Politics

Senators defend travel expenses, use of staff in audit responses

The 30 current and former senators named in the auditor general's spending report for nearly $1 million in questionable expense claims were each given the opportunity to respond to the allegations in writing.

Auditor general flagged nearly $1 million in questionable expense claims relating to 30 senators

Senate Speaker Leo Housakos, the Leader of the Government in the Senate Claude Carignan, and Leader of the Senate Liberals James Cowan all react to the Auditor General's report on Senate Expenses that was tabled today. 7:06

The 30 current and former senators named in the auditor general's spending report for nearly $1 million in questionable expense claims were each given the opportunity to respond to the allegations in writing.

Here are some of the responses in the 116-page report that details a range of allegations, including that senators wrongly claimed parliamentary business when attending a funeral, a family member's convocation and a colleague's 50th wedding celebration.

Retired senator Gerry St. Germain (B.C.): $67,588

Audit: In "several instances," St. Germain expensed travel for staff members to attend parties, including his 50th wedding anniversary, his retirement party and a gala where he received an award. He also expensed travel for staff to attend six charity and political parties at his home in British Columbia. The sum of questionable staff travel expenses totals $43,727. St. Germain told auditors he was unable to provide additional information about some of his claims because he shredded his documents.

"I find these apparent accusations to be a defamatory affront to my personal integrity." - Retired senator Gerry St. Germain

St. Germain: "The presentation and tone of your general observations insinuate that I misappropriated my office resources in a nefarious manner. I find these apparent accusations to be a defamatory affront to my personal integrity. I have stated to your auditors time and again that the shredding of my documents was done as a necessity related to my move to a smaller residence in advance of my prior knowledge of an audit being conducted. The timing of this event and my full explanation is missing from your conclusions."

Former senator Rod Zimmer (Man.): $176,014

Audit: Zimmer's wife, Maygan Sensenberger, charged the Senate $2,072 in personal taxi rides in Ottawa and another $645 in unexplained expenses. The audit found the couple expensed $102,524 in round trips from Ottawa to Winnipeg without conducting parliamentary business. Since Zimmer spent 613 of the 731 days included in the audit period in Ottawa, it was determined that many of his expenses were "ineligible because of an incorrect declaration of his primary residence" as Winnipeg. 

Zimmer: "Serious health concerns" were cited as the reason for his infrequent travel home to Winnipeg, which Zimmer said eventually led to his early retirement from the Senate. His response did not address his wife's expenses.

"I am not clear how the auditor general can make a public pronouncement with respect to Senate residency rules and their application to my circumstances without appearing to be interfering in the judicial proceedings now taking place in the trial of Senator Duffy, where the issue of residency and the interpretation of the Senate rules concerning residency are central to the proceedings. Will this be seen as prejudging the conclusion [Mike Duffy trial judge] Justice Charles Vaillancourt will reach on the same matter, and what if Justice Vaillancourt does not agree with the Auditor General's interpretation?"

Former senator Rod Zimmer, left, in an engagement photo with Maygan Sensenberger, said ill health was in part to blame for infrequent travel to his primary residence in Manitoba.

Senator David Tkachuk (Sask.): $7,391

Audit: Tkachuk claimed $1,934 after he and his wife attended St. Germain's 50th wedding anniversary in Vancouver in November 2011. He also claimed $3,800 to attend a private corporation's board meeting.

Like funerals, anniversaries are personal for family and often political for politicians.- Senator David Tkachuk

Tkachuk: "Like funerals, anniversaries are personal for family and often political for politicians. Attendance at this event is permitted under the rules that allow attendance at funerals of parliamentary colleagues and participation in party activities and community events. Senator St. Germain, who lives in my region, was not only a parliamentary colleague of mine, but a political VIP." Tkachuk agreed to pay back $1,900 for the trip that included the private corporation's board meeting because it was "combined private and public business."

Former senate speaker Noel Kinsella (N.B.): $7,705

Audit:  Kinsella took a three-day return trip with his wife from Ottawa to Sault Ste. Marie for his brother-in-law's funeral — a $5,663 expense claim the audit found was personal. According to the finding, he said his decision to speak at the funeral was not influenced by his personal relationship but because he was a leader in the Italian-Canadian community and a former University of New Brunswick football player. He repaid $262 in personal telecommunications expenses.

Kinsella: "The rules of the Senate concerning a senator attending a funeral were followed and approved by Senate administration."

Former Senate speaker Noel Kinsella was cited by auditors for expensing travel to attend the funeral for his brother-in-law, a trip Kinsella said was approved by Senate administration. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Retired senator Donald Oliver (N.S.): $48,088

Audit: Oliver claimed $22,982 in travel expenses for trips that could have been as part of his role in an organization that promotes wines, cuisine and tourism overseas, the audit found. Other questionable expenses for he and his wife include a family member's convocation in Kingston, golf with former senators in Montreal, a fishing trip and meetings with a family member and a tailor. The audit also detailed that Oliver's wife often travelled without him and made specific reference to the fact she was employed "as a vice president of an organization in Ottawa" during the audit period. Oliver repaid $1,442, including for the convocation and the fishing trip.

Oliver: "The auditor general has made scurrilous and irrelevant comments about the employment of Dr. Oliver's wife – which has no connection with any Senate expense claim. The auditor general's opinions about 'spousal travel' ignore and do not mention seven distinct and sufficient justifications for those travel claims." He also said the findings are a misrepresentation of his own "patient explanations" of his expense claims.

Senator Colin Kenny (Ont.): $35,549

Audit: The audit found Kenny claimed at least $35,549 in questionable travel expenses, many of which "included single short meetings pertaining to his parliamentary business but began with or were followed by personal activities." The audit also found Kenny may have paid staff to complete tasks outside "regular office operations," including paying his personal invoices, maintaining his personal books, scheduling his personal appointment and booking personal activities. The report did not put a dollar figure on his staff's work on his personal activities.

Invalidating an entire trip on account of one personal appointment seems disproportionately punitive.- Senator Colin Kenny

Kenny: "I was confounded by the reasoning for which the vast majority of trips were flagged. Despite the fact that Senate rules allow for personal activities, the audit team insisted that virtually any personal appointments (costing the Senate no money) invalidated an entire trip that had a number of parliamentary activities. It was repeatedly stated to me that because a personal activity had occurred, the primary purpose of the trip could not be determined. Invalidating an entire trip on account of one personal appointment seems disproportionately punitive."

Kenny also wrote that personal tasks only took up 2.5 per cent of his staff's time at an average of 12 minutes a day.

Senate Speaker Leo Housakos (Que.): $8,319

Audit: One of Housakos' staff members travelled to Montreal six times to help the senator prepare for a 2012 St. Valentine's ball in Montreal he was hosting, costing taxpayers $1,606. The remaining $6,710 in questionable expenses relate to consulting services for research on Senate reform. Though the audit found most of the contractor's work fell under parliamentary business, media and community outreach were found to be beyond the scope. Housakos has since repaid the entire $8,319, according to the Senate.

Housakos: Though he agreed to reimburse the Senate, Housakos argued the contested expenses were legitimate. He said his role in organizing the charity ball was public business, allowing his assistant to claim expenses. He also argued that hiring a contractor rather than a full-time employee to research Senate reform was more cost-effective to taxpayers. "Community outreach and relations with media outlets are an integral part of a Senator's functions and I had every right to use a contractor to help me," he wrote.

Senator Terry Mercer (N.S.): $29,338

Audit: Questionable claims include $3,452 to attend the 100th anniversary of a Toronto curling club in December 2011, including transportation, accommodations and per diems. Another $15,401 relates to fundraising trips to Saskatoon, Montreal and Vancouver. Contested spousal travel claims, a common theme in many of the other 30 cases, come in at $10,485.

Mercer: "My business in the Senate involves maintaining connections with stakeholders, indeed all Canadians. Much of this business occurs in my home province but sometimes occurs in other areas of the country. Any travel that directly involves my interests in the Senate was in accordance with Senate rules and guidelines in place at that time." He also argued that maintaining a residence in his home province of Nova Scotia, as well as Ottawa requires both he and his wife to travel.

Senator Nancy Greene Raine (B.C): $2,800

Audit: Greene Raine, a former Olympic alpine skier, made two stopovers to attend ski shows that cost taxpayers $1,688. She made a full repayment. She also attended St. Germain's 50th wedding anniversary, which the audit determined was an incremental travel cost of $203.

Green Raine: "This was a good faith, administrative error. I discovered these errors on my own and repaid the funds prior to meeting with the auditors," she wrote of the stopovers. Green Raine defended expensing the wedding anniversary "because it was organized as a tribute to his lengthy and distinguished career of public service. Other guests included federal, provincial and municipal representatives. The Senator who was being honoured is a well-known public figure in British Columbia, my home province."

Senator Joseph Day (N.B): $19,634

Audit: Day's questionable claims include $12,812 for four trips that were "primarily in the corporate interest" of a youth organization for which he is a board member. He claimed another $2,849 for an April 2011 trip to Toronto for a political party election event and a meeting involving the youth organization. 

 "To disqualify the entire travel claim because I dropped in to this public political event in my free time is not reasonable."- Senator Joseph Day

Response: Day explained that he volunteers his time for the Canadian branch of the Duke of Edinburgh International Award, a registered charity. "I believe it it important that parliamentarians lead by example to encourage participation by Canadian youth and see such activities as a crucial part of my parliamentary functions." He said he flew into Toronto from New Brunswick in April 2011 to attend a charity dinner at the Royal Military College in Kingston. "That was by any definition public business for any parliamentarian." The two other stops, he argued, were on his free time. "To disqualify the entire travel claim because I dropped in to this public political event in my free time is not reasonable."

View a full list of the 30 senators and what the audit found they owed

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