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Pierre Claude Nolin says 'big stories behind us' on Senate expenses

The Senate's newly chosen speaker, Conservative Pierre Claude Nolin, says the "processes are good" and the auditor general's expenses audit won't find serious problems. He also described how Prime Minister Stephen Harper turned white and pale in the Conservative caucus room on the day of the Parliament Hill shooting.

Senate's new speaker describes Prime Minister Stephen Harper as 'white, pale' during Hill shooting

New Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin says "the big stories are behind us" and he's not nervous about the auditor general's review of his colleagues' expenses. 3:11

Newly chosen Senate speaker Conservative Pierre Claude Nolin says the "processes are good" and he doesn't think the auditor general's expenses audit will find serious problems.

Meeting reporters in his new role on Thursday morning, Nolin said there's nothing the Senate can do about the fact  suspended senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin are soon eligible for their parliamentary pensions, having served six years since their appointments. 

Senators' rights can't be changed retroactively, he said.

In March, the Harper government included measures in its budget implementation bill to ensure the trio don't accrue pensionable service while under suspension for making allegedly fraudulent expense claims. It does not apply retroactively, but took effect when the changes passed.

When asked if he was nervous about what an ongoing audit might reveal about senators' use of expense accounts, he said "the big stories are behind us."

He speculated that Auditor General Michael Ferguson may disagree on senators' definitions of what constitutes a parliamentary function. He also said the audit might find examples of improperly charged lunches or Christmas cards mailed to the U.S. at extra expense.

"I don't like that," he said, "but we'll take it," pointing out that a June 2012 report was "clean."

"What happened between 2012 and now?" he said.

Nolin said a lot of money is being spent by Ferguson in order to do a thorough review.

Harper 'white, pale' during Hill shooting

Nolin, who was in the Conservative caucus room on the day of the shooting on Parliament Hill, also described his experience for reporters.

"I was glad that those doors were quite thick," he said.

"I saw my prime minister becoming white, pale," he added. 

"We are not trained for that. I’ve seen military training in the past, but when you go through it, you live through it, it’s not pleasant."

Nolin said the shooting was "a learning event for everybody" and said both the Senate and the House of Commons are modifying security to better protect everyone who works on Parliament Hill.

The new Speaker in the Senate, Pierre Claude Nolin, describes his experience in the Conservative caucus room during the shooting on Parliament Hill. 1:14

Time to fill vacancies?

Nolin, 64, represents Quebec in the Senate and was appointed by former prime minister Brian Mulroney at the end of his tenure in 1993.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his appointment as Speaker last week, succeeding Noel Kinsella, who retired.

On Thursday, Nolin said recent retirements were leaving a lot of vacancies in the Senate and affecting its ability to function.

"I don't think I'm getting a lot of calls from Canadians to name more senators right about now," Harper said, when asked about the vacancies at an event in Markham, Ont.

"From the government's standpoint, we're able to continue to pass our legislation through the Senate," he said. "So from our standpoint, the Senate is continuing to fulfil its function."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggests he isn't about to appoint new senators. 0:30

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