Pressure ramped up over Senate housing expenses

New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Charlie Angus speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill.

Credits: REUTERS

JESSICA MURPHY | QMI AGENCY

OTTAWA -- Every senator could face an interrogation over their housing allowance as the government attempts to cool a political hot potato.

On Monday, Government Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton and Opposition leader James Cowan urged the Upper Chamber's board of internal economy in a letter to interview each senator who claimed a secondary residence allowance in order "to confirm the legitimacy of such claims."

And they want the funds repaid immediately with interest if they can't back up the claim.

Auditors are now scrutinizing each senator's health card, driver's licence, 2011 income tax return and voting records to ensure they are indeed residents in the provinces they represent.

The process began in January after questions were raised over Conservative senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Sen. Mac Harb's taxpayer-funded housing allowance.

Deloitte has been called in to independently audit the trio's housing declarations and expenses.

They're under fire for claiming living allowance costs for a "second residence" in the Ottawa region, when it appears they don't actually live in the houses they claim as their primary residence.

The opposition NDP continued to sling mud at the government over the allegations.

"Are there any other senators who have been breaking the rules and ripping off the taxpayers? Who are they?" NDP MP Charlie Angus asked during question period.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan responded the Red Chamber is going ahead with a "diligent" vetting of Senate housing expenses.

More senators could end up under the microscope when internal audit is finished - likely before March.
"This just became so political that I just wanted to have everything cleaned up," said Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk, who heads the board.

And while Tkachuk believes "99%" of the senatorial spending is above board, "we're just grinding away (on the files.)"

Meanwhile, the Conservative Senate caucus will move Tuesday to force Brazeau - out on bail on assault and sexual assault charges - to take a paid leave of absence.

LeBreton's office offered few details on the motion it would put forward to remove Brazeau from the Red Chamber, saying only it would be tabled shortly after 2 p.m.

Brazeau was kicked out of the Conservative caucus last week after his arrest Thursday morning at his home in Gatineau, Que.

The Tories recently punted the issue of Senate reform to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The government asked the top court for its legal opinion on the constitutionality of setting term limits for senators, the election by provinces of Senate nominees and Senate abolition.

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