CBC president Hubert Lacroix is apologizing to CBC staff and supporters for claiming $30,000 in expenses to which he wasn't entitled.
Lacroix, in his opening statement before a Senate committee studying the challenges facing the news organization, said both he and the CBC made an error in reimbursing his Ottawa business expenses.
"When I was told, I was stunned. I immediately asked for a full accounting and I voluntarily paid back every cent," Lacroix said.
"I want to apologize to my fellow employees at CBC/Radio-Canada.… We are now entering a period of great challenge, and I want to assure our CBCers and Radio-Canadiens that they can continue to have faith in their leaders. I also want to apologize to all those Canadians who support CBC/Radio-Canada for this careless error."
Lacroix said he's devoted to integrity and transparency and has spent most of his career in corporate governance. He called the error "deeply embarrassing" and said he was angry at himself for not clarifying the rules when he was hired.
"I'm deeply distressed that this could damage the integrity of CBC/Radio-Canada and its management of public resources," Lacroix said.
The Senate transport and communications committee is looking at the "changing environment of broadcasting and communications" and how that will affect the CBC. The committee started the study at the end of January.
An internal audit, made public last week, found Lacroix had been wrongly claiming accommodation costs since his 2008 appointment. Lacroix had been submitting claims for living expenses since he started his job as CEO and president of CBC on Jan. 1, 2008. He was also getting a $1,500 per month living allowance after deciding not to move to Ottawa, where the CBC is headquartered. Lacroix lives in Montreal.
The expense claims were approved despite an appendix to a CBC bylaw for director compensation that says the president is entitled to be paid reasonable travel and living expenses for CBC work "at any place other than the head office of the corporation," the auditors said in a memo about the review of Lacroix's expenses.
The audit said internal auditors and those who handle expense claims weren't aware of the rule, which had been in place since the 1990s.
"I'm not going to even try to understand what happened," Lacroix said, repeating how frustrating he found the matter.
Lacroix was asked pointedly why his total compensation and that of some CBC personalities' salaries aren't publicly available. Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, who chairs the committee, said those salaries are paid by taxpayers and they deserve to know how much is being paid.
"I think the public has seen how rigid we have been with our own colleagues," Housakos said. "We have a hard time, Mr. Lacroix, understanding why the CBC holds back certain information."
Lacroix says the salary ranges for all groups of employees are posted online, but that there are privacy concerns with posting individual salaries.
"Peter Mansbridge, his salary, [is] clearly competitive in an environment like we are. And there's all sorts of privacy legislation in the country that would prevent us from doing that," Lacroix said.
Lacroix was also questioned about a paid speaking engagement by Mansbridge, the CBC's chief correspondent. Liberal Senator Terry Mercer asked whether the engagement complied with the CBC's conflict of interest policy.
Lacroix said all of Mansbridge's speaking engagements are cleared with senior CBC management ahead of time.
"And each one is looked at to make sure there is no conflict of interest with respect ... to editorial coverage and to make sure that our rules are respected," Lacroix said.
"He knows that he never offers up his opinion or takes a position on anything that is in the news when he makes those speeches."