Politics

Auditor general insists Senate spending review leak wasn't from his office

The auditor general says a leak of his high-profile review of Senate spending couldn't have come from his office.

'I thought some [Senators] were going to die in my presence' Senator Anne Cools says of leak

Auditor General Michael Ferguson told a Senate committee the leak of his review of Senate spending couldn't have come from his office. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The man famous for grilling Senators on their questionable spending habits found himself the subject of his own cross-examination this morning as a Senate committee tries to figure out how journalists received the high-profile report on senatorial expenses before its public release last year.

On Tuesday Auditor General Michael Ferguson said the leak of his review of Senate spending couldn't have come from his office.

"There's no reason for us to want to leak the information," he told the committee. 

Ferguson said only 23 hard copies of the report were available ahead of its public release. Twelve were delivered to the Senate on June 4, 2015,  a day after 11 copies were made available to Ferguson's staff.

During the questioning Ferguson said his office hired an outside security firm to investigate his staff to see if any of them could have leaked the audit. 

Still, he added that he could never be "100 per cent sure" where the leak came from.

CBC interview flagged

The Senate committee tried to drill down on any suspected holes in his testimony, circling back to an interview on CBC News Network's Power & Politics in May 2015, where Ferguson corrected a circulating rumour that up to 50 senators would be named in his audit.  

In the end, 30 current and former senators were flagged for questionable spending claims.

"I don't feel I breached any confidentiality agreement," Ferguson told the committee.

Making an "on-the-spot decision" during the interview, Ferguson said he decided to subdue the speculation. He said it would have reflected poorly on his office even if it appeared that they had reduced the number to 30 senators.

"The best thing to do was to bring precision to that number. I stand by the decision at the time," he said.

A few senators pointed out they weren't able to answer reporters' questions about the audit because of the confidentiality agreement, putting them in a difficult position.

Parliamentary privilege broken, argues Cools

"Do you understand that kind of unbalance?" asked Senator Serge Joyal.

Senator Anne Cools, the most pointed in her line of questioning, said Ferguson failed to understand that the senators had the right as parliamentarians to receive the report before it was leaked to the media. 

In some cases, senators say they learned the details of the audit from reading media reports.

"I thought some of them were going to die in my presence," she recalled.

"That was not violated by me," Ferguson shot back.

Ferguson said he was conscious he was auditing people whose reputations are "very important to them" and the decision to name senators came after many deliberations.

Ferguson said his office would turn over the confidentiality agreement that all senators signed to the committee. 

With files from the Canadian Press

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