Audit: Senators to repay taxpayers thousands in misused expenses

Julian Wolfe
May 8th, 2013

Upon an audit made on the housing allowance and meal expenses of Liberal Senator Mac Harb and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, and on travelling expenses of Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin, thousands of dollars will have to be repaid. Senate caucus meetings will take place tomorrow to determine if the forensic audits should be forwarded to the RCMP. This comes at a time when the relevance and legitimacy of the Senate are questioned and the Official Opposition argues the institution should be abolished.

Harb will be forced to repay over $100,000 while Brazeau will have to reimburse $30,000.

Auditors were surprised when they looked into Wallins record since being appointed in 2009. Despite the seemingly large amount of money she spent on taxpayers’ dimes, CTV reports she has repaid much of it before the audit started.

Auditors are also looking at Conservative Senator Mike Duffy who claimed his PEI cottage house was his primary residence while he actually lived in Ottawa. He has since repaid over $90,000.

Harb and Brazeau’s housing allowances came under scrutiny when it was found that their neighbors had never seen them.

Harb claimed to be living 100km northwest of Ottawa in a bungalow in the village of Westmeath.

The current housing allowance program allows senators to claim $22,000 per year if their primary residence is 100km away from Ottawa. This program rings irony as recent changes to EI forced Canadians to accept salaries of 70% of their previous jobs and travel 100km away to get work – clearly this won’t be reimbursed.

Harb has denied wrong doing but owns 4 condos in Ottawa.

Brazeau also said he has done nothing wrong after claiming his father’s home in Maniwaki, Quebec to be his primary residence while actually living in a house in Gatineau, Quebec which is a short drive from Parliament Hill. Brazeau has since been kicked out of the senate for abuse charges unrelated to his fraudulent claims.

The senate is supposed to be the place of somber second thought but given it has been used as a place for old political cronies for both the Liberals and Conservatives, its integrity has come under doubt. With the Conservatives having a majority in the senate, after stuffing it even though Harper said he was against this kind of action, allows them to easily pass legislation without a bother. Rather than being a place of somber second thought, the senate is perceived to be a costly political playground, one whose integrity has taken a hit with these recent spending scandals.

Over the years, the Conservatives and NDP have pushed for reforms to the senate. The Conservatives wanted to make it elected and the NDP want to abolish it altogether. Apart from being nothing but talk at the moment, both reforms come with their issues. An elected senate would politicize the chamber and create a second parliament which can be deemed as inefficient and unnecessary. On the other hand, abolishing the senate, which poses the most efficient and cost-saving measure, eliminates the mechanism we have for somber second thought when policies are jammed through the House of Commons, sometimes without having the best outcomes. However despite the flaws that exist in both plans, one thing is clear: the senate needs to be reformed as it is already failing at its purpose.

Should the RCMP be given the audit and take action on these senators? Can the image of the Senate recover in light of recent scandals and abuses? What do you think we should do with the senate?

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   Categories: Accountability, Integrity, Scandal, Senate, Spending, The Duffy Affair

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