Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Presenting Manitoba's 2015 Inductees into the Senate's Hall of Fame!

Five ordered to repay money

Three Tories, two Liberals from Manitoba named in audit

By Mia Rabson
Saturday, June 6, 2015
RCMP will investigate the expense claims of ex-senator Rod Zimmer, seen with his wife, Maygan Sensenberger in 2012. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press Files)

OTTAWA - Five current and former Manitoba senators are among those ordered to repay ineligible expense claims, and one of them wins the prize for having the highest dollar value of questionable claims.

Auditor general Michael Ferguson's report shows retired Liberal senator Rod Zimmer is the worst offender on a list of nine current and former members of the upper chamber whose expense claims are being turned over to the RCMP.

Ferguson identified $176,014 in expenses claimed by Zimmer for what Ferguson said was non-Senate travel and a housing allowance he shouldn't have been allowed. That is the highest total amount of questionable expenses in the audit and represents almost a fifth of the $976,627 in questionable expenses of 30 senators that Ferguson flagged.

Zimmer, 72, resigned from the Senate in August 2013 citing health concerns.

Expenses filed by seven Manitoba senators were examined in the audit and Ferguson flagged five of them.

Sharon Carstairs, a Liberal who resigned in October 2011 and was once the government leader in the Senate is in the list of nine being looked at by the RCMP.

Manitoba Conservatives Don Plett and Janis Johnson as well as retired Conservative senator Terry Stratton are among 21 additional senators whose expenses were flagged for having claims that should be repaid, but they aren't necessarily going to be investigated by the RCMP.

So far, it appears Liberal Senator Maria Chaput and Conservative JoAnne Buth, who quit last summer, were given the all clear for their expenses. Neither Zimmer nor Carstairs could be reached Friday.

Plett said he wouldn't speak publicly until Tuesday, the day the report is to be made public. However, almost as soon as Ferguson delivered copies of his report to the Senate committee that ordered it Thursday, details of its contents were leaked.

In his written response to the audit, Zimmer disputes the findings and accused Ferguson of "appearing to be interfering in the judicial proceedings now taking place in the trial of Senator Duffy, where the issue of residency ... (is) central to the proceedings.
Auditor General Michael Ferguson

When he was a senator, Zimmer owned a home in Osborne Village and also had a home in Ottawa's tony Rockcliffe Park. He now lives full time in Ottawa with is wife, Maygan Sensenberger.

Zimmer appeared to spend little time at the Winnipeg home, however, and Ferguson took issue with senators who claimed a seccondary residence even when they were living in Ottawa full time.

Zimmer disputes the findings, including $2,072 for taxis in Ottawa for him and his wife that appeared to be for personal reasons.

The residency issue is central to the case against suspended Conservative Senator Mike Duffy who is on trial facing 31 charges of fraud and breach of trust over his expense claims.

The question is whether he had a primary residence in Prince Edward Island despite having lived in Ottawa for three decades before being appointed to the Senate in 2008.

The residency issue is also at the heart of charges against former Liberal senator Mac Harb and former Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau. Both face one count each of fraud and beach of trust over their expenses.

In 2013 when the residency issues involving Duffy and the others were were made public, The Senate Board of Internal Economy demanded all senators prove their residency in their requisite provinces by providing copies of driver's licences, health cards and tax returns, and to sign a declaration saying where they voted.

At that time, Zimmer told the Free Press he had a Manitoba driver's licence and health card, filed his taxes in Manitoba and voted in Manitoba.

He was one of two senators the board - which oversees Senate administration - interviewed for more information out of the residency review. Chairman Senator Keith Tkachuk said at the time Zimmer satisfied the residency requirements listed in the Constitution.

Ferguson's audit which took nearly two years to complete and cost $21 million, examined expense claims for 116 senators from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2013.

Publicly available expense reports show Zimmer claimed almost $44,000 for living expenses in Ottawa during the audit period. He also claimed $120,000 for travel between Ottawa and Winnipeg and another $8,000 for additional travel. He claimed $6,700 for hospitality.

It is not yet known what Carstairs is in trouble for, however, some believe it will likely be around travel claims. Carstairs was only in office for about seven months of the audit period, and during those months she claimed nearly $100,000 in travel. 

That included $41,365 for travel between Ottawa and Winnipeg during the three-month period in which the 2011 federal election campaign fell.

One of the few absolute prohibitions in Senate rules is using Senate funds for campaigning.

The Senate only sat for 11 days during those three months. In the three months after that period from June 1 to August 31, the senate sat for 12 days and Carstairs' claims for travel between Ottawa and Winnipeg fell to $61.24.

In total from March 1, 2011 to November 30, 2011, Carstairs claimed $98,373.27 for travel, including trips between Ottawa and Winnipeg, and any other travel. A breakdown of how many trips were taken and to where is not provided in publicly available Senate expense forms.

Many Liberals were surprised Carstairs is caught up in hte scandal. While few jumped to defend Zimmer, Carstairs was described as hard-working and honourable. She was passionate about the issues she worked on, particularly palliative care.

She also travelled extensively both in Canada and internationally while working on issues. For years, she was the chairwoman of the committee on human rights of parliamentarians within the Inter-Parliamentary Union. (emphasis CyberSmokeBlog)

With files from the Canadian Press

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Sharon Carstairs: RCMP involved

  • Appointed to Senate: 1994 by Jean Chretien
  • Before the senate: Leader of the Liberal Party of Manitoba, Official Opposition leader in Manitoba legislature
  • Resigned: October 2011
  • Roles in Senate: Leader of the Government in the Senate, January 2001 - December
Expense claims during audit period:
  • Office budget: $92,542.24
  • Hospitality: $0
  • Living expenses in Ottawa: $4,549.97
  • Travel between Ottawa and Winnipeg: $66,224
  • Other travel: $32,148
* Expenses are for period between March 1, 2011 and November 20, 2011. Carstairs resigned October 17, 2011.

Rod Zimmer
  • Appointed to the Senate: 2005 by Paul Martin
  • Before the Senate: President, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Vice-President for Festivals for the Pan Am Games Society, Revenue Chairman Liberal Party of Canada in Manitoba
  • Resigned: August 2013
Expenses:
  • Office budget: $287,804
  • Hospitality: $6,729
  • Living expenses in Ottawa: $43,633
  • Travel between Ottawa and Winnipeg: $120,052
  • Other travel: $8,028
Don Plett: ineligible claims found




  • Appointed to the Senate: 2009 by Stephen Harper
  • Before the Senate: President, Conservative Party of Canada, owned a plumbing business in Landmark, Manitoba
  • Roles in the Senate: Deputy Chairman, transportation and communications committee
Expenses:
  • Office budget: $251,725
  • Hospitality: $5,322
  • Living expenses in Ottawa: $41,828
  • Travel between Ottawa and Winnipeg: $163,257
  • Other Travel: $33,952
Janis Johnson: expenses flagged

  • Appointed to the Senate: 1990 by Brian Mulroney
  • Before the Senate: businesswoman
  • Role in the Senate: member of foreign affairs and international trade committee
Expenses:
  • Office budget: $298,854
  • Hospitality: $2,464
  • Living expenses in Ottawa: $32,894
  • Travel between Ottawa and Manitoba: $111,953
  • Other travel: $45,691
Terry Stratton: told to repay claims
  • Appointed to the Senate: 1993by Brian Mulroney
  • Before the Senate: businessman
  • Role in the Senate: Government whip in the Senate
  • Retired: March 2013
Expenses:
  • Office budget: $277,460
  • Hospitality: $5,042
  • Living expenses in Ottawa: $31,232
  • Travel between Ottawa and Manitoba: $140,966
  • Othere travel: $12,098

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