What's next for Senator Pamela Wallin?
Expenses to repay and a rough road ahead for the Saskatchewan senator
Senator Pamela Wallin's once bright future is now clouded as she looks ahead to repaying thousands of dollars of inappropriately filed travel claims, and even a possible RCMP investigation.
The celebrated former journalist and diplomat, who has occupied plum Senate posts such as chair of the powerful defence committee and member of the foreign affairs committee, has been turfed from the Conservative caucus and subjected to a six-month-long forensic audit of her expenses.
Recovering her reputation and even keeping her Senate job may be a long and hard road. Here are some questions she faces.
1. How much will she have to repay and how soon?
The independent Deloitte audit of Wallin's expenses calculates she must repay almost $83,000 on top of the $38,000 she has already reimbursed the Senate for expenses she says she claimed in error. There is a further $21,000 and change that Deloitte says is subject to interpretation, but a Senate committee has already decided Wallin must refund a good chunk of that money as well.
Wallin does not have to pay right away, because the full Senate has to approve the committee's repayment order, and it doesn't sit until the fall.
Unlike her fellow senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau, who are fighting repayment for their inappropriate expense claims — although Harb has repaid $51,000 "under protest" and Brazeau's wages are being docked to repay his $48,000 tab — Wallin has pledged to refund any money she owes.
And unlike Senator Mike Duffy, whose $90,000 debt for inappropriate claims was repaid by the prime minister's former chief of staff, it's highly unlikely anyone in the Prime Minister's Office will offer to clear Wallin's debt.
2. What sanctions beyond repayment does she face?
A Senate subcommittee has recommended:
- Wallin only be covered for direct flights between Ottawa and Saskatchewan, with no stopovers in Toronto, where she owns a condo and spends a lot of her time.
- Any other flights must be pre-approved by a Senate committee.
- All travel claims will be closely monitored for one year.
3. Can Wallin be kicked out of the Senate?
The Senate can vote to suspend a senator "to protect the dignity and reputation of the Senate and public trust and confidence in Parliament."
That's the reason the Senate gave for suspending Brazeau earlier this year after he was charged with sexual assault in a separate matter. His case is still before the courts.
Booting out Brazeau was a rare move, but sources say the Senate's committee of internal economy discussed this week some kind of leave of absence for senators if they were under criminal investigation. That would mean senators couldn't vote or attend committees, but would continue to be paid.
Duffy and Harb are under investigation by the RCMP, but have not been charged. The Senate's committee on internal economy referred the report on Wallin's expenses this week to the RCMP, but the force has not said whether it will open an investigation.
The Senate is essentially master of its own house and can even vote to expel a senator, which would make that person ineligible for a pension, but that has never happened. It came close in the case of Senator Raymond Lavigne, who was convicted in 2011 of fraud and breach of trust and is now serving jail time, but Lavigne quit before a vote could take place on his expulsion, thus preserving his pension.
Tory MP John Williamson wants to close that loophole and has tabled a private member's bill that would see any senators convicted of a serious crime stripped of their pensions, although they would be reimbursed for their own contributions.
4. Could she face more residency questions?
The Constitution says senators "shall" be a resident of the province they represent, but there is no definition of how many days spent in the province constitutes residency.
The Deloitte audit determined that Wallin, who was appointed as a senator from Saskatchewan, spends more time at her home in Toronto than in Saskatchewan, although Deloitte found no problems with her housing expense claims. It also found the rules around residency were unclear.
Given the spotlight the Senate expenses scandal has thrown on the question of residency, Liberal Senate leader James Cowan has asked the Senate to set up a special committee on defining the constitutional requirement for residency, and that a report be tabled by Oct. 31. Conservative Senator Gerald Comeau is also seeking legal opinion on the definition of residency.
However, it's unclear whether any new rules could be applied retroactively to Wallin. The same can be said of Duffy, whom Deloitte found didn't spend a lot of time in P.E.I., the province he was appointed to represent in the Senate.