Auditing costs for 4 senators at $240K and rising

The cost of auditing four senators to find out if they inapppropriately claimed travel and living expenses has reached $240,000, and two of those senators are still being scrutinized, says Senator Percy Downe.

Senator Percy Downe says the Senate has spent over $700K on other audits since 2007

Senators have invited the auditor general to 'conduct a comprehensive audit of Senate expenses, including senators' expenses.' (Canadian Press)

The cost of auditing four senators to find out if they inappropriately claimed travel and living expenses has reached $240,000, and two of those senators are still being scrutinized, says Senator Percy Downe.

Downe, a Liberal senator from P.E.I., says the final tally isn't in yet, since the Senate has sent back Senator Mike Duffy's expense claims for a second look by the private auditing firm Deloitte. The travel claims of Senator Pamela Wallin are still being examined by Deloitte, and the task may not be finished by the time the Senate rises for the summer.

Downe sits on the Senate's committee of internal economy, the body that regulates and monitors senators' expenses. He told CBC News in an email late Thursday that he had asked the Senate finance staff about the cost of the four audits so far.

"Part of that cost would be Deloitte but other outside auditors may have also been used," Downe said in the email.

Downe also asked what the Senate has spent on all the outside audits it's commissioned since 2007. The figure is $712,000, he said. "So since 2007 outside auditors have billed $952,000, ($712,000 plus $240.000) and the meter on the $240.000 is still running)," he noted.

Downe related the nearly million-dollar total, as well as the fact that the "meter is still running" on the costs, in a speech in the Senate Thursday afternoon, during debate on a motion to invite the auditor general to audit the Senate, and senators' expenses.

"We're trying to be conscious of taxpayers' money — I'm not sure if Nigel Wright will reimburse us or not — but there's a cost to this," he told senators. "And do we also have to include in the resolution some additional funding for the auditor general to do what we're asking?"

Motion to invite auditor general in passes

The Senate voted on Thursday to ask Auditor General Michael Ferguson to take a look at the way money is spent by the Senate itself and by individual senators.

Just before the motion passed on Thursday, the Liberal Senate leader James Cowan served notice that he wants his own motion, one that would ask the auditor general to throw a spotlight on the Prime Minister's Office over the writing of a $90,000 cheque to Senator Mike Duffy.

The call for the auditor general to investigative Senate expenses was sponsored by the government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton in a terse line: "That the Senate invite the auditor general to conduct a comprehensive audit of Senate expenses, including senators' expenses."

The motion had been expected to pass through the Senate Wednesday, as the Liberal Senate leader said his senators would vote in favour, even though Cowan termed the motion a "distraction." He told reporters, "The auditor general is not going to simply show up at the door, and start going through senators' offices from A to Z. That's not what an audit is all about."

But on Wednesday, Independent Senator Anne Cools asked for more time to speak to the motion, and the Senate agreed to wait until Thursday for a vote.

On Thursday, Cools remarked that many senators might not know what a comprehensive audit could entail. A comprehensive audit, she said, looks for value for money and the soundness of the financial management system in place.

In a 20-minute speech, Cools pointed out the motion was "thin" and "skimpy" and provided no terms of reference for the auditor general and no time frame. She said it was so full of holes, "You could drive 25 tractor-trailers through it" and wondered if the auditor general would even have the staff and money to do the extra work.

The auditor general's office is facing a $6.5-million budget cut and a staff reduction of 10 per cent by 2014.

Shortly after Cools spoke, the motion passed.

Speaking to reporters outside the Senate chamber, Cowan denied that his own motion, to turn the auditor general's eyes on the Prime Minister's Office, was not just "gamesmanship." He said LeBreton's motion would not get to the bottom of what he called "the problem." The problem is not the Senate, he said, but the fact that the prime minister's chief of staff said he paid off Duffy's expenses out of his own pocket.

Nigel Wright, who said he dipped into his own bank account to give Duffy $90,000 to reimburse the Senate for improperly claimed living expenses, has since resigned.

"We know there was a month between the time Senator Duffy said he and his wife had talked about it, and said they were going to pay the money back, and the date that it was in fact paid back, so my suspicion is there were a whole lot more people involved in these discussions and negotiations and arrangements than Senator Duffy and Mr. Wright, and I think the auditor general is the appropriate person to get to the bottom of that," said Cowan.

In an email, Conservative Senator Elizabeth Marshall, who was auditor general of Newfoundland and Labrador for 10 years, said, "The invitation has been made and I expect the auditor general will accept the invitation."

She went on to say the auditor general himself will decide the scope of the audit, but the Senate can make specific requests, such as asking ask that a certain area (for example, travel) be included.

Marshall also noted that if there is an issue with resources, during a time of fiscal restraint, she's sure the auditor general will raise the matter.