Trudeau vows to 'raise the bar' for transparency on expenses

The only way to restore public trust in the wake of the Senate expenses scandal is to 'raise the bar' and make parliamentarians' expenses more transparent than ever before, said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Sunday.

Liberal leader has new plans for accountability and transparency in wake of Senate scandal

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told a group of municipal leaders gathered in Vancouver on Sunday that 'opening the Constitution to fix the Senate would disadvantage everybody.' (Richard Zussman/CBC News)

The only way to restore public trust in the wake of the Senate expenses scandal is to "raise the bar" and make parliamentarians' expenses more transparent than ever before, said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Sunday.

Trudeau said he plans to announce new measures to increase accountability and transparency both in the Commons and the Senate in the near future.

"We will be coming out shortly with a way to open up and be more transparent about all our expenses in a way that will restore Canadians' confidence and trust in holders of public office," Trudeau told reporters after his speech to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Vancouver.

"We certainly will offer a level of transparency that hasn't been seen before," Trudeau said.

While the Liberal Leader was short on specifics, he did not close the door to having Liberal MP's post their expenses online, when asked about it by CBC News after his speech.

Trudeau also pointed to his own actions during the Liberal leadership race when he opened up his own books producing details about the inheritance from his father and a list of speaking fees he received for hosting events before he announced a run for the party's top job.

In disclosing his speaking income and the value of his holdings, Trudeau reported more than is required of any MP.

He also promised that if he became leader he would move the stocks and bonds he inherited into a blind trust — a requirement currently in place for cabinet ministers.

"During my leadership I raised the bar on transparency and accountability… and I intend to raise the bar again in my leadership as Liberal leader," Trudeau told reporters.

Trudeau said the prime minister showed an ethical lapse "when he allowed his chief of staff to pay a sitting legislator to obstruct and avoid the negative outcomes of an audit."

The federal ethics commissioner, Mary Dawson, is examining whether Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he gave Senator Mike Duffy more than $90,000 to repay his housing expenses.

The Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard has also been asked to look into Wright's cheque to Duffy.

The Senate Internal Economy committee referred Duffy's expenses to the RCMP after opening its doors to the public and reviewing the audit a second time.

Deloitte is currently reviewing the expenses of Senator Pamela Wallin, who has claimed approximately $321,000 in travel expenses since September 2010.

That report is expected in the coming weeks before the Senate rises for the summer break.

Senate reform

Trudeau also fired back at his critics after coming under intense criticism for comments he made about senate reform in Quebec last week.

In his speech to a crowd of municipal leaders, Trudeau made it clear he does not support the 'status quo' in the Senate.

Trudeau, who favours Senate reform, used his speech to municipal leaders to address comments he made in an interview with the French-language newspaper La Presse last Saturday.

In that interview, the Liberal Leader took issue with the NDP's abolition campaign, particularly as it could affect his home province of Quebec, where the NDP holds most of its seats.

Trudeau pointed out that Quebec's 24 Senate seats, in comparison with the six Senate seats of each western province, give it weight. "It's to our advantage. Abolishing it, this is demagoguery," he said.

Since the Liberal Leader made those comments, both the Conservatives and the Opposition New Democrats used those comments to turn the tables on Trudeau saying it was clear the Liberal leader was advocating in favour of the status quo.

But according to Trudeau, "I also said that — and this was not reported — nobody who has watched the goings on in the Senate over the past year could possibly support the status quo."

Trudeau said that anyone "preaching wholesale Senate reform" as a response to the Senate expenses scandal is pandering.

"After all they know, or ought to know, that major reforms like creating an elected Senate, or abolishing it outright, would require protracted Constitutional discussions with the provinces," Trudeau said.

Opening the Constitution

Trudeau went on to say, "the third thing I said was widely reported and it leads to a confession. It is a deep dark secret. One that, apparently, my political opponents think they can use against me."

"I am a Quebecer. When I am in the presence of other Quebecers, I will often use the pronoun "we". But what I said then was a statement of fact. Quebec has 24 Senate seats to Alberta's six. That is to Quebec’s advantage. And Ontario’s I might add. That is not my opinion. It’s a statement of Constitutional fact.," Trudeau said.

"So, it stands to reason that abolishing the Senate would disadvantage the East, just as electing and therefore empowering the current Senate would disadvantage the West."

Re-opening the Constitution would "disadvantage everybody,"Trudeau said.

"We would have a fruitless round of negotiations that would end in acrimony, and distract from the very real challenges our country faces."

The federal government is currently awaiting a reference ruling from the Supreme Court about its powers to reform or abolish the Senate.

In the meantime, the Senate will move ahead with new rules governing senators' travel and expenses.

A message saying "our Senate as it stands today, must either change or be abolished" was posted on Harper's Facebook page last Tuesday.