The independent audit of Senator Pamela Wallin's expenses has been referred to the RCMP by a Senate committee that is also imposing restrictions on her travel and asking her to repay more of her expenses.
The internal economy committee met Tuesday morning on Parliament Hill and agreed to a set of recommendations in response to the Deloitte audit it received Monday. The audit assessed more than $500,000 worth of Wallin's travel claims and determined whether they were all related to Senate business or not.
The RCMP referral and other recommendations are contained in the committee's report that says Wallin had an "unusual pattern" of stopping in Toronto, where she owns a condo, on her way from Ottawa to Saskatchewan, the province she was appointed to represent in 2009.
Between January 2009 and Sept. 30, 2012, Wallin made 95 trips between the nation's capital and Saskatchewan and 75 of them involved stops of one or more nights in Toronto, the auditors found.
The audit report contains a chart that outlines all of Wallin's expense claims — the amounts, the dates, the travel routes, and details of her trips, including whom she met with and other activities.
Expense claims were deemed appropriate if Wallin stayed over in Toronto in order to avoid a late arrival in Saskatchewan or if there was Senate business in Toronto. But the review found many instances where Wallin had said on her expense forms that she was on Senate business but in fact was not.
A 'different kind' of senator
Wallin attended Conservative Party fundraising events, for example, and the auditors also deemed her attendance at a Grey Cup Gala Dinner in Calgary in 2009 as non-Senate business.
The audit notes that Wallin was a board member for several private companies and non-profit organizations and served as chancellor of the University of Guelph from 2007 until 2011. She also regularly gave speeches at conferences and other events.
Wallin told the auditors that she was asked to be "a different kind" of senator, one who was more active in the community, and that she was told by Senator David Tkachuk early in her tenure that travel to events would be eligible for reimbursement.
On most of her expense claims Wallin said she was travelling for Senate business, but after interviewing Wallin, members of her staff and others, and reviewing her electronic calendars, expense claims, and other documents, the auditors determined she should reimburse the Senate $121,348.
Wallin has already paid $38,369 of that amount. She started repaying the Senate in November 2012, saying administrative errors led to her claiming expenses for personal travel. Her expenses were under review by the Senate at the time because it was alerted that "the purpose of travel and the travel patterns may not be compliant with Senate travel policies and guidelines," according to the audit.
The remaining amount Wallin is being asked to repay amounts to $82,979. She said Monday she would repay whatever amount she is asked to, even though she disputes the audit process.
The auditors identified a further $20,978 in expenses that they said are "subject to interpretation" and relate to "networking events" and other events including speeches. It will be up to the internal economy committee to decide whether the expenses should be allowed.
The audit found Wallin claimed a total of $532,508 in travel expenses between Jan. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2012, of which $390,182 was deemed appropriate.
"We found aspects of the Deloitte report very troubling," Senator George Furey said after the audit and report were released publicly. Furey wouldn't elaborate on what specifically he found troubling. He is one of the three senators on the internal economy subcommittee who wrote the report with the recommendations, which was then adopted by the whole committee.
"I don't want to pre-judge anything, nor do I want to be seen as giving any direction to the RCMP. They'll make those decisions I'm sure," he said. The RCMP had no comment.
The Liberal leader in the Senate, James Cowan, called the report "disturbing" and said asking the RCMP to look at the findings was "the right thing to do."
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal said the RCMP referral "disappoints" him, but that he's not opposed to it. "Politicians directing them to do this or sending them stuff I think is kind of pro forma and a little bit childish," he said on the CBC News Network. He added that he will be surprised if the RCMP find anything of interest, but said that's up to the Mounties to determine, as an independent police force.
Segal also noted that Wallin is being asked to pay back only a small portion of her total travel claims and that her housing allowance claims were also in order.
The Senate report also places restrictions on Wallin's future travel, recommending:
- The Senate only authorize direct flights or immediate connecting flights between Ottawa and Saskatchewan.
- All other itineraries be pre-approved by a Senate committee.
- All of Wallin's travel claims be monitored for the next year.
The Senate report also said that Deloitte "encountered inconsistencies" between the information given to them by Wallin and her assistant and what they learned through research and her electronic calendar. The inconsistencies have prompted "serious concerns," the committee report said, that "cannot be addressed and resolved internally."
Wallin, Tkachuk accounts clash
Wallin explained the changes she made to her calendar when she spoke to reporters on Monday. She said she was advised to make changes by Tkachuk, the former chair of the internal economy committee.
Tkachuk said Tuesday that her explanation for the changes "makes no sense whatsoever."
The two senators outline different versions of events in letters they sent to the Deloitte auditors, which were also released by the Senate. The letter from Wallin's lawyer, dated July 26, 2013, said Tkachuk told Wallin and her lawyer Deloitte was questioning 17 specific items in her claims.
Wallin's letter said Tkachuk had been prepared to approve almost all of the items but was voted down by the other senators on the subcommittee — Carolyn Stewart Olsen and Furey.
At the same meeting, Tkachuk advised Wallin and her lawyer, Wallin's letter goes on to say, the audit on her expenses had been expanded, and she would be better off not providing as much information about her travel claims.
Wallin's lawyer says Wallin took up "this perfectly logical advice" and in further submissions to the auditors she provided travel information only for Senate-related business, and not for other events, some personal, that may have happened on the same trip.
Deloitte was able to access both Wallin's original calendars and the modified ones.
In his own letter to Deloitte, Tkachuk denies giving a preliminary audit to Wallin, saying none existed. He also disputes Wallin's contention he would have approved all but one or two of her questionable claims.
Tkachuk finishes the letter by saying, "Regarding Senator Wallin's claim that I said she was providing too much information to the auditors, I want to make it clear that I was referring only to the information in her calendar."
Tkachuk defended his actions on Tuesday, saying he never told Wallin to do anything wrong.
"It makes no sense whatsoever," Tkachuk said. "I didn't ask her to change her calendar, all I did was I said when you submit your calendar I said make sure you put in relevant material and not irrelevant material."
Wallin calls process 'unfair'
Wallin pledged Monday to pay back every dollar she is asked to, with interest, but she disputed the audit process, calling it "flawed and unfair." She also said she never tried to mislead auditors by adjusting her calendar.
Tkachuk was clear that he didn't tell her to remove any party fundraising events, nor did he advise her on what was relevant or not for the auditors to see.
"I never told her to do anything like that," he told reporters. "All I told her was to make sure her calendar was clean. The audit was taking a long time, I wanted to move it ahead … it was a passing comment in an hour-long conversation where I said make sure you submit what you have to submit and leave all the irrelevant material off your calendar.
"If she did something wrong, no one told her to do it, certainly not me. I was chair of the audit committee. I was trying to move the process along, and I never ever told her to omit anything that was relevant."
Audit cost more than $126,000
He said it was up to Wallin, not him, to decide what was relevant, and he suggested that party fundraising events are items that would be relevant if she claimed expenses for them.
Wallin told reporters Monday that she only sought reimbursement for travel expenses she thought were proper and that where she had made mistakes, she has paid money back.
She also said the auditors were retroactively applying rule changes made in 2012 to expenses she claimed between 2009 and 2011 that were all approved by the Senate at the time. Now they are being disallowed, she said.
The Saskatchewan senator and former journalist said she has "serious concerns" about the audit but that she no longer wants the matter to be a burden and wants to focus on causes close to her heart.
Senator Gerard Comeau rejected Wallin's description of the audit process. "We happen to think that Deloitte did a tremendous job. We happen to view them as very professional," said Comeau, who is chair of the internal economy committee.
Audits were also done on senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb and were released in May. They focused more on their housing allowance claims than travel expenses. The RCMP is investigating all three senators for breach of trust.
Duffy is also being investigated for the $90,000 cheque written by Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright to cover his repayment to the Senate. Harb has been asked to pay back $240,000,and Brazeau has been asked to pay back $48,000. They are disputing the orders. No charges have been laid against any of the senators.
The NDP said the Wallin audit shows the Conservatives are using taxpayer dollars to campaign.
"For years Conservatives and Liberals have used the Senate as a partisan piggy bank to fund their fundraising and political campaigns. Canadians are fed up," NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said in a statement.
The cost of the Wallin audit originally started out at around $43,000, but the contract was amended and is now worth $126,998. The Deloitte contract for the audits on Brazeau, Duffy and Harb is worth $101,459.