OTTAWA – Taxpayers footed the bill for Sen. Pamela Wallin to attend meetings about buying a business and a new book project, as well as with someone from the New York City Ballet — and she may yet be ordered to pay them back.
But it will likely be a while before the Senate’s finance committee has a clear picture of just how much of Wallin’s nearly $21,000 in additional travel expenses flagged in a damning independent audit ought to be reimbursed.
Conservative Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen said there are lingering questions about “quite a few” of those claims, which are on top of the $121,000 worth of travel expenses Wallin has already been ordered to pay back.
The Senate committee has reviewed the claims and asked the upper chamber’s finance unit to do additional research — work Olsen said could take a while.
“Our committee did review the claims in question and asked Finance to do more research for us,” she said in an email Thursday.
“I do not have an idea of amounts right now. Will probably take some time to sort out.”
Some of what Wallin described as “networking events” included meeting with someone from the New York City Ballet; with a Bay Street investor to talk about a business she was about to buy; and with someone to talk about a book project.
The Senate alerted the RCMP earlier this week after an audit by accounting firm Deloitte flagged a host of inappropriate travel claims spanning nearly all of Wallin’s career as a senator, which began late in 2008.
The auditors flagged $121,348 in inappropriate expenses and called for further review of nearly $21,000 in additional claims. Wallin has already repaid $38,000, and has said she would reimburse any disallowed expenses — with interest — out of her own pocket.
However, she has called the Deloitte audit — which cost $126,998, more than the total Wallin is now required to pay back — “fundamentally flawed and unfair.”
Pierre Poilievre, the minister of state for democratic reform, made it clear on Thursday that Wallin — a former Conservative whose travel spending was defended in the House of Commons earlier this year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper — is on her own.
“People have to be held accountable,” Poilievre said.
“The Senate committee is looking into this. I understand they’ve referred it on to the RCMP, and I respect the ability of our national police force to do its work.”
The government is waiting for a ruling from the Supreme Court to clarify if it has the power to reform or even abolish the Senate without opening the Constitution, Poilievre added.
“We have gone to the top court for a how-to guide on reforming the Senate and if that doesn’t work, abolishing it altogether.”
Sources say the Senate’s internal economy committee has approved a framework for probe by auditor general Michael Ferguson. It will look at not only at the expenses all individual senators, but also at how well the institution is managing its resources.
The wheels for that audit were set in motion earlier this year when Marjory LeBreton, at the time the government’s leader in the Senate, put forward a motion calling for a comprehensive examination of how senators spend taxpayer dollars.
The motion caused a fuss among some senators, including some Conservatives, who feared such an audit would constitute an attack on the Senate’s privilege to administer itself — a notion upon which LeBreton heaped scorn.
“There’s a school of thought in the Senate about parliamentary privilege and all of the niceties about the Senate being master of its own house,” she said at the time.
“One of my colleagues in the back row was overheard to say, ‘Tell that to the people I talk to in Tim Hortons on the weekend.’”