Conservatives: It’s alright for Senators to be loose with taxpayer money

Julian Wolfe
February 17th, 2013

Stephen Harper’s recent defense of Senator Pamela Wallin’s travelling expenses in times of austerity should have raised a red flag. Add on top of that, Senator Bert Brown’s claim that asking for his traveling expenses is a “threat” and what we already know of Senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau and only one thing can be said: for Conservatives, it’s alright for senators to be loose with taxpayer money.

Between March 1, 2011 and February 29, 2012, taxpayers received a $142,490.26 bill for Pamela Wallin’s traveling expenses. Of this, $10,511.99 was documented as travel and the remaining $131,638.27 was billed as other.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said her expenses were reasonable as they were comparable with the expenses of a travelling MP.

“Her travel costs are comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country over that period of time,” he said.

“Last year, Sen. Wallin spent almost half of her time in the province she represents in the Senate. The costs are obviously to travel to and from that province, as any similar parliamentarian would do.”

Meanwhile, as Senators’ spending comes further under scrutiny, audits are being performed and elected Alberta Senator Bert Brown has claimed that asking for his his traveling expenses is a “threat”. Bert is among Canada’s top 5 spending senators and when Global News asked him about releasing his financial information, he responded:

“If you go and do the work you can find everything that every Senator has done… If you are going to threaten people, you need to find out what’s true and what’s not, so do the work.”

Brown was appointed in 2007 and has since racked up $316,000 in traveling expenses including $298,500 to Alberta and $17,500 elsewhere.

The Conservatives were the ones who campaigned on a platform of accountability and if they were serious, this would apply to the senate as much as it would have the House of Commons. Incidentally  the Conservatives are also the ones who usually criticize entitlements.

Since questionable spending is on the table, one must ask what happened to the accountability the Conservatives promised. For the record, the Information Commissioner has also spoken out on the Conservatives’ accountability record and the review wasn’t exactly a glowing one. Let us not forget the ways the Conservatives tried to hide how much they actually spend, ironically, in times of economic uncertainty.

This brings us to the topic that made headlines for weeks: Housing Allowance. When it came to getting the facts, neither Patrick Brazeau or Mike Duffy wanted to answer questions. In fact, Duffy took the extra effort to run out of a kitchen while telling journalists, “You should be doing adult work. Write about energy,” when they confronted his mismatched address. Meanwhile, Brazeau has been removed from the senate, not because no one in his Kitigan Zibi First Nation community ever saw him live there, despite his claims for the aboriginal income tax exemption, but because of allegations of Domestic and Sexual Assault that will soon be going to court.

The controversy starts with senators who claim to live far away from Ottawa, and then reality checks pointing to them living near Ottawa.

Senators can claim up to $21,000 in housing and meal expenses annually if they can prove that they live at least 100km away from the Ottawa region. Both Duffy and Brazeau have failed to do such but despite this, they will continue to receive these payments and not be forced to reimburse taxpayers – or be fired for fraud.

Brazeau lives in a nice house in Gatineau, Quebec, despite claiming both the Housing Allowance and an Aboriginal Income Tax Exemption. Duffy lives in Ottawa, despite making the false claim that he lived in Prince Edward Island where public reports state that he doesn’t qualify for the permanent residency that has got him the lower tax rates in the province.

However, the Senate’s specific rules for firing make it virtually impossible to hold these senators to account. Given, however, the requirement of moving to your job – which is also part of Harper’s EI reforms – perhaps it should also be a standard for those who take public office. If this were the case, the entire perk that led to the controversy and unnecessary spending of taxpayers’ money can be abolished in its entirety.

However, one thing stands clear from all of this, if the Conservatives actually cared about fiscal prudence and accountability, none of this would have happened. It stands to reason then that for the Conservatives, it’s alright for Senators to be loose with taxpayer money. Do you agree?

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   Categories: Accountability, Featured, Government Mismanagement, Integrity, Scandal, Senate, Spending, The Duffy Affair

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