Monday, February 10, 2014

A touch of irony!


Liberal Senator Joseph Day

Liberal Senator Paul Massicotte



Good Day Readers:

It seems a tad ironic a Senate that has only allowed an Auditor General of Canada through it doors twice in its long history - the last being Sheila Fraser in 2011 for a report presented to Parliament - has a couple Members squealing whining like stuck pigs at the public trough because current AG Michael Ferguson won't offer them full disclosure. All this from a Senate that has traditionally and largely conducted secret internal audits.

Hell, when the controversial housing and travel allowances of four Senators arose last summer Mr. Ferguson was not summoned, rather, Deliotte Touche with ties to the Conservative Party of Canada. So stop your bloody complaining and suffer in the dark like voting taxpayers have over the years. How does it feel eh?

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk

Everybody's worried 'about AG's audit: Liberal Senator Day

Liberal Senators Joseph Day and Paul Massicotte say more details from the AG's Office will help senators during the ongoing audit

By Abbas Rana
Monday, February 10, 2014

Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson

It’s considered the toughest expense probe in the Senate’s history, and some Senators say the parameters of Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s ongoing audit of their expenses are unclear and that the AG’s office should hold more briefings to clarify the Senate’s expense rules because the current atmosphere of uncertainty is creating a chill in the Upper Chamber.

“I think it is. I think it is even before we see any results of any of the audit, it’s put a damper on things, and everybody’s worried. People are still worried. My office staff are very concerned that they might have done something because they feel that the parameters of the audit have not been clearly enough explained… [This confusion is] putting a damper on things. It’s a chill that’s just happening and I’ll be glad when it’ll be over, quite frankly,” New Brunswick Liberal Senator Joseph Day, told The Hill Times last week on the Hill.

Quebec Liberal Senator Paul Massicotte (De Lanaudièrein, Quebec) agreed and said more briefings are needed. He said, hypothetically, if a hospital or a charity in his riding invites him to a fundraiser or any other event, it’s unclear if his travel expenses will be considered as reimbursable.

“It’s not clear. It depends upon the charity. It depends upon the function. We get solicited a lot in our communities. [People say, Senator] ‘Can you come to this, can you come to that?’ I go because I owe it to my community. I’m lucky to be a Senator. I’m there to serve. So, I do a lot of stuff, in that respect. But if it’s not legislative, one could argue it’s not reimbursable,” said Senator Massicotte, who was appointed to the Upper Chamber by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and is a Member of the Senate Standing Committee of Banking, Trade and Commerce and the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

Senator Day, who has not yet been audited, said that so far, the AG’s Office has held one briefing for Senators and one for their Senate staffers, which he said is not enough because they need more details. Both briefings were held on Parliament Hill before Christmas.

Senators had been using an honour system to fill out expense forms, which was removed this year, but had allowed “Senate business” to describe any trips and did not require receipts for airport taxis, according to CBC News.

Senator Day said Senators rely heavily on staffers for administrative support for their office work, including travel arrangements, keeping track of expenses, and handling documents. He said Senators’ staffers also want more clarity on the expense and audit rules and that more briefings would be helpful.

 “They’re [Senate staffers] still worried. They have to dig out all the papers and everything,” said Senator Day, who was appointed to the Red Chamber by Prime Minister Chrétien as well.

Senator Day, who’s talked to Senators who have already been audited, said they did not come across any surprises during the audit and that the process was not “disruptive” to their office work.

Senator Day said that Liberal Senators who think that the AG’s office should hold more briefings have conveyed their concerns in detail to the Liberal Senate leadership.

Senators told The Hill Times that prior to conducting the audit of a Senator, a team of auditors from Mr. Ferguson’s office meets with that particular Senator and staff to explain how the process will work. After that, auditors get all the paper work from the Senate Finance Department. While reviewing the paper work, if the auditors have any questions about receipts or any other paper work, they contact the staff or, in some cases, the Senator being audited.

The Hill Times interviewed five Conservative Senators and all denied that there was any confusion or that more AG briefings were needed.

“The rules are clear to me, I haven’t heard that they weren’t clear. They were clear to me. There’s no lack of clarity for me,” said Ontario Conservative Senator Vern White, former Ottawa Police Chief who also served for 20 years in the RCMP, in an interview with The Hill Times. He said that during his career in law enforcement, he went through a number of audits, which could be the reason for his better understanding of how the audit process works.

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Newfoundland and Labrador Conservative Senator Fabian Manning agreed.

“We had our briefings. It’s pretty well straightforward what the auditor general is looking for. I’m not sure where that would be coming from because the briefing was pretty straightforward what the auditor was asking for. I’m not aware of any surprises that may be coming our way form discussions that I had,” said Senator Manning.

But a top Conservative source familiar with the ongoing Senate audit agreed with Liberal Senators that there is confusion in the rules of how the audit process is working.

“There’s confusion in the rules, yes,” said the source, who did not want to be identified, and who did not offer any specifics.

A spokesman for Mr. Ferguson declined to share any details as to how many briefings are conducted for Senators and their staffers or if the Auditor General’s Office will hold more briefings for Senators.

“Our Office does not discuss the scope of its audits nor the work undertaken as long as these audits are ongoing,” wrote Ghislain Desjardins, a spokesman for Auditor General’s Office in an email response to The Hill Times.

Marc Roy, Liberal Senate Caucus Communications Director told The Hill Times that Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan has not sent any request to the Auditor General’s Office for more briefings. He said that Mr. Ferguson is dealing with all Senators’ offices individually.

“If there’s been a request for further information, more information, that has not been coordinated through our office, it’s been done on an individual basis,” Mr. Roy told The Hill Times.

CBC News reported last month that the AG’s audit may go as far as doing physical inspections of Senators’ Ottawa-area dwellings and that the AG’s staff may visit the homes that Senators designate as primary residences in the provinces they represent. The AG’s Office could also interview neighbours, the CBC reported.

Senators who live more than 100 kilometres from Ottawa can charge up to $22,000 a year for secondary housing expenses if they rent or own a property in or near Ottawa.

Last week, the RCMP formally charged suspended Senator Patrick Brazeau and retired Senator Mac Harb with one count each of fraud and breach of trust related to inappropriate Senate expense claims, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud announced on February 4 in Ottawa. The RCMP also alleged the two defrauded taxpayers by claiming travel and living expenses that they were not entitled to.

“The RCMP has proceeded to charge Mr. Brazeau and Mr. Harb with one count each of breach of trust and fraud under sections 122 and 380 of the Criminal Code,” Mr. Michaud said.

Senator Brazeau and Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin were suspended from the Upper Chamber in October without pay after an outside audit of their expenses was conducted.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ferguson told Postmedia News last week that his office is “satisfied” with the level of cooperation it’s receiving from Senators so far and expects the audit to be finished some time between the end of 2014 and the first quarter of 2015.

“We’re still underway with it, doing the work—it’s progressing. It’s a lot of work. We’re looking at a lot of information, but it’s progressing,” said Mr. Ferguson.

“So far, we’re satisfied with the cooperation. Obviously there are questions and they want information about what we’re doing and that type of thing, but I think so far we’re satisfied with the level of cooperation,” Mr. Ferguson told Postmedia News.

Mr. Ferguson said the AG’s office is using mostly internal resources to conduct the audit, but may also be using one or two outside resources.

Mr. Ferguson also said the AG’s office is doing its best not to conduct the audit in the public, when asked if his teams feel public pressure to finish the audit quickly.

“I don’t think the auditors are feeling pressure. We know we have a job to do and we’re going to do it the way we always do it, with the same rigour and care we always do an audit. At the end, we’ll report the results whatever they are.”

Mr. Ferguson told Postmedia News that he expects the audit to be done “somewhere between December and the first quarter of 2015. It’s hard to exactly say when we’ll be exactly finished. We’re hoping to be finished by the end of this calendar year, but we’ll have to wait and see.”


arana@hilltimes.com

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