Tuesday, March 04, 2014

"These guys have stolen more money than Al Capone ....." NDP House Leader Nathan Cohen

"You talking about me Mr. Cullen ..... well are you? I know where you live! I'ma gonna whacka you good man or get Vinnie and the boys to do it!"



Good Day Readers:

You really have to wonder about this Nathan Cullen lad. Taxpayers want to know who's ....ing away their hard earned dollars. It matters not whether it's a Senator or Member of Parliament.the money belongs to Canadians they're the ones who earned it and don't you forget that politicians!

What's good for the goose is also good for the gander. The Auditor General's Office shouldn't have to be "invited" to look at the books that's nonsense. An AGO must be empowered to conduct ad hoc audits of both Houses as IT deems necessary.

As for Mr. Cullen's argument MPs can and should be allowed to self-monitor ..... Balls! Time and time and time again politicians have shown to be like lawyers. Do not trust!

BTW, Senator Downe is one of the good guys, unfortunately, he finds himself surrounded by a bunch of losers. You may recall he was in the news not long ago over reports millions and millions, probably billions, of dollars were being offshored by wealthy Canadians to avoid the Canadian Revenue Agency.

At the time, he was unaware fellow Liberal Senator Pana Merchant, married to high profile Regina lawyer Tony Merchant, had been snagged in a scheme in which she was named as a beneficiary to a secret trust fund worth a little over $1 million registered in the Cook Islands. Mr. Merchant has been battling the CRA for several years while unbeknownst to the Agency the offshore account existed. A few months ago he launched a lawsuit against the Canada Revenue Agency. Good luck!.
 It should be interesting to read the report of Pana Merchant's audit by Auditor General Michael Ferguson. You have to give him credit he's not ....ing around.

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk.
Fur Flies between MPs, Senators as AG's upper chamber audit rages on

Senators may be undergoing the toughest-ever spending probe in the Senate's history, but MPs say over on the House side they don't need to be audited by Canada's auditor general causing a war of words between the two Houses over the sensitive issue.

By Abbas Rana
Monday, March 3, 2014


Liberal Senator Percy Downe, left, and NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen. Senator Downe says the House should also be regularly audited by the AG, but Mr. Cullen says the Senator is trying to deflect attention away from the Senate. (The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright)

Senators may be undergoing the toughest-ever spending probe in the Senate’s history, but MPs say over on the House side they don’t need to be audited by Canada’s auditor general, causing a war of words between the two Houses over the sensitive issue.

“We don’t take lessons from this Senate when it comes to expenses. These guys have stolen more money than Al Capone,” NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, British Columbia.) told The Hill Times when asked to respond to PEI Liberal Senator Percy Downe’s motion calling for a comprehensive audit of all MPs’ expenses by Auditor General Michael Ferguson.

The text of Senator Downe’s motion tabled in the Senate Chamber on February 25 states: “That the Senate call upon the Members of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada to join the Senate in its efforts to increase transparency by acknowledging the longstanding request of current and former auditors general of Canada to examine the accounts of both Houses of Parliament, and thereby inviting the auditor general of Canada to conduct a comprehensive audit of House of Commons expenses, including MPs’ expenses, and that the audits of the House of Commons and the Senate be conducted concurrently, and the results for both Chambers of Parliament be published at the same time.”

In the 105-seat Red Chamber, there are 57 Conservatives, 32 Liberals, seven Independents, and nine seats are vacant. The motion does not have any legislative power and if MPs’ refuse to undergo an audit by the auditor general, it could cause some suspicions in the minds of Canadians that they may have something to hide.

According to a study based on 12 focus groups conducted by Léger Marketing, a polling and market research firm, for the Privy Council Office released in August, accountability of politicians is one of the “top-of-mind” priorities for Canadians along with the economy, job growth and natural resource development. The study was conducted when media outlets across the country were awash with news stories about questionable expenses claimed by some Senators.

“Recent allegations [Senate expenses scandal] regarding misspending were perceived as a sign that more accountability was needed for all use of public money. The events of the past few months created a sense among participants that overspending or using public money for personal benefits may be widespread,” the study stated.

“Many participants spontaneously contrasted what they viewed as a waste of tax dollars by rich politicians to their more difficult personal situation. They were frustrated to think that public servants used Canadians’ hard earned tax dollars to live lush lifestyles while taxpayers personally struggled to make a decent living.”

In the aftermath of the Senate expenses scandal last year that revealed that some Conservative and Liberal Senators claimed inappropriate housing and travel expenses, the Senate’s Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration Committee invited Mr. Ferguson to conduct a comprehensive audit of all Senators’ expenses. Since then, three former Conservative-turned-Independent Senators—Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau - have been suspended until the end of this Parliamentary session and former Liberal Senator Mac Harb has resigned.

The RCMP is conducting an investigation into the alleged fraudulent housing and travel claims of these Senators. Last month, the RCMP formally charged Sen. Brazeau and Senator Harb with one count each of fraud and breach of trust related to alleged fraudulent Senate expense claims. The RCMP also alleged the two defrauded taxpayers by claiming travel and living expenses that they were not entitled to.

The RCMP is also investigating the transaction between Nigel Wright, the former Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, and Senator Duffy. Mr. Wright gave Senator Duffy $90,000 to pay off his questionable Senate expense claims.

Mr. Ferguson is scheduled to release his audit report by March of 2015 which could reveal even more embarrassing misspending by other Senators from both parties.

Meanwhile, after tabling this motion in the Senate on Tuesday, Senator Downe wrote a letter to all party leaders asking them to put forward a motion in the House and invite the auditor general to conduct a comprehensive audit of their expenses.

“Canadians are requesting more transparency, particularly when it comes to the way their public institutions are run. Canadians expect all Parliamentarians to manage their budgets with careful consideration, but they also expect to see proof of that consideration. To that end, I urge you to show strong leadership on this issue by moving a motion requesting that the Auditor General conduct a comprehensive audit of the expenses of members of the House of Commons,” Senator Downe wrote.

Page 1 of 3

Senator Downe sent the letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alberta.), NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, Quebec), Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Quebec), Bloc Québécois Interim Leader André Bellavance (Richmond-Arthabaska, Quebec), and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, British Columbia).

Ms. May said she agrees with Senator Downe’s motion and will try to put forward a motion in the House this week calling on the Commons to invite the Auditor General to audit their expenses. But she cautioned that other parties are unlikely to let her table this motion because she needs the House’s unanimous consent and for that she needs to have 12 MPs in her caucus, but she only has two.

“I’ll draft a motion according to what Percy Downe’s letter proposes. I’ll try if I can get unanimous consent. I’ll try,” said Ms. May.

But Conservative and NDP MPs’ vehemently rejected the idea that the Auditor General should audit their expenses.

“We’re proactively posting all our expenses as of last fall, if you go on our website, you’ll see they’re there and the House administration will be posting them starting in the next fiscal year, so we’re in very good shape. So, no audit is needed,” Chief Government Whip John Duncan (Vancouver Island North, British Columbia) told The Hill Times.

Conservative MP Daryl Kramp (Prince Edward-Hastings, Ontario) said he’s opposed to the idea mainly because it would cost a lot and that there aren’t any specific examples where MPs misusing the public money. Given the absence of any misuse of expenses on the House side, Mr. Kramp called Senator Downe’s request for an audit of MPs’ expenses a “schoolyard approach.”

“It costs a lot of money to audit and that’s fine if there’s definitely an apparent a problem, then by all means, audit. Why not?” said Mr. Kramp and added that with the current rigorous finance system in place on the House side, MPs can’t abuse the system. “I don’t see there’s room [for cheating], we have no latitude.”

But one MP, who spoke to The Hill Times on condition of anonymity, said although he’s unaware of any specific recent cases where MPs misused their expenses, there is room for potential abuse.

“There are a lot of things that a person can do if they want to cheat. There’s all kinds of crap you can do but do you want to destroy your good name for a [few] thousand bucks?” said the source and offered two examples to make his point.

Hypothetically, the source said that if an MP drives to and from Montreal or the GTA area to Ottawa on the same day, that person does not have to submit any receipt and can claim .54 cents per kilometre on gas, which could result in hundreds of dollars per trip. If the MP did not return to and from the riding on the same day then receipts would have to be provided.

“Gasoline is around $100 [round trip for Toronto], let’s say, it’s close to 450 kilometres. That’s like $350-$400 bucks roughly. That’s $1,600 for a month. It’s a lot of money. Out of 64 round trips, let’s say you cheat on 20, you paid your mortgage.”

MPs are allowed to have 64 round trips from their ridings to Ottawa annually.

Another possible example, the source offered, is an extreme case in which an MP hires an employee and makes an arrangement in which the staffer will officially be paid $80,000 annually, out of which the staffer will have to pay back $20,000 to the MP and the staffer will keep the rest.

“Is that being done, I don’t think so but some people might be stupid.”

The source pointed out that MPs also don’t have to submit taxi receipts, if the fare is $25 or less.

The source said that he’s not worried about his own expenses and would welcome an audit, but said some MPs are worried about the details that the auditor general is getting into on the Senate side such as reportedly trying to hold Senators accountable for “every cent” that they spent.

A Senate source told The Hill Times recently that the auditors are examining phone bills, all hospitality expenses, and, in some cases, requesting the personal credit card records of Senators who used those cards to pay for their Senate expenses.

Page 3 of 3

According to this source, Mr. Ferguson also has told Senators that his team reserves the right to speak to Senators’ neighbours as to whether or not they actually live where they claim they live and also to interview third parties or their staffers on any of their filed claims.

When told about some of the potential ways MPs could abuse the system, Mr. Kramp told The Hill Times: “To my mind, that’s fraud, that’s criminal. That’s not even misrepresentation. That’s criminal. There should be a criminal investigation on something like that, if that were to take place.”

Senator Downe said he also agrees that a vast majority of Parliamentarians follow the rules but as it turned out, some on the Senate side didn’t and were caught. For this reason, he said it’s in the interest of all Parliamentarians, MPs and Senators, to undergo the comprehensive audit process. Senator Downe said reluctance on the part of MPs would cause some to think that they have something to hide.

“The vast majority expenditures are in line, I believe that. I believe them [MPs’] but Canadians want proof and I suspect, like the Senate there’s some that may not be in compliance. The way to do this is clear the air.

Why are they reluctant to do this?”

Mr. Cullen disagreed: “This is more about Senators desperately trying to turn the light on somebody else, when the fact of the matter remains, when we’ve had the auditor general already come in for performance audit review of the House of Commons, it was a positive audit,” said Mr. Cullen.

“So, again, hypocrisy coming from these guys is outstanding and they know they got caught. It’s ridiculous, no one believes them,” Mr. Cullen said.

Mr. Cullen said the only way to address the issue of MPs’ expenses permanently in his party’s view is by first abolishing the Commons Board of Internal Economy and replacing it with an arm’s length agency to monitor and manage MPs’ expenses.

According to the current mandate of the auditor general, Mr. Ferguson can conduct audits of both Chambers of Parliament on request only.

The last time the auditor general conducted an audit on the House was two years ago when only a small sample of MPs’ expense claims were audited which included a one-time audit of the financial administration of the Commons. That audit report found that 98.5 per cent of the claims reviewed were properly documented. The AG’s audit of the Senate’s financial administration in 2012 found a 94.8 per cent compliance rate. Before that, the last time the AG audited Parliament was more than 20 years ago.

Senator Downe said that the 2012 audit is one of the key examples of why a comprehensive audit is also needed because with a detailed probe, each MP’s expenses will be audited. And in the 2012 audit, only a small number of MPs and Senators were audited and both audits showed a high percentage of compliance, which turned out to be otherwise when the Senate expenses scandal came out.

The AG “didn’t do individuals MPs’ expenses and the House of Commons was 99 per cent compliance and the Senate was in 94 per cent compliance. We know how that has turned out. We need a detailed review to restore confidence of Canadians in the system,” said Senator Downe.

Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Quebec) office did not respond to emailed questions about whether he supports Senator Downe’s motion or if he or one of his caucus members would table a motion in the House asking for a comprehensive audit by the Auditor General.

Liberal MP Scott Simms (Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland.and Labrador) told The Hill Times that as an MP, he supports the idea of MPs’ audits by the auditor general, but said Mr. Trudeau will decide whether their caucus will table a motion asking for one or not.

In response to MPs’ unwillingness for an audit, Senator Downe quipped: “They all want to go to heaven but none of them want to die. They’re all supportive but nobody would take the action. I’m hoping they will take the action.”

Meanwhile, two Conservative Senators Don Meredith and Raynell Andreychuk told The Hill Times recently that MPs’ expenses should also be audited, but last week were unavailable for comments.


arana@hilltimes.com




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