North

Senators Nick Sibbeston, Dennis Patterson named in auditor general's report

'In the North we don't do business by letter or email,' says N.W.T. Senator Nick Sibbeston in explaining why some of his travel expenses don't have documentation to show the trip was for Parliamentary work.

N.W.T. senator was found to have more than $50K in ineligible expenses; Nunavut senator had $22K

N.W.T. Senator Nick Sibbeston, left, and Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson were among 30 senators named in an auditor general's report examining Senate spending. (CBC)

The senators from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are among 30 Canadian senators being audited for improper expenses, according to an auditor general's report released Tuesday afternoon.

Northwest Territories Senator Nick Sibbeston was found to have $50,102 in ineligible expenses, the seventh-most of any senator being audited and the second-most among sitting senators.

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson was found to have $22,985 in ineligible expenses, though $6,200 of that has been repaid, according to the report.

In the North we don't do business by letter or email.- Nick Sibbeston

Yukon Senator Dan Lang was audited along with all the other senators but none of his expenses was flagged as ineligible.

In an interview with CBC, Patterson says that he is "at peace with [himself]" about his expense claims.

"I maintain all the errors were made in good faith, and I quickly acknowledged those that were improper and were repaid."

Travel expenses bulk of Sibbeston findings

Sibbeston's ineligible expenses were largely related to travel costs. The report found that the Northwest Territories Senator made several trips where "there was insufficient information to enable us to determine whether the travel claims... were for parliamentary business." 

Those trips were made within western Canada and the territories at a cost of $27,629. 

The report also states that Sibbeston's spouse made several trips for "personal activities, including reuniting with adult children and their families," at a cost of $13,133, and that Sibbeston made several extended layovers in Yellowknife on his way to and from Ottawa from Fort Simpson. The auditor general determined those expenses at $4,436.
Sibbeston was found to have more than $50,000 in expense claims ruled ineligible by the auditor general, the second-most among sitting senators.

Additional expense claims ruled ineligible by the auditor general include hospitality expenses for undetermined business ($2,457), taxi trips in Ottawa for personal activities ($913), and the senator's cellphone being used by someone else as well as personal text-messaging charges from members of his staff ($1,534).

Sibbeston told CBC, "The reality is I did the work. There is no question. There is no fraud.

"I went to the communities and I saw people. I was not able to satisfy the auditor general on the documentation. So, that's what is at issue here.

"There is no documentation showing that I met so-and-so because I say in the North we don't do business by letter or email. I make the preparations by phone.

"I did feel a little bit that the auditor general did not understand how business is done in the North."

'No surprise,' says Patterson

The $22,985 spent by Patterson that the auditor general found violated Senate spending rules was broken into four expenses. The largest, at $13,762, was paid for legal services.

Patterson told CBC that the money was used to help him sort out a possible conflict between the Canadian constitution and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
Patterson says his largest expense flagged by the auditor general, more than $13,000, was for legal advice regarding a conflict between the Constitution and Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

Under the Constitution Act, a senator needs to own property in the jurisdiction he or she represents. However, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement says municipal land can only be held as a lease.

Patterson says in his response to the report that he was advised by the Law Clerk of the Senate to "ask about the unique situation of a senator representing the territory of Nunavut under the Constitution of Canada.

"He suggested an expert in constitutional law, who was also licensed to practice law in Nunavut."

Patterson says he owns property in Iqaluit. Though he wouldn't say how much time he'd spent in Nunavut during the period in question, he told CBC that clarifying the issue was more complex than expected, which led to the higher costs.

In his response to the report, he said that "It only became clear during the audit that I should not have had to use my research budget to pay for legal advice on a major constitutional issue," and that he "informed and relied on the Senate administration for their advice on how to proceed."

Two travel expense claims were included in Patterson's report: $5,205 for a trip to Vancouver for a charity fundraising event and $995 for a visit to Pangnirtung. Both of these amounts have been repaid in full.

The final expense, $3,023, was used to contract one of Patterson's staffers to provide media monitoring services, which the auditor general said were part of the employee's regular duties. Patterson said in his response that his employee had an "already established media monitoring firm," and that "it was never explained to me that an individual could not be both a contractor and an employee. 

"This was done in good faith and was corrected as soon as it was pointed out to me," his response continues.

Patterson told CBC the revelation that he was being audited was "no surprise," and though he agreed to pay back some of the expenses, he will go through the arbitration process that was set up by the Senate.

Neither Patterson nor Sibbeston are among nine senators who face a possible investigation by the RCMP.

With files from Shaun Malley

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