Senator Mac Harb disputes report he must repay $100K

Liberal Senator Mac Harb says a media report that he must repay $100,000 for inappropriate housing expenses is "totally false" and contains "false information."

Harb now selling Pembroke bungalow he claimed as primary residence

Senator Mac Harb stands outside the Senate chambers after being sworn-in as senator on Sept. 23, 2002. Harb, who is the first Lebanese-Canadian senator, called it an honour to serve his adopted country.

Liberal Senator Mac Harb says a media report that he must repay $100,000 for inappropriate housing expenses is "totally false" and contains "false information."

Harb's expense claims have been under review by an independent auditor appointed by the Senate.  The review by Deloitte is expected on Thursday, but a media report Tuesday said Harb will be ordered to reimburse the taxpayers for claiming expenses for housing and meals because he said his primary residence is outside the capital. However, Harb told CBC News he is "100 per cent confident" the Deloitte report will vindicate him.

Harb, a former Ottawa MP and city councillor, appointed to the Senate for Ontario in 2003, had been claiming out-of-town expenses for living in a residence more than 100 kilometers outside Ottawa.

He told CBC News today that the media report was inaccurate.

Harb, who owns several properties in Ottawa, began claiming expenses for living in the city in September 2010, because he said he had moved to a bungalow near Pembroke, Ont., about 145 kilometres from the capital.

The Senate allows senators who live more than 100 kilometres from Ottawa to claim housing expenses of up to $22,000 a year.

Harb's home near Pembroke is now for sale. He  says he is selling the property because he has lost his right to privacy. He listed it about two weeks ago.

Other Senate audits

"I love the place," Harb told CBC News. "It was like heaven for me. But I lost privacy. I'm a public figure. I don't feel safe there anymore."

Former Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau is also being audited by Deloitte, because he claimed his primary residence is in his father's apartment in Maniwaki.

Brazeau, however, also lives in a house in Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa. He currently sits as an independent after being tossed from the Conservative caucus due to a criminal charge he's facing in a completely separate matter.

Conservative Senator Mike Duffy is also under review by Deloitte. However, Duffy has already repaid the Senate $90,000 for claiming a house in P.E.I as his primary residence although he has been a long-time homeowner in Ottawa. Outside the Conservative caucus room Monday, he told reporters, "The process is working as it should."

Harb did not want to speak about the Deloitte report, because, he said,  the Senate told him not to until it was released.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, speaking outside the Liberal caucus room in the House of Commons, told reporters that he thinks the housing expenses issue has hurt the reputation of the Senate.

Liberal Senator Pierrette Ringuette said it's her understanding the Deloitte audit will be made public once the Senate releases it.

Liberal Senate House Leader Jim Cowan told reporters he expects there will be a discussion among senators about whether the Deloitte audit should be referred to the RCMP. 

"As I understand it, there's no requirement — the RCMP doesn't need a formal request in order to take action on any document which is a public document," he said.

Despite the fact that the RCMP independently decides whether to open criminal investigations, NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice demanded in question period on Tuesday that the government refer the housing expenses matter to the Mounties.

'No penalty'

"When an ordinary Canadian makes a false claim for money they're not entitled to, the government calls it fraud," asked  Charlie Angus, the NDP's ethics critic. "Why is there no penalty for ripping off the Canadian taxpayer?"

Speaking for the government, Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan replied that the Senate intends to review the Deloitte report which will be released to the public "shortly." He said that if money is owing, senators will pay it back.

Outside the Conservative caucus room, Conservative Senator Andrée Champagne, who lives 200 kilometres from Ottawa in Sainte-Hyacinthe, Que., told reporters that rather than buying a residence in Ottawa and charging expenses for it, she stays in a hotel. "I think I did the right thing," she said.

Champagne added that she was advised by the Senate's board of internal economy, the body that approves expenses, to stop staying in Ottawa on Thursday nights. The Senate does not normally sit on Fridays. 

"So I started leaving on Thursdays to go back home," she said.