The clerk of the Senate told reporters today that none of the three recently suspended senators has written to him to apply for long-term disability benefits.
Gary O'Brien was speaking in the Senate chambers Friday during a rare occasion — Speaker Noël Kinsella had invited reporters into the red-carpeted chamber to ask questions.
Although a Senate clerk speaking to reporters is almost unheard of, O'Brien also answered a question about the value of the health benefits of Senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin.
In November, Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin were suspended without pay because they inappropriately claimed expenses. However, the three were allowed to keep their health and dental benefits.
O'Brien said he couldn't calculate the monetary value of those benefits because he didn't know how long the senators would remain under suspension, or in the Senate.
None of them has resigned, and no one has been charged. However, all three are under investigation by the RCMP, and a criminal conviction likely would result in getting fired from the Senate.
The disability question is particularly relevant for Duffy, who is recovering from a heart bypass operation.
Duffy was suspended for claiming housing expenses for his home in Ottawa because he said his primary residence was his winterized cottage in P.E.I.
Fields residency questions
Kinsella, in a lengthy and often rambling press conference, answered questions about his own residency. Like Duffy, Kinsella already owned a house in Ottawa, and was living in it, at the time he was was appointed to the Senate in 1990.
Kinsella began to claim secondary expenses for that house, because he declared his primary residence was a house he owns in New Brunswick, the province he was appointed to represent.
He told reporters Friday, "I follow the rules," and pointed out that owning a house in Ottawa is cheaper than charging $200 a night for a room in Ottawa's Chateau Laurier hotel.
After the Ottawa Citizen reported on Kinsella's Ottawa home, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, in question period in the House of Commons, asked why Kinsella was still a senator, since he "pulled the exact same trick as Mike Duffy."
In response, Kinsella released a letter he wrote to Mulcair in which he pointed out Mulcair "lives for free in a lovely house." Like all Official Opposition leaders, Mulcair has the right to live in Stornoway, a large house in Ottawa's expensive Rockcliffe neighbourhood.
Kinsella told reporters Friday, "I took it as a joke" about Mulcair's remarks in the House. He also said, "I wrote the thing myself" of his letter, declining to go through Senate communications.
There is no rule against someone owning a house in Ottawa before being appointed to the Senate to represent a province outside Ontario, and then claiming it as a secondary residence. Unlike the House of Commons Speaker, the Senate Speaker is not given an official residence.
When asked if he was perturbed that the recent resignations of Conservative senators Gerald Comeau, David Braley and Hugh Segal might be linked to the Senate expenses scandal, Kinsella said, "I wouldn't see a causal connection at all."
Kinsella, who was a deputy minister in the public service when he was appointed to the Senate, said he took a 50 per cent pay cut when he became a senator. His pay would have increased substantially when he became Senate Speaker.
He's due to retire in 2014 at age 75.
TV cameras in the Senate
Kinsella said television cameras were being allowed into the normally camera-free room, where he told reporters he has just established a "working group" to investigate how Senate proceedings could be broadcast — although some senators have been pushing for such a move for at least year. Currently, only the audio portion of Senate debates is available on the Senate's website.
He said debates might be webcast by the start of the next fiscal year, in April
Kinsella first let reporters into the Senate in early December, to listen to him announce that the emails of four senators would be handed over to the RCMP.
The RCMP had asked for the emails of Senators Duffy, Marjory LeBreton, Carolyn Stewart Olsen and David Tkachuk as part of its investigation into $90,000 the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, gave to Duffy to repay his inappropriate expenses.