Thursday, June 13, 2013

$231,649.07: "More of an honest mistake or a misunderstanding of the rules ....." How say you now Mr. Pretty Face?

Justin Trudeau would welcome back Liberal Senator involved in spending scandal

By Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday. (Photograph by: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

OTTAWA – Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau vowed to welcome embattled Senator Mac Harb back into the party once his spending woes are resolved, and described his indiscretions as being quite different from those of fellow senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.

In an interview with Global’s The West Block on Sunday, Trudeau said he would “absolutely” welcome Harb back once he “balances” his books, and went on to note that he and former Conservative Patrick Brazeau’s misspending was “more of an honest mistake or a misunderstanding of the rules.”

That said, if the RCMP now investigating the spending scandal finds a bigger problem, Trudeau said there could be “stiffer consequences.”

Harb left the Liberal caucus last month after a Senate audit found he improperly claimed $51,500 in housing expenses. Brazeau, who was removed from caucus after being arrested for an alleged domestic assault in February, was ordered to repay $48,000 in housing expenses. Both contest the findings.

Duffy and Wallin are facing similar housing expense problems as well as questions about their travel expenses. Meanwhile, Duffy left the caucus after it was revealed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s then Chief of Staff Nigel Wright gave him a personal cheque to help pay back more than $90,000 in allowances he was not supposed to get.

The Conservatives immediately slammed Trudeau for supporting Harb. Government House Leader Peter Van Loan called it a “lapse in judgment,” much like Trudeau’s decision to keep Senator Pana Merchant in caucus despite questions over some $1.7 million in an offshore bank account.

Meanwhile, in an interview with CTV’s Question Period, Trudeau defended his party’s desire to keep the Senate structure as is, rather than reform or abolish it as the Conservatives and NDP are advocating. He called for an “open and transparent process” whereby a commission or group of “Canadians of good repute” compile a list of worthy individuals from which the Prime Minister could choose.

Trudeau also challenged the other parties to start disclosing not just senator expenses, but also MP expenses online, something the Liberals have promised to do starting this fall.

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said that kind of reporting could usurp serious staff time and that he preferred to work through the all-party House of Commons Board of Internal Economy which oversees, among other things, MP spending.

He said the board would issue a letter through the Speaker on Monday or Tuesday outlining changes to the way MPs disclose expenses. It’s part of consultations that have been ongoing for about a year, he said, adding some of the new guidelines have already been implemented.

“We’re going to get more detail in the coming months on MPs’ salaries so that Canadians can go online and click a link and find out what we’re spending on travel, on hospitality, on hotels, on our staffing, that kind of thing,” he told The West Block.

tcohen@postmedia.com
Twitter.com/tobicohen

Senate committee gives Brazeau, Harb 30 days to repayAudit on Senator Pamela Wallin expenses to be finished by end of July

Thursday, June 13, 2013
A Senate Committee has given Senators Patrick Brazeau, left, and Mac Harb 30 days to repay $48,000 and $231,000 in improper sxpenses respectively. An audit into Senator Pamela Wallin's expenses is expected in late July. (Adrian Wyle/Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Senators Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb have been asked to repay within 30 days thousands of dollars that the Senate says they owe for improperly claimed housing allowances, while the highly anticipated audit on Senator Pamela Wallin is expected to be completed next month.

The Senate's internal economy committee heard these revelations at a Thursday morning meeting opened up partly to the media. The committee normally holds closed meetings, but reporters were allowed in for some of the proceedings.

The committee chair, Senator David Tkachuk, told the committee he sent letters to Brazeau and Harb with the new deadline. Brazeau's letter was sent May 28 and he is to repay $48,745.13 for housing and mileage expenses. The letter to Harb asking him to repay $231,649.07 was sent June 3.

Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen said after the meeting that if the senators don't pay within the 30 days, the Senate has options available to it to get the money back and she mentioned offsetting their salaries.

The committee also heard that the cheque that paid the government back for Senator Mike Duffy's expenses was drawn from a Prince Edward Island bank account. Duffy, a P.E.I. senator, paid back about $90,000 for expenses, but the money came from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, who wrote a cheque to Duffy.

Auditors from Deloitte, the firm hired to look at the housing and travel claims of Brazeau, Duffy, Harb and Wallin, were at the committee meeting and said they expect to be finished with Wallin's audit by the end of July. The audits and Senate reports on the other three senators were released in May.

The Deloitte staff said they are examining Wallin's claims dating back to when she was first appointed as a senator for Saskatchewan in January 2009, a longer period than they were originally asked to examine. They said they are examining the nature of her expenses, trying to determine whether she was on Senate business when she made expense claims and that they are waiting for some third-party information.
Wallin report expected end of July

They said they expect to be finished their work by mid-July, then their report will have to be translated and is expected to be finished at the end of the month.

The Senate is scheduled to sit until June 28 and reports traditionally are not tabled when Parliament is not sitting. The House of Commons and the Senate are scheduled to resume sitting Sept.16.

The internal economy committee might pass a motion Thursday that would permit a report to be tabled with the Senate clerk when the chamber is not in session.

CBC News has learned that Wallin has already repaid more than $40,000.

The Senate report that accompanied the audit on Harb ordered him to repay $51,000 in housing and living expenses claimed over 18 months from April 2011 to September 2012, but also recommended that a review going back further in time should be done.

Senator Elizabeth Marshall confirmed to the committee that Senate audit staff were the ones who did the deeper review, not Deloitte, and came up with the higher figure of $231,649.07.

CBC News was told that new figure on Wednesday and that the review period dates back to 2005-2006. Harb was appointed in 2003.

Harb has hired legal counsel and is challenging the audit findings. His lawyer, retired Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache, said Wednesday that his client would be making a statement within a few days.

The Senate report in May said Brazeau had to repay $48,000, but he is also challenging the findings.

A spokeswoman for Brazeau, Debby Simms, told CBC in an email on Thursday that his office has complied with Senate policy and that "given the inordinate amount of political manipulation around the process, we believe that it is best left to the RCMP and the Auditor General to determine the facts regarding Senator Brazeau's expense claims."

"With so many closed-door meetings, political interests, and grandstanding from all sides, the very credibility of the board of internal economy is in question," she wrote.

In other news, the Senate's internal economy committee chose a new chair on Thursday, Senator Gerald Comeau, to replace David Tkachuk. Tkachuk said earlier in the week that he has to undergo treatment for bladder cancer and could not carry out his committee duties.

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