Monday, October 28, 2013

It's time to play name those names - getting nervous are we senators?

Senators on edge as auditor-general prepares to name names in sweeping spending probe

By Jordan Press
Monday, October 28, 2013
Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press files)

OTTAWA — A sweeping probe of Senate spending by Canada’s auditor general will name names when Michael Ferguson eventually outlines his findings, and the prospect leaves some members of the upper chamber jumpy.

The last time the auditor general’s office reviewed spending in the upper chamber, when Sheila Fraser held the job, its final report didn’t even identify who were among the small batch of senators were having their expenses reviewed.

This week, auditor general Michael Ferguson let senators know that won’t be the case this time around, Postmedia News has learned. Ferguson is studying the expenses of every senator and will report whose expenses are in line and whose are not.

Ferguson explained how he would report findings on every member of the upper chamber during a closed-door meeting with senators last Tuesday night, minutes after they had adjourned debate for the day on motions to suspend without pay three senators whose questionable expenses led the upper chamber to call in the auditor general in the first place.

There are some in the chamber who aren’t concerned about what the final report will say, believing their fiscal house is in order, though they concede it’s possible he will uncover mistakes. But it appears that there is concern from others about being scrutinized by Ferguson and his office. Senators appear to have drawn the line on one request from the auditor, balking at a request from Ferguson’s office for information that may be subject to solicitor-client privilege.

Ferguson has the right to ask for the confidential communications between senators and their lawyers, but he also must protect this information from release. However, the auditor general has never before sought such documentation from senators, and they are not ready to waive this confidentiality now.

Letters have been sent out to senators’ offices asking them to consent to the request.

“We’re not going to give it to him,” said a senator who was at the meeting Tuesday, and who would only speak on condition of anonymity.

Spending in the upper chamber has been the subject of an ongoing scandal that hit a new level of drama last week as the Senate debated whether to suspend, without pay, senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. All three were found to have run afoul of Senate spending rules, although all three claim to have done nothing wrong. A motion to limit that debate was expected to be introduced Monday; it was possible a final vote on their fates could happen midweek, though the timelines are fluid.

All three have spoken in the Senate in their defence and argued that they were not alone in making expense claims that could be considered questionable, or even in violation of Senate spending rules.

During debate, it was even suggested that Conservative senators had repaid numerous questionable expense claims.

“I’ve heard other rumours, not publicly, that other members of [the Conservative] caucus have repaid expenses. I don’t know the truth of that,” said Senator Elaine McCoy, an independent senator who sits as a Progressive Conservative.

Ferguson’s audit is to begin in earnest this month, with the first of what is expected to be three reports from Ferguson’s auditors arriving before the Senate in December. The remaining two reports will outline the findings of probes of senators’ individual spending going back two years.


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