Politics

Auditor general calls for 'transformative change' in Senate

Auditor General Michael Ferguson is calling for "transformative change" in the Senate, including an independent oversight body for expenses, after flagging more than $975,000 in questionable travel and housing claims in an exhaustive two-year spending review, CBC News has learned.

9 Senate expense cases sent to RCMP for investigation

Auditor General Michael Ferguson is calling for "transformative change" in the Senate, including an independent oversight body for expenses, after flagging more than $975,000 in questionable travel and housing claims in an exhaustive two-year spending review, CBC News has learned.

The expense files of nine current and former senators are being sent to the RCMP today ahead of Tuesday's release of the forensic audit.

The dollar figure includes the nine cases being referred to the Mounties, along with those of another 21 former and current senators who have also been flagged to repay ineligible expenses.

Five of the cases alone account for more than $500,000 of ineligible spending — with former Liberal-appointed senator Rod Zimmer (Man.) the alleged worst offender with questionable claims totaling $176,000.

CBC News has learned that $24,000 in ineligible expenses have already been repaid to the Senate, including from two of the nine whose files are being sent to the RCMP.

Retired Conservative senator Gerry St. Germain (B.C.), whose file is being sent to the RCMP, lashed out in a statement on Friday, saying the auditor general's findings are "adverse, baseless and unsubstantiated."
Rod Zimmer, who stepped down amid health concerns in August, 2013, has been found to have questionable expense claims of $176,000. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

The other files being referred to the RCMP relate to sitting Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu (Que.), who left the Conservative caucus Thursday, and four others who have left the Senate: Liberal-appointed Sharon Carstairs (Man.), Rose-Marie Losier-Cool (N.B.), William Rompkey (N.L.) and Zimmer.​ Losier-Cool had the second-highest sum of questionable claims in the audit, CBC News has learned.

Sitting Liberal-appointed Senator Colin Kenny (Ont.), retired Conservative senator Donald Oliver (N.S.) and Liberal Marie-Paule Charette-Poulin (Ont.), who resigned from the Senate in April due to health reasons, also issued statements Friday vowing to defend their spending records.

Process called 'unjust'

St. Germain, who represented British Columbia in the Senate from 1993 to 2012 and previously served as a Progressive Conservative MP and minister, said in a statement Friday he believed the auditor general came to his findings with incomplete records.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper presents Gerry St. Germain with a new cowboy hat in 2012. St. Germain, who retired from the Senate in 2012, blasted the auditor general's findings as 'adverse, baseless and unsubstantiated.' (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"My efforts now will focus on defending my hard-earned reputation and challenging a process that has been unfair and unjust," he said, adding "bias or prejudgment" may have played a role in the findings

Kenny's office issued a short statement Friday afternoon indicating that he could not comment beyond a 500-word response that is included in the auditor general's report.

"He will continue to work to defend himself and fully expects to be vindicated at the end of the process," it said.

CBC News has learned that Boisvenu plans to defend his contested expense claims, which are related to residence and travel. He issued a statement on Facebook Friday saying that he was shocked by the allegations against him but that he could not elaborate further at this time because he was bound by a confidentiality agreement.

30 eligible for arbitration

Each of the 30 current and former senators named in the report can appeal paying back the so-called inappropriate expenses through an independent Senate arbitrator — a process that was not available to the former senator and three suspended senators already named in the Senate expense scandal.

Former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie was named to arbitrate the disputes.

Mike Duffy's lawyer said Friday that it's "absolutely" unfair that his client did not have access to the same arbitration process.

Donald Bayne is representing the suspended Conservative senator during his trial on 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to Senate expenses he claimed and later repaid with money from the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright. Duffy has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The spending habits of suspended Conservative senators Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin, as well as retired Liberal-appointed senator Mac Harb have also previously been investigated by the RCMP.

Trials for Brazeau and Harb have not yet started, while Wallin has not been charged.

Senate Opposition Leader James Cowan, who is among the 21 pegged by the auditor general to repay expenses, said that while the first four may not have been treated fairly, a new, "proper process" is in place to help ensure that in the future.

"Two wrongs don't make a right," he said. "The fact that we didn't have it in place then, doesn't mean that we shouldn't have it in place now. We should have had a process like this in place then — we didn't — now we do."

Senate Speaker Leo Housakos and government leader Claude Carignan, both Conservative leaders in the Senate, were also among the auditor general's 21. 

With files from Madeleine Blais-Morin, Catherine Cullen and Rosie Barton

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