Carolyn Stewart Olsen to repay senate expenses
The alarms were raised when Carolyn Stewart Olsen helped whitewash a senate audit into then-Conservative senator Mike Duffy. Recently, Olsen has herself pledged to repay monies that she took from Canadian taxpayers on the basis of false housing allowance claims while she owned property in Ottawa.
On August 29, 2007, Stewart Olsen was appointed to the senate to represent New Brunswick after serving as Harper’s press secretary in the PMO.
While she claimed to live in New Brunswick, she used “travel status” to claim $86.35 per diem for food and $28 a night for housing during her time in Ottawa. During her first 19 months in the senate, records show she claimed $63,594 in living and travel expenses.
The Huffington Post has found she even claimed days the senate didn’t sit where there was absolutely no work to do. The senate notified its members this spring they couldn’t claim per diems for days the senate didn’t sit.
Olsen was contacted by The Huffington Post and said, “I will absolutely repay immediately if my staff — if we made an error in claiming per diems.”
“The rules said you had to have a property of a certain value … and I think that was it. It was later on, that there was primary residence and secondary residence,” she said.
The constitution states a senator must own $4000 worth of property in their home province.
Stewart Olsen maintained her situation was different than Duffy’s because she made the effort to live in her home province.
“New Brunswick was my primary residence. We lived here when I was appointed,” Stewart Olsen said. “It’s not a cottage, it’s a house.”
When she was confronted about when she got her New Brunswick health card and driver’s license, she was unable to answer.
“I don’t even remember … I don’t know,” she said. “It was what it was. We had a lot to do. I had a new job, I had a totally different life, of commuting from New Brunswick. I couldn’t even tell you when.”
Her expense records point to more trends. From December 1, 2010 to February 28, 2011 the senate only sat for 17 days, 8 in December and 9 in February. During this period, she claimed $4,360.88 in living expenses. Her senate calendar shows she had no business during this period, but she was paid $2,520 for housing and $1,840.88 for food. She was paid slightly more than the entitled $1,467.95 for days the Senate didn’t sit.
Stewart Olsen claims she fairly claimed per diems, pointing to the $22,000 per year allowance, but admitted her staff shouldn’t have charged taxpayers for the days the Senate didn’t sit.
“It hasn’t been easy for any of us, and I am extremely sorry that our own people kind of got caught up in the web of all of this. But you have to learn from mistakes. You have to learn that if you did something wrong, you have to own up to it,” she said.
Stewart Olsen wasn’t audited in the initial investigation, but her and her colleagues in the Internal Economy Committee will be among the first under the microscope when Auditor General Michael Ferguson puts senate expenditure under his microscope this fall. Based on this release, it appears the scandals surrounding the senate can only get worse before they get better.
It appears the scandal continues getting closer to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foot step. The first under fire was his former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright, now, his former Press Secretary, has entered the same fate. Apart from Mac Harb, everyone who has been implicated in the scandal has been appointed by Harper himself. Whether it is a lack of judgement or a bigger trend has yet to be seen. But just as Harper was trying to avoid the senate scandal, the storm clouds are brewing for a much harsher assault.
What do you think of Carolyn Stewart Olsen’s pledge to repay her expenses? What do you think Ferguson will find in his fall audit of the senate?