Senator Patrick Brazeau says he will not pay back $48,000 in Senate expenses because he has evidence he was given the green light to claim the costs for an apartment in Ottawa.
In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Brazeau produced an email dated March 8, 2011, which he says is proof the Senate cleared him to file those expenses in the first place.
In the email, Brazeau's office asks the Senate, "given that Senator Brazeau is renting an apartment in Ottawa, will the rent be reimbursed only for the months when the Senate is sitting?"
Within the hour, the Senate replied "if the Senator is renting an apartment, he will have to submit a copy of the lease and the expenses will be reimbursed for all months and up to the budget limit."
Senators can claim up to $22,000 a year in living expenses, as long as their primary residence is at least 100 kilometres from Ottawa.
Brazeau declared his primary residence to be in Maniwaki, Que., about 135 kilometres from Ottawa.
Sent: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 Subject: Petite Question
Question from Brazeau's office to the Senate: "Advenant que le Sénateur Brazeau loue un appartement à Ottawa, le loyer est-il remboursé que pour les mois que le Sénat siège?"
Answer from the Senate to Brazeau's office: "Si le Sénateur loue un appartement, il devra soumettre une copie de son bail et les frais seront remboursés pour tous les mois jusqu'à concurrence de la limite du budget. Je mets le lien à la ligne directrice à cet effet (sur intrasen). Je te suggère d'en prendre connaissance et de m'appeller si tu as des questions."
"Under the rules at that time, and it's still the same rules now, all Senators had to do was declare where their primary residence was and that's it," Brazeau said.
"These rules have been in place long before I ever came to the Senate and people may not like the rules but they're there. And no rules were broken in my case."
The email response from the Senate included an internal Senate link with the rules.
"I suggest you familiarize yourself with it and call me if you have any questions," said the Senate email.
CBC News asked the bureaucrat who replied to Brazeau's office whether this email constituted an authorization of the Senator's expenses. The question was referred to the Senate communications office which declined to comment citing confidentiality rules.
Brazeau said he is being treated differently than Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin who are also under fire for claiming ineligible expenses.
"I was the only Senator that met the four criteria for primary residence. So why am I the one who is being asked to repay this money?"
However, Brazeau is not the only Senator disputing the Senate report's findings. Mac Harb quit the liberal caucus after he retained a lawyer to dispute that he ought to repay $100,000 for inappropriate housing expenses.
In a separate interview with The House, Charlie Angus, the NDP critic for Ethics, Access to Information and Privacy, said there is a double-standard being applied to these Senators.
"I'm certainly not going to defend Mr. Brazeau or Mr. Harb at all, but the fact is there appears to have been another set of standards for Mike Duffy and perhaps Pamela Wallin because the bigger issue with them is whether they are even entitled to sit in the Senate," Angus said.
Brazeau, who now sits as an independent after being forced out of the Conservative caucus because he is facing criminal charges for sexual assault, said it's easy to get kicked when you're down.
"I've become expendable… to the party and perhaps being the youngest Senator maybe it's easy to throw me under the bus," Brazeau said.
The independent Senator said he's not playing the victim card but simply trying to defend himself against the Senate's assertion that he broke the rules.
Investigations into expenses
The Opposition parties have called for several investigations into the Senate expenses controversy, including a request by the New Democrats to call an independent investigation into the decision by Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper's chief of staff, to give Duffy $90,000 so he could repay his share of ineligible expenses.
The NDP are also hoping an independent investigation would get to the bottom of allegations the government took part in a plot to suppress the results of an unflattering Senate investigation into Duffy's expenses.
"This suggests a level of planning and conspiracy that would involve many people besides Nigel Wright but it seems it was the Prime Minister's Office that was at the centre of this," Angus said.
The PMO maintains that Wright still enjoys the full confidence of the prime minister.
"Wright is extremely compromised right now. I don't think though that a resignation will change anything because the prime minister has said he supports his man — which means he supported that this secret cheque was cut," Angus said.
However, the PMO says Harper was not aware of Wright's arrangement with Duffy.
"The prime minister needs to explain himself and he needs to allow an independent investigation to happen, to tell us whether or not some larger conspiracy was afoot."
The PMO says it is co-operating with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson in this matter.
The NDP has also called on Elections Canada to investigate the spending of several Senators after media reports showed Duffy claimed expenses while he was campaiging for the party during the last federal election.
New Democrats also wrote to the Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard to determine whether Wright's so-called gift to Duffy is a violation of conflict of interest rules in the Senate under the Parliament of Canada Act.
The RCMP confirmed last weekend that it is examining the expenses reports of several Senators to see if a criminal investigation is warranted.
The growing controversy in the Senate could come up Tuesday morning when Harper meets with his caucus, one day earlier than usual, in order to accommodate official travel which will see him on a visit to Peru and Colombia from May 21 – 24 and away from Parliament.