Did Colin Kenny use Senate aide as personal assistant?

Amid a tsunami of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau coverage, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is asked to answer allegations a former aide to long-time Liberal Senator Colin Kenny spent work hours taking care of the senator's personal affairs.

Liberal leader in the Senate, James Cowan, says Kenny assures 'no impropriety'

Senator Colin Kenny, seen here in 2005, says he wasn't using Senate resources inappropriately, in response to allegations made by a former aide that she spent half her time taking care of his personal life rather than tending to Senate business. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

In the tsunami of media coverage of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, Canadians may have missed the other Senate story unfolding this week.

Long-time Liberal Senator Colin Kenny came under scrutiny when a former aide went public with claims that, when she worked for Kenny, she spent half her time taking care of his personal life rather than tending to Senate business.

Pascale Brisson spent less than three months in Kenny's office. But in that time, she found herself saddled with a host of mundane tasks; booking medical appointments for the senator, arranging payments for his credit card and utility bills, even finding him a personal trainer.

Kenny paid for everything with his own money but Brisson says she did all this personal work during business hours while she was being paid by the taxpayer.

[Kenny] assured me there was no impropriety in any sense.- Senator James Cowan

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was asked about it after his party's weekly caucus meeting on Wednesday. Trudeau had spent the first part of his session with reporters lambasting Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his handling of the scandal swirling around Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau. 

"I think it's high time for the prime minister to show some leadership," Trudeau said.

But when questions were raised about Kenny, a member of his own party, Trudeau — at first — kept things vague.

"It's important that we, as public officials, show due respect for everybody who works in this place. And there are appropriate venues for questions around conduct of employers and employees that should be pursued," he said.

When pressed on what he would actually do and whether he would speak to Senator Kenny, Trudeau revealed more detail. He said he had instructed the Liberal leader in the upper chamber, Senator James Cowan, to speak to Kenny and find out what went on.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was asked about allegations an aide to Liberal Senator Colin Kenny used work hours to book his personal appointments after a caucus meeting Wednesday. By the afternoon, Kenny had responded saying there was no impropriety. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

By Wednesday afternoon, Cowan said he had done just that.

"He [Kenny] assured me there was no impropriety in any sense; that he wasn't using or misusing Senate resources," Cowan said.

"Until I have something more, I have his word for it," Cowan added.

Cowan said he has not spoken to Brisson, the former aide, and that it is not his duty to seek her out.

As for her complaints, Cowan said that "in a well-functioning office everybody pitches in and does what it required to be done," allowing, though, that "if it's more than, sort of, incidental to the ordinary working arrangement then I think that's wrong."   

The chair of the Senate committee on internal economy, Conservative Gerald Comeau, said when complaints of this nature arise, they are normally referred to Senate administration for investigation.

"If any allegations are made … that would show questionable activities, the administration is asked to look into these issues and do a review," he said.

Those findings could be referred to the auditor general, though Comeau would not confirm whether an investigation would be carried out in this case.   

That didn't stop Opposition leader Tom Mulcair from weighing in.

"Conservative and Liberal behaviour in the Senate has been identical," Mulcair said yesterday.

"There's going to be more cases like this. That's why the NDP has said, for 50 years, get rid of the thing."

For her part, Brisson said she never saw this as a partisan issue and she would like to see political parties work together to solve the problems in the upper chamber.

But that may be difficult in the current climate. For the Senate, this incident has, so far, not caused the same kind of storm as the one swirling around Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau. But it's been one more messy problem in a place already awash in them.


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