Monday, March 24, 2014

"Let us pray ....."

"Hello, God? ..... CyberSmokeBlog is doing very well thank you for asking. Could you please send Conservative Senator Don Meredith a Wright-Duffy style untraceable cheque for $1,294 to cover his expenses at last months National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. after all he was representing you."
Senate administration examining Conservative Senator Meredith's expenses

The Senate is conducting a detailed review of Tory Senator Don Meredith's Expenses: Source

By Abbas Rana
Monday, March 24, 2014
Conservative Senator Don Meredith's Senate expenses are being reviewed by the Senate administration due to a trip he took to Washington, D.C. to the National Prayer Breakfast. Senator Meredith said in an email to The Hill Times, 'As a public servant, I am proud of the work I do to support our government's domestic and international goals.' Government Senate Leader Claude Carignan declined to comment. (The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright)

The Senate administration is conducting a detailed review of all of expense claims filed by Ontario Conservative Senator Don Meredith. The Senate is looking at all his expenses since Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed him to the Upper Chamber in December 2010, sources told The Hill Times.

“They’re reviewing each and every expense claim that he filed,” a Senate source told The Hill Times.

In interviews last week, sources said the Senate administration decided to look into it because some specific expense-related complaints were recently brought to the Senate’s attention. Sources said, with the ongoing Senate audit by Auditor General Michael Ferguson of all Senators’ expenses, it was important to use due diligence before the AG’s office finds any inappropriate approvals and makes those public.

“It’s very important that the Senate administration take the time to really take a look at it again because if there’s a fault within their own internal system, it will only be good for them to figure it out on their own and fix it before the AG exposes them,” the source said.

Another trigger for this review was Senator Meredith’s five-day trip last month to Washington D.C. for the National Prayer Breakfast which Senate Conservative Whip Senator Elizabeth Marshall (Newfoundland and Labrador) declined to approve twice. The Senate finance department also told his office ahead of time that his expenses would not be approved because the trip was not considered Senate business.

The Senate finance department subsequently advised the Senator’s office that it would not approve the expenses of the trip until the Senate Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration Committee approved it.

The committee ended up not offering any opinion because Senator Marshall had already disapproved it and the expectation was that he would not take this trip. Nevertheless, he did.

The prayer breakfast was on Thursday, February 6, but Senator Meredith stayed in Washington for five days, from February 3-February 7.

Senator Meredith used his Senate travel points to buy business class air tickets for himself and his wife.

Following the completion of this trip, he filed a claim of $1,294 for hotel stay, meals and taxi fares.

In addition to attending the prayer breakfast, Senator Meredith met and dined with some ambassadors from African countries and met with Michigan Congressman Bill Huizenga.

In September, Senator Meredith attended the annual International Prayer Breakfast in New York City organized by the UN diplomats and his expenses were not approved by the Senate administration. He filed an appeal with the Senate Internal Economy Committee twice, but the appeals were rejected both times.

Senator Meredith is now said to be in the process of paying back those expenses.

Because of frequent disapproval of ineligible expenses, sources told The Hill Times that the Senate administration sent Senator Meredith a letter in the past advising him to be careful with the way he uses his Senate-issued American Express credit card and to use it only when he’s confident that those expenses are going to be accepted by the Senate finance department.

Sources told The Hill Times that the Conservative Senate leadership is also concerned about Senator Meredith’s tendency to be late for regular Senate sittings and committee meetings.

The Senate administration keeps track of Senators’ regular attendance in the Upper Chamber, but the attendance records do not indicate lateness or how long a Senator actually stayed in the Chamber or in Senate committees.

However, the Conservative Senate Whip’s Office does keep those records.

Two weeks ago, Senator Meredith was dropped from the Senate Human Rights Committee because of his expenses issues and his tendency to be late for Senate sittings and committee meetings.

It’s also expected that he could be dropped from the Senate Aboriginal Peoples Committee in the coming weeks for the same reasons.

Government Senate leader Claude Carignan (Mille Isles, Quebec), through his spokesman Sebastien Gariepy, declined to comment.

“We don’t have any comment on this,” Mr. Gariepy said in a phone call to The Hill Times.

According to the most recent quarterly Senate expense report available on the Senate website, between September and November, Senator Meredith spent $11,256 on travel.

Senator Meredith lives in Toronto and although the flight to Ottawa is less than an hour long, he prefers to travel in business class on a regular basis and whenever his wife comes to Ottawa, she also travels in business class.

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The Senate travel policy does allow Senators to travel in business class, but the policy advises Senators to use their judgment in making these decisions.

The Hill Times contacted Senator Meredith’s office for comment on the Senate’s review of his expenses and other issues outlined in this article. Senator Meredith, an ordained evangelical minister, emailed a statement to The Hill Times.

“Being a pastor and long-time activist around engaging, encouraging and empowerment of our at-risk youth was also an important part of why I was asked to serve. Day after day, I am driven to do my best to respond to the demands of my various constituencies,” wrote Senator Meredith.

“That is what Canadians expect of me. And sometimes that includes finding efficient ways to reconcile my spiritual vocation as part of my public duties. As a public servant, I am proud of the work I do in support of our government’s domestic and international goals. And I am happy to continue supporting the government’s initiatives.”

The Hill Times also contacted Senate communications to confirm if the administration is conducting a review of Senator Meredith’s expenses. In a written response, Senate Communications said:

“In June, the Senate invited the auditor general to examine Senators’ expenses, and the audit is well underway. Meanwhile, as a part of standard operating procedures, outlined in detail below, the Senate administration regularly examines and monitors Senators’ expense claims and travel patterns,” said the statement.

“According to the Senators’ travel policy, the monitoring and reporting is as follows - 2.19.1: claims verification [and] 2.19.1.1: all travel expense claims shall be verified by the finance division prior to any reimbursement being processed. Finance verification shall include confirmation that all expenses claimed are in compliance with this policy and that mandatory documentation has been submitted.

“2.19.1.2: should unusual travel activity or patterns emerge, these travel claims shall be brought to the attention of the [Senate] Steering Committee for consideration and further verification if necessary. In such instances, finance staff may be directed by the committee to request from the Senator documentation that substantiates the Parliamentary nature of the travel for a more comprehensive review.”

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual non-partisan event organized by the Congressional leadership in Washington D.C. This event is attended by more than 3,000 people from around the world including the President of the United States, the Vice President, Members of the President’s Cabinet, Congressmen, Senators, diplomats, heads of states and other politicians from around the world and well-known people from all walks of life.

In addition to Senator Meredith, Conservative MP Steven Fletcher (Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia, Manitoba), Conservative MP Harold Albrecht (Kitchener-Conestoga, Ontario), and Green Party leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, British Columbia) also attended the Washington, D.C., prayer breakfast.

Both Tory MPs’ trip to Washington D.C. was approved by the Chief Government Whip.

All three MPs and Senatpr Meredith are members of the all-party informal Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast Group which meets every Wednesday when Parliament is in session from 7 a.m.-8 a.m. at the Parliamentary Restaurant. In total, the group has about 25 MPs and Senators.

In an interview, Mr. Fletcher told The Hill Times that the House paid for the airfare, his hotel stay and other per diems. He did not disclose the amount of his claim but said all of his expenses were filed according to Treasury Board guidelines and said that the House finance department did not raise any issue with it.

On top of attending the National Prayer Breakfast, which Mr. Fletcher said was a great networking opportunity, he met with ambassadors from six countries who are posted in Washington but have responsibilities for Canada as well and some Congressmen and Senators. In his meetings with diplomats, he said he discussed issues related to trade between Canada and their countries.

“It was a good opportunity to increase mutual understanding of our respective countries. We talked about trade and Canadian investment and [discussions about] some countries [that] may have issues with democracy or human rights,” said Mr. Fletcher, who declined to offer any details about those discussions.

He said he was in Washington for four days.

Mr. Albrecht said that he was in Washington for three days and filed expense claims for airfare, hotel stay and other related expenses. In addition to his airfare, he filed an expense claim of $1,109 which included his hotel stay and per diems.

Mr. Albrecht said he also met with ambassadors from six different countries and hoped that his meetings would develop and strengthen relationships between Canada and those respective countries.

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“The meetings with the ambassadors, it’s an important part of building relationships. These ambassadors, some of them haven’t been to Canada to [present] their credentials so I think those relationships would open the door for when they do come to Canada. Hopefully, we’ll be able to build on that relationship between theirs and our countries. Beyond that, it’s important for people of faith to have forums where they can share their journey with each other. It’s important for people of faith to incorporate their faith into their daily life,” said Mr. Albrecht.

Ms. May told The Hill Times that she stayed with a friend while she was Washington and that in addition to her airfare, she filed a claim of about $180 for per diems in total.

She also said she would encourage every MP and Senator to attend the National Prayer Breakfast at least once because of the unique opportunity it offers to meet with politicians from the United States, but also from around the world which could prove to be helpful in developing and building relationships between Canada and other countries.

Ms. May also gave a speech at an event organized by the Congressional Spousal Group, which was part of the National Prayer breakfast.

Ms. May said she spoke on the importance of non-partisanship in the context of prayer breakfasts and how that affects people’s live in a very partisan world.

During the trip, Ms. May said she met with a number of Congressmen, Senators, Congressional staffers and some environmental groups. She said she conveyed her party’s position and the Canadian perspective on issues related to the environment.

“My participation highlighted, in a very crowded political landscape in Washington, that I’m the Leader of the Green Party of Canada, that I’m non-partisan in my outlook, that Canada is a country with more than one view on key issues, but approaches them respectfully,” Ms. May said.

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arana@hilltimes.com

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