Senator Pamela Wallin insists her home is Saskatchewan, in response to questions about whether she meets the residency requirements to sit in the Senate.
"The question of home is pretty clear to me," Wallin said from Ottawa Wednesday when asked where she lives. "Saskatchewan is my home. I have lived and worked and continue to work not only in Ottawa but around this country."
Senators are required to be residents of the province they represent, but according to Howard Leeson, political science professor emeritus at the University of Regina, since she was appointed in 2009, Wallin has given less than satisfactory answers to questions about her connection to the province.
"If she would simply say, 'Yes, I have a driver's licence. Yes, I have a health care card. Yes, I file my taxes from here,' that would clear it up," Leeson said. "But she hasn't done that."
In an interview with CBC Radio host Craig Lederhouse, Wallin said she has declared, for Senate officials, that her primary residence is in Saskatchewan.
Leeson, however, also noted that a review of Wallin's Senate travel records suggests, to him, that Wallin has gone for months at a time without stepping foot in Saskatchewan.
According to Leeson, in one quarter it appears she spent no money travelling to Saskatchewan, while in another quarter, it was just $90.
"She actually spent the lowest amount of any Saskatchewan senator travelling to and from Saskatchewan," Leeson said. "She has the highest expenses elsewhere other than Saskatchewan, of any senator — $163,000 travelling to other places."
Leeson, who once worked in former premier Roy Romanow's NDP government, has written a series of letters to the speaker of the Senate expressing his concern that Wallin doesn't meet the residency requirement.
Wallin, however, said the travel records can be misinterpreted.
"If I fly from Halifax, where I'm giving a speech or attending a conference, or if I fly from Toronto where I may be at an event or giving a speech or having meetings, whatever it may be, then if the trip doesn't originate in Ottawa then it doesn't count as a trip to my home province," she explained. "This is kind of a technical issue and I actually have been asking the Senate to deal with that for over a year now."
Wallin said that because she does a lot of public speaking, she ends up with most of her trips to Saskatchewan falling into the "other" category of travel.
She also noted that examples of residency, such as health cards and drivers' licences, are not specifically referenced in the declaration she makes about her primary residence.
"We just need to modernize a lot of things," she added.
She said a Senate committee is reviewing the issue.
Politics playing a role in the issue
Wallin also said she believes politics has played a role in the discussion about where she resides.
"We do have to consider that we live in a very political atmosphere," she said. "We have to take that into account when we look at the nature of the debate."
Wallin said it would be "naive" to assume the issue just "dropped from the sky."
In a column in Wednesday's edition of the Globe and Mail newspaper, Wallin said she "resides" in Wadena, Sask. — her hometown, where she owns property — and provided more details about her Saskatchewan connection.
"Last year I spent 168 days in my home province, not just with family, but participating in dozens and dozens of events," Wallin said in the column.
Wallin said she also owns a condo in Toronto and spent 94 days in Ottawa last year fulfilling her Senate duties.
In the newspaper article, Wallin also said she follows Senate rules on travel expenses.
Wallin is also disputing a CTV News report that says the Senate is auditing her for hundreds of thousands of dollars of travel expenses.
"I do not know from whom you received your information or how you or they came up with the numbers but the information and the allegation is inaccurate," Wallin said in an email to a CTV journalist, which her office made available Wednesday to other media.
"I certainly did willingly meet with a representative from Deloitte to review travel expenses and I answered all questions and have provided all the necessary information regarding claims."
Harper defends Wallin
Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended Wallin in exchanges during question period Wednesday.
"Senator Wallin spent last year, for instance, almost half of her time in the province she represents in the Senate and the costs are obviously travel to and from that province as any similar parliamentarian," Harper said in response to questions raised about what her travel expenses may reveal about her residency.