Senator separated from wife still claiming living expenses

A Quebec senator is making no apologies for collecting a housing allowance of more than $20,000 despite living little more than a drive across a bridge from Parliament.

Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu says living arrangements a private matter as divorce proceeds

Senator Pierre Hugues Boisvenu, left, who lost his daughter in a crime, has appeared frequently with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other ministers to promote government measures to support victims of crime. Since splitting from his wife, the senator has lived a only short drive from Parliament Hill but still claims living expenses based on his previous marital home. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

A Quebec senator is making no apologies for collecting a housing allowance despite living little more than a drive across a bridge from Parliament.

Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu says the payments, reportedly more than $20,000, are legitimately within Senate rules.

Boisvenu says he has proven that his primary residence is in Sherbrooke, Que. and his secondary residence is in Gatineau, Que., just outside Ottawa.

According to a source, Boisvenu hasn't lived in their Sherbrooke condominium since he and his wife separated in February 2012.

Boisvenu told The Canadian Press that he's in the process of separating from his wife and that the issue should be a private matter.

Senators can claim up to $22,000 a year in living expenses, as long as their primary residence is at least 100 kilometres from Ottawa.

He says he's in compliance with the Senate guidelines.

"I provided all the documents that show that my primary residence is in Sherbrooke and my secondary residence is here (in Gatineau)," he said by phone Sunday.

"When the divorce is made official I'll have a decision to make."

Boisvenu acknowledged that many of his clothes and belongings were with him in Gatineau, but he said he has regularly returned to Sherbrooke in recent months to meet with a divorce lawyer and stays at the home when he does.

Boisvenu not part of ongoing investigation

As part of the Senate investigation, sitting senators were asked for documentation by the committee, which reviewed their driver's licences, health cards and residency information on their income-tax returns.

It also looked at their travel expense claims to see if they lined up with their residency claims.

Boisvenu wasn't singled out in the investigation.

His living arrangements first surfaced on Saturday in a story by Montreal's La Presse newspaper.

The Conservative senator who conducted probe into expense claims, Sen. David Tkachuk, said Boisvenu satisfied all the residency questions — though he didn't respond to the specific questions raised by the newspaper story.

"Senator Boisvenu is among the 95 Senators who completely satisfied the residency questions," Tkachuk said in an email.

"We have no concern in this regard."

Tkachuk declined a request for a phone interview and follow-up questions by email.

Senate in 'full damage control'

Charlie Angus, the NDP's ethics critic, said the internal review didn't go far enough and that questions about Boisvenu underscore the need for more oversight in the upper chamber.

The Senate is in "full damage control and they'll say anything and do anything to get this scandal to go away," Angus said.

"There's no other institution I know of in the world that allows you to walk out the door with 20-thousand dollars just on your word, so it raises questions, what else are they claiming."

Only two senators were flagged in the review. Sen. Rod Zimmer and Sen. Dennis Patterson were later cleared after being called in for interviews to explain their living arrangements.

The expenses of four senators, meanwhile, continue to be examined by independent forensic auditors.

The auditors are looking at the housing allowances of Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy, Liberal Mac Harb and Sen. Patrick Brazeau, who was ousted from the Conservative caucus earlier this year over an unrelated criminal matter.

Auditors are also examining the travel expense claims of Conservative Sen. Pamela Wallin.