Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Sweat you arrogant little free-spending Senatorial buggers Canada's Auditor General is gunning for you!

Good Day Readers:

Hopefully, the Auditor General will also send a copy of his report to the RCMP. Given what the public knows about the Senate's Internal Board of Economy and it's secretive, sloppy way of doing business do you really think it can be trusted. Besides, what if one of those Senators with significant over expenditures is on that Board - conflict of interest. Let the Mounties decide whether further charges should be laid.

Would you want an auditor with a scowl like that on your case?

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk
A G's confidential reports refers tens of thousands of misspending to Senate Internal Economy Committee: Sources

"Some [Senators] are in a tizzy, others are happy the AG didn't find anything in their expense claims,' said one Senate Source.

By Abbas Rana
Monday, May 4, 2015

Auditor General Michael Ferguson. (The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright)

Written on controlled and numbered documents with instructions not to make any copies, Auditor General Michael Ferguson sent out his final confidential audit findings to Senators two weeks ago, clearing some Senators while flagging the expenses of others and referring those cases, which in some instances run into tens of thousands of dollars, to the Senate’s powerful Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration Committee, Senate sources told The Hill Times last week.

AG Ferguson sends out final audit reports to Senators

AG Ferguson gives Senators confidential preview of upcoming Senate audit report

“Some [Senators] are in a tizzy, others are happy that the AG didn’t find anything in their expense claims,” a Senate source said last week.

The federal spending watchdog is scheduled to table his final audit report in the Red Chamber in the first week of June, but Senators started to receive advance copies of their final audit documents on April 22. The Auditor General’s Office started the audit process in the fall of 2013 and examined the expense accounts of 117 current and former Senators who served in the Upper Chamber between April 2011 to March 2013.

The Senate audit was triggered after the Senate expenses scandal dominated the national agenda for months and caused the suspension of three Conservative Senators, including Michael Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau, while one Liberal Senator Mac Harb chose to tender his resignation in 2013. Sen. Duffy is facing 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The Mounties are still investigating the expense claims of Sen. Wallin and have already filed criminal charges against Sen. Brazeau and Mr. Harb.

In his final reports, Mr. Ferguson advised all Senators that the advance copies sent out to them are the property of his office and are to be returned a week after the final document is tabled in Parliament.

Sources told The Hill Times that the final reports, signed by Mr. Ferguson, can be chiefly divided in two categories. In the first category will be the Senators who have been given a clean chit and received a brief one-page letter. In the second will be those who misspent money and, depending on how much and on how many transactions, received multi-page reports.

In the reports where Senators used their Parliamentary resources inappropriately, Mr. Ferguson identified the total inappropriately-spent dollar amounts including taxes with breakdowns of individual transactions related to travel, goods and services, and housing. The reports explain why the auditors determined an individual transaction to be outside of the domain of Parliamentary business. Prior to coming to these conclusions, Mr. Ferguson’s auditors considered all the supporting documentation, explanations and descriptions provided to them by the Senators, their staff and contractors.

The AG advised Senators who misspent their Parliamentary resources to provide their 500-words written responses by April 30. Sources told The Hill Times that if a Senator’s response exceeded 500 words, it would not be included in the final report. Instead, sources said, the following general response will be incorporated in the report to be tabled in Parliament:

“Information, representations, and submissions provided by the Senator were considered throughout this audit and are reflected in our findings and conclusions. The Senator confirmed [or disagreed with] the facts in this report. However, for reasons of length, the Senator’s formal response could not be provided in this report.”

Mr. Ferguson strongly encouraged Senators to provide their response because it provides valuable context to readers regarding their perspectives in contrast to the auditors’ findings, sources said.

But if a Senator fails to submit the response by deadline, Mr. Ferguson will include the following text in the final report: “Information, representations, and submissions provided by the Senator were considered throughout this audit and are reflected in our findings and conclusions. The Senator did not confirm the facts in this report or provide a response in time to meet our publication deadline.”

Along with the final reports, the AG also sent out a standard acknowledgement letter to be signed by all Senators individually and sent back to Mr. Ferguson. Sources said that the letter contains a brief statement asking Senators to confirm that they have received the final audit findings and that those conclusions are factually based. The acknowledgement letter also asks members of the Red Chamber to send their responses back with these acknowledgment letters.

The letters indicate that these responses will be included in the final report under the heading, “Senator’s Comments.”

A number of Conservative and Liberal Senators were either unavailable or declined to discuss their individual audit reports with The Hill Times last week, saying the final report has not yet been tabled in the Senate and, until that time, aren’t permitted to comment.

Ind. Senator Anne Cools (Toronto-York, Ontario) in an interview with The Hill Times, only offered a brief comment: “Let me put it this way: I have no negatives.”

She told The Hill Times last month that, in her view, the AG Senate audit is “unconstitutional,” arguing that it is beyond the scope of the federal financial watchdog’s mandate to audit the Senate. For her office expenses audit, Senator Cools, however, provided all the information and documentation the AG’s office asked for.

Meanwhile, it was unclear last week exactly what process the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee will follow to deal with the Senators whose expenses have been flagged by the AG. Several members of the Senate Internal Economy Committee declined to be interviewed for this article referring all questions to acting Senate Speaker Leo Housakos. In an emailed statement, he mentioned the setting up of a new dispute resolution process involving an outside adjudicator related to Senators’ incorrectly spent Parliamentary resources. He said that all information related to questions of reimbursement would be made public.

“The appointment of an independent adjudicator ensures that questions of reimbursement will be dealt with in a timely and open fashion. All decision on reimbursement by the steering committee, the arbitrator, and the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration will be made public,” said Sen. Housakos. “This dispute resolution process is another example of our commitment to modernizing the Senate.”

On Wednesday morning, the Senate Internal Economy Committee passed a confidential resolution on how to deal with questionable expenses incurred by Senators. In response to a request from The Hill Times, the Senate communications declined to share the wording of the resolution.

“The resolution is not a public document. While passed, it is not yet a final document and amendments on wording will still be made to it,” Senate spokeswoman Nancy Durning stated in an email response to The Hill Times.

Senator Housakos told The Toronto Star last week that the Senate will use the “independent and arm’s length” arbitration process to deal with any disagreements coming out of the AG’s report.

“We think it’s only appropriate that it’s not Senators that cast judgment on other Senators’ files,” Senator Housakos said.

The Senate is scheduled to adjourn for the Parliamentary recess on June 26 and will return after the October 19 federal election. Senate sources told The Hill Times that it’s highly unlikely the Senate will deal with flagged expenses of Senators before it adjourns. Also, another complicating wrinkle is that after Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin’s death, no permanent chair of the Senate Internal Economy Committee is in place to handle the issue. As of press time, no permanent Speaker was announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.).

Before sending out final reports two weeks ago, Mr. Ferguson provided all Senators with the draft reports in February and early March.

In some of the draft reports, the AG’s office disputed the primary residence claims of some of the Senators, sources said. Auditors disputed the primary residence claims by undertaking calculations based on mobile phone records, how many days a Senator spent in their primary residence, and how many days a Senator spent in their secondary residence in Ottawa. Senators were told by Mr. Ferguson to provide additional supporting documentation if they disagreed with residency calculations.

Primary and secondary residency claim is one of the central issues at the ongoing and high profile trial of Sen. Duffy. At the start of the trial, prosecutors questioned Sen. Duffy’s appointment from Prince Edward Island as he has been living in Kanata, Ontario since the early 1970s. Based on anonymous sources, recent news reports suggested that Sen. Duffy tried to convince Prime Minister Harper to appoint him from the province of Ontario because he’s been living here for decades but failed. The same news stories cited other anonymous sources that denied that Sen. Duffy had had any such conversation with Mr. Harper.

Last week, Sen. Duffy’s lawyer drew Judge Charles Vaillancourt’s attention to an internal audit that the Senate administration conducted into the residency status of all Senators in 2012 or 2013. But the Senate administration is reluctant to share this audit with the court and its lawyer is citing Parliamentary privilege to block any request to produce the audit report.

Sébastien Gariépy, communications coordinator to the Senate Government Leader Claude Carignan (Mille Isles, Quebec), declined to be interviewed for this article but, in an email to Conservative Senators, advised not to comment on the internal Senate audit into residency of Senators, if asked by reporters.

Those were “media reports on an issue that came up during Mike Duffy’s trial yesterday. As usual, we suggest not to comment on a matter in front of the court,” wrote Mr. Gariepy in an email last week and obtained by The Hill Times.

Mr. Gariépy in the email suggested some talking points to Conservative Senators, if “pushed” by reporters.

“On the question of a so-called ‘audit’ performed by Senate Administration on residence:

“• This was an internal document prepared by Senate administration staff. It is ‘work product,’ part of an information-gathering process ahead of the 19th report by the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.

“• The document contains personal information on Senators and therefore cannot be made public,” wrote Mr. Gariepy and provided a link on the Senate website that offers a brief overview of the report only in general terms. He further suggested that, if pushed by reporters, use the following talking points:

“• We’re talking about an internal document, work product, containing personal information. It cannot be made public.

“• The information you are looking for is publicly available in the 19th report.”

If pushed further:

“• We do not make personal information available to the public.

“• The information you are looking for is publicly available in the 19th report.”

arana@hilltimes.com
The Hill Times

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