MY RESPONSE TO THE AUDITOR GENERAL’S REPORT
ON THE SENATE
The tabling of the Auditor General’s final report on Senate expenses marks the end of a nearly two year audit for the period of March 2011 to April 2013. This has been a necessary process as we continue our efforts to modernize the Senate of Canada.
I’d first like to address the matter of an event I attended for a former Senate colleague celebrating an important milestone in that colleague’s life. The OAG and I disagreed over whether this was a personal or political event. In the end I couldn’t convince him to change his opinion. I have not changed mine either – given that I was Senate Caucus Chair from 2005 until June 2011 – but I have reimbursed the amount in question in the hope that more attention will be paid to defining what are and are not eligible parliamentary activity expenses.
For me the process is not yet over as I will be exercising my right to independent arbitration on some of the items noted by the Auditor General.
With the greatest of respect, I don’t believe the OAG has a true appreciation of the realities of cross country travel and the toll it exacts, especially on those who undertake such travel on a regular basis.
Not only do Senate rules clearly allow for stopovers and overnight stays in the NCR following the conclusion of Senate business, both are an intrinsic and unavoidable component of long distance travel. It concerns me that if we were to accept the Auditor General’s opinion of my travel we would be setting an unachievable expectation of Senators to be able to travel to Ottawa within those confines, thus putting those Senators at a great disadvantage to those who live closer to the Ottawa. It should be noted that the 64 point system was specifically designed to mitigate this type of disadvantage.
This is a matter of great significance to a Senator’s ability to do his or her job and it must be considered carefully. That’s why I feel it is not only in my best interest to refer this matter to former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie for independent review but also in the best interest of all Senators and the institution we serve.
All that being said, I believe it is only fair to consider my travel pattern as a whole. I made only 1 national trip outside my region in the two years under audit. While I have an excellent record of attendance in the Senate, I used less than half of my allowable 64 travel points for each of the years under review. And the issues the Auditor General does raise relate to only 2 travel points out of the 57 I used over two fiscal years.
As I will be taking this matter to arbitration, I will be unable to make any further comment until such a time that process concludes and the findings are made public.