Dingwall says expenses 'falsely reported'

David Dingwall came out swinging as he gave a detailed account of his spending while head of the Royal Canadian Mint to a Commons committee, including a number of expenses that he said had been "falsely" characterized.

David Dingwall came out swinging as he gave a detailed account to a Commons committee of his spending while head of the Royal Canadian Mint, including a number of expenses that he said had been "falsely" characterized.

In his opening statement before the government operations committee on Wednesday, Dingwall – who stepped down in September after reports that he and his top aides racked up expenses of more than $740,000 last year – said he was sure he would be vindicated.

The federal government has ordered an independent audit of the mint expenses by the private accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The audit is to be released publicly next week.

"I await the audit report with confidence that the auditors will find the expenses of my office were appropriate," Dingwall said.

His voice occasionally cracking with anger, the former Liberal cabinet minister accused opposition politicians of misleading the public by characterizing the spending as his personal expenses.

"The cupboard is bare with the Conservative Party," he told MPs on the committee. "All they can do is throw dishes. I was in the storm when the dishes were flying. But you know what? I'm throwing a few back today."

The former Nova Scotia federal politician said the "vast majority" of the money was spent not on travel or hospitality but on administrative costs directly related to the business of the president and his office – with 72 per cent going toward salary and benefits alone.

Dingwall said the bulk of the rest went toward building business relationships, adding that under his two-year stewardship, the mint's profit jumped by 27 per cent to nearly $70 million a year.

'I paid for my car myself'

For more than 10 minutes, Dingwall went point by point through much of the list of expenses in question, alleged to have included $130,000 in travel and $14,000 in meals, and to have ranged from a luxury car lease to $1.29 for a pack of chewing gum.

In one example, Dingwall said it had been "erroneously reported" that he and the three staff in his office had spent $5,300 on one meal.

"In fact, this expense was the cost for a two-day business seminar involving 28 people from the mint," he said.

He also said it had been falsely reported that he charged the mint for the lease of a BMW. "I paid for my car myself," said Dingwall, adding that the mint covered the operating costs of the car because that was part of his contract with the Crown corporation.

At the conclusion of his prepared statement, Dingwall waved a pack of chewing gum and said he was confident that the auditors wouldn't find any claims for gum from his office.

He also said that all expenses would have been scrutinized and approved by the corporation's board of directors.

'You ain't going to Wrigley out of this one'

But Dingwall came under fierce attack – not only by opposition MPs but also by some Liberals – during the committee hearing, which was televised live on CBC Newsworld.

One of the most heated debates stemmed from the possibility of a severance package for Dingwall, who voluntarily stepped down from his $277,000-a-year job.

Conservative MP Brian Pallister, who uncovered the mint expenses under the Access to Information Act, disputed Dingwall's characterization of the spending.

"We have receipts that you billed the people of Canada a buck ninety-eight for candy, a buck forty-three for a Globe and Mail, chocolate bar, bag of chips, six dollars for a hot dog, twelve-eighty-six to a minibar, four dollars another time to a minibar," said Pallister.

"Sir, I'll tell you, you wave that pack of gum around like you're proud of it. But you ain't going to Wrigley out of this one."

"These kinds of bills, given to the Canadian people, may look trivial to some. They may try to apologize this away, but I'll tell you, there's a good chunk of the Liberal caucus that understands that paying you severance is nothing but an insult to the Canadian people, that's all it is."

Dingwall replied: "Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the honourable member for his non-partisan, constructive comment."

"Nothing 'partisan' about it," Pallister shot back. "If you were in my party, I'd despise you as well."

Resignation comes under question too

Other MPs questioned the reason behind Dingwall's resignation, which he said he did in order to clear his name.

NDP MP Pat Martin questioned whether a reportedly generous severance package was an "entitlement" in this case, as Dingwall told the committee, or whether Dingwall had gotten a special deal.

The MP alleged that Prime Minister Paul Martin and his team were eager to distance themselves from Dingwall before the approaching release of the Gomery report into the sponsorship program.

"You are fingered all throughout or certainly mentioned throughout as a key architect of the sponsorship scandal," Pat Martin alleged. "... So was this more hush money than it was severance pay?"

Dingwall heatedly denied the accusation, saying, "I'm ethically entitled to the entitlements which I believe are owing me."

He later told CBC News that his resignation was "absolutely" not connected to the sponsorship report.

He said he stepped down because the accusations of misspending had ignited a "firestorm" and he didn't want to drag the mint into the controversy.