Politics
Senators facing expense scrutiny

Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY

JESSICA MURPHY | QMI AGENCY

OTTAWA — As the Senate spending scandals unfolds, travel rules and spending in the upper chamber are under the microscope like never before.

Not only is the federal spending watchdog in the early stages of a complete Senate audit, but the Senate's travel policy is also under active review.

According to reports, Auditor General Michael Ferguson will comb through the expenses of all senators.

Senators voted in June to bring in Ferguson and give him a free rein to scrutinize individual travel, hospitality, housing claims and office expenses.

"As we have begun planning, the audit is underway," confirmed Ghislain Desjardins, with the watchdog's office.

In May, the Senate also adopted a report by the Internal Economy Committee that allows it to "make necessary consequential amendments to all existing policies and guidelines" related to travel.

Still, some senators say the rules — and checks and balances already in place — are adequate.

Liberal Sen. James Cowan said Thursday the system of regular internal and external audits already in place helped flag problems with beleaguered Sen. Pamela Wallin's travel claims.

"It's not the fault of the system," he said. "The system worked."

Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre said his government expects accountability.

"Every senator is responsible for their own individual expenditures," he said. "And we expect any ineligible expenses will be reimbursed to the taxpayer."

An independent audit into Wallin's claims — released early this week — revealed $121,000 in inappropriate expenses.

A three-member steering committee is reviewing a further $21,000 in questionable claims for networking events to see whether they count as legitimate Senate business. It's expected the

Conservative appointee will have to pay back at least of portion of that amount.

Committee member Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen said the committee asked the Senate's financial team for further research but that she doesn't yet have a dollar figure.

Wallin called the auditing process "flawed and unfair" but has promised to repay every dime.

Individual travel expenses of senators varies widely. Publicly disclosed amounts for the last financial quarter indicate 27 out of 105 senators billed more than $20,000 in travel — both to and from Ottawa and their home province and on other travel related to Senate business.

Committee-related travel alone costs taxpayers $200,000 to $800,000 a year, according to a contract for a travel agency tendered by the Senate last December.

Wallin's audit was referred Tuesday to the RCMP.

Conservative-appointed Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, as well as Liberal-appointed Mac Harb, are all currently under RCMP investigation over their housing expense claims.

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