A former staffer to Liberal Senator Colin Kenny says she spent half her time in his office managing Kenny's personal appointments and expenses, including ordering his clothes online and finding him a personal trainer.
Pascale Brisson worked as an executive assistant to Kenny for more than two months, but left her job in September.
In an exclusive interview with Radio-Canada's Brigitte Bureau, Brisson said she quit because of her frustration at being told to perform mundane tasks, paid for by public money through her $40,000 annual salary.
"When I was working for Senator Kenny, I would say probably 50 per cent of my day was spent doing personal tasks for him," Brisson told Bureau.
"I had to book his personal training sessions. I had to pay his cleaning lady. I had to pay also his dog walker and give money to his son whenever he was out of town and his son needed to dog-sit the two dogs at the condo. I was also responsible for booking the handyman services at the senator's residence and to pay that person at the end of the contract."
Senate rules say senators aren’t allowed to use Senate resources for non-parliamentary reasons.
‘Certainly didn’t take half of her time’
Kenny said there’s an exception built in for minor, reasonable issues that don’t directly cost the Senate.
“She made appointments for me but these were all very short things that certainly didn't take half of her time,” Kenny said.
Brisson had to go through his personal expenses, Kenny said, because he uses the same credit card for Senate travel.
“Again, it was a very short period of time, not a long period of time," he added.
All of the money for Kenny's bills came from his personal bank account, Brisson said.
"I would access his online banking and pay his personal bills that way," she said.
Brisson said she paid Kenny’s personal bills almost every day, including hydro, cable, water, the security system and the senator's condo fees.
She said the executive assistant position is supposed to involve managing the office and its budget, as well as the senator's travel and travel claims.
Brisson is a fourth-year student in international economics and development at the University of Ottawa. She'd put her studies on hold to take the Senate job, but has gone back to school full-time since quitting.
Found personal trainer, handyman
When it came to finding Kenny a handyman and a personal trainer, Brisson said that meant getting estimates from three different providers, booking time with them and choosing the best deal before booking the actual appointments.
Kenny said Brisson was a former personal trainer so he asked her if the personal trainers’ rates were fair.
“She was responsible for keeping my schedule and it's like making a doctor's appointment. It's not unusual for somebody's executive assistant to make appointments for them,” Kenny said.
Brisson also booked the senator's personal medical appointments.
She was tasked with ordering custom-made shirts for Kenny, starting with making the appointment with the tailor to take measurements for his suits and shirts.
"After this appointment he would receive the clothes back from Hong Kong, coming in by mail. We would receive it in the office. I would open up the boxes, make sure everything is in there. He would try it on, either in the office or at home and let me know how it fit. On many occasions, the clothes [were] too small, too big or [they] didn't fit properly," Brisson said.
"He was also very particular about small details in his shirts, about the collar, the buttons. He would always ask to have his initials C.K. on the little pocket on his shirt. So if these initials were not in the proper font, I always had to send it back to Hong Kong, send them an email and ask them to fix the small details."
Brisson also ordered clothes online from Lands' End and L.L. Bean and was responsible for returning them if they didn't fit.
Tried to refuse
Brisson said she once refused to do a personal task.
"I wrote him a polite email, very diplomatic, saying I will do it this time, but next time I would prefer if you don't ask me to do any of your personal issues or personal tasks, because my salary is paid with the public funds and I don't feel that it would be ethical for me to do any personal things for you."
Kenny's response was polite but unwavering.
"He would consider that as a scheduling issue and that I am the one taking care of his schedule so I should be taking care of his doctors' appointments, trips, all that stuff," Brisson said.
Christian Rouillard, a professor of political studies at the University of Ottawa, said Senate political staff have very little recourse when they encounter problems with their bosses.
"It's a very difficult and delicate situation," he said.
"They're not part of the public service, they are not unionized."
Like staff in the offices of MPs, senators' staff answer to the senators themselves. They serve at the pleasure of the senator who hires them.
Could be 'beautiful institution'
It would be "a significant responsibility" to try by themselves to change how offices are run in the Senate, Rouillard said.
"I think it's asking way too much from an individual who is usually quite young, not a lot of experience, and [working] under very difficult conditions most of the time."
Ultimately, Rouillard said, it's up to the Senate to make sure those paid by public funds have acceptable work conditions.
"They should do everything they can: change policy, have regular contact or make it possible for [staff] to let them know if they are indeed facing any issue or challenge any problem with their work. It's about accountability in the end."
Brisson said she still believes in the institution and wants to see it improved.
"There's a lot of space for change in the Senate and it could be a beautiful institution if it was reformed," she said.
Brisson wants to see a voice for senators' staff who don't have any protection or rights.
"If these employees keep on working for senators or political staff without being in a union, without having any rights, without being able to talk about what's going on in their office ... there is always going to be abuse of power," Brisson said.