Pamela Wallin audit has opposition demanding Harper response
MPs and senators feel heat from public over expense scandal
Politicians are feeling the heat from angry constituents and members of the public about the Senate expense scandal.
In response, they're scrambling to assure the public they'll be more accountable and transparent in the future.
On Wednesday, both the Liberals and the NDP scheduled news conferences to react to Tuesday's release of an audit of Senator Pamela Wallin's expense accounts.
After the audit by the independent firm Deloitte calculated that over $120,000 of Wallin's travel claims over a 3½-year period did not qualify as being for Senate business, a committee of her fellow senators recommended she be ordered to pay the money back, and that limits be imposed on her Senate-related travel.
- Chris Hall: Clipping Pamela Wallin's wings
- Senate expenses: What you need to know
- 10 expenses Deloitte auditors found ineligible
- Pamela Wallin calls audit process 'flawed and unfair'
Wallin joins three other senators who have been ordered to repay money for inappropriate expense claims.
At a press conference Wednesday, the NDP's Paul Dewar said it was time to "roll up the red carpet" and abolish the Senate, a decades-old NDP position and one that NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has said he intends to campaign on in the next election.
Dewar also related that during the last election former NDP leader Jack Layton had asked then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to "call off your senators." Dewar explained that Liberal Senator David Smith co-chaired Ignatieff's election campaign, and the Deloitte audits revealed both Wallin and Senator Mike Duffy billed the Senate for partisan events.
"It's ridiculous and it's ancient and it needs to go," Dewar said about the nearly 150-year-old Senate.
"At the end of the day, I think most people understand that this is an institution that needs to be sent packing, period. So frankly, it's not just about the claims and if they're legitimate, it's about 'Is this body legitimate?' and we don't think it is."
After listing 10 questions for Harper, mainly about Conservative senators charging taxpayers for campaigning, Dewar demanded to know why senators are partisan at all, and why they're allowed to be members of party caucuses.
No rules against campaigning
Traditionally, senators have been considered to be partisan politicians as much as MPs are, and there's no rule that says they can't campaign in elections or attend party events. They just can't send the Senate a bill for expenses they might incur campaigning or taking part in party events.
At an earlier news conference Wednesday, Liberal Senate leader James Cowan questioned why Harper initially defended Wallin and described her travel claims as "in line" with other Saskatchewan senators. Cowan pointed out that Wallin's pattern of charging far more for "other" travel, which is travel outside of going back and forth from a senator's home province, was far higher than most senators.
"This is the senator that the prime minister defended in the House of Commons, saying that he had reviewed her expenses and that they were in line. They clearly were not," Cowan told reporters.
He also pointed to the fact the Senate has unanimously voted to invite the auditor general to look at senators' expenses. He added politicians have been feeling the public's wrath.
"This has reflected on all of us, all of us feel the pressure in our own communities and feel the heat about it. I think it's fair to say there is some anger, there's some disappointment."
In a separate interview, Liberal Senator George Baker praised the initiative, saying, "The auditor general is looking at everything," although Michael Ferguson told a Senate committee in June he could not say if he would examine every senator's expenses or just a sample, or whether he would name errant senators.
A spokesperson for the auditor general told CBC News the audit is now underway. Ghislain Desjardins added, "We’re not commenting on the audit, on the scope of the audit, on the way the audit is going to unfold, on our methodology, etc., as long as the audit is still ongoing."
Baker did blast MPs for not following suit and inviting the auditor general to put their expenses under the microscope. "If I were mining for gold, I'd go right there with the pan," he said, meaning the House of Commons.
Baker continued, pointing out he was an MP for 29 years before his Senate appointment, "There are three times as many people over there. They have much greater budgets over there. They have much more leeway in their spending over there. They're not micromanaged like some people are in society. So I imagine the same thing would result and you may have down the road criminal charges laid, and you may see some people go to jail."
Baker, as a Liberal Senator, will have to join Liberal MPs in September and begin posting his expenses online in fine detail, enumerating every trip and its cost. Publicizing expenses was a promise made by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who has also publicly disclosed his personal finances.
Presently, only Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and newly appointed Conservative Senator Doug Black post detailed parliamentary expenses online, down to the cost of each airline ticket and the amount paid for the office coffee pot.
All other MPs and senators post expenses in broad categories with lump sums listed for travel or housing, but without any breakdown.