The text below is taken from my reply to an individual who wrote as a result of media coverage of the recent audit of Senator’s office expenses.
The main guiding principle is accountability.
There are really two main areas of the Senate Administrations expense: the business of the Senate itself, and its related activities.
This requires an administration for Committees, translation, security, the Senate Chamber, Hansard and a myriad of other matters necessary for the proper functioning of, I might add, one of the most modern and technologically up-to-date chambers in the world. Other countries come to our Senate to study how we do business.
Our Internal Economy Committee oversees all of that under the guiding principle that Legislatures are run by legislators. This is true of both the House and the Senate. Only totalitarian states do otherwise.
In our country we have chosen constitutionally to appoint Senators and I am proud to be one of them. I am also proud of the fact that our party is trying to change that premise and to have the Senators elected. We would then be responsible to the people directly for the expenditures we make rather then indirectly as we are now.
The bureaucracy for all this is run by the Clerk of the Senate who has a whole department run by accountants and bookkeepers—all highly-trained finance professionals. They also oversee the 105 separate offices run by Senators. Each Senator is responsible for his or her own budget of some $155,000 which includes staff salaries but not travel.
I have been in business and do understand balance sheets and revenue and expense statements.
I have also undertaken to make the Senate more open and accountable by having our Internal Economy meetings in public, and by insisting that we do audits on a regular basis and that we make them public. Until recently there were no audits, no open meetings (they were in private) and no public audits undertaken. I have had the help and assistance of all Senators in this process.
I believe that each Senator is responsible for his own office and travel expenses and not some unelected or unknown bureaucrat. That is why starting in January all office expenses are being made public and will be published quarterly—another new innovation.
Citizens and the press can then ask questions and write letters as you are doing now asking about a trip or expense. Our expense forms for travel and expenses are sent to the head of Finance for approval. Each expense form has to pass the test of the Senate Administration rules before payment. These are also public. We are no different than any other organization.
We establish our own rules for governance as would a charity or a public company. Expenses are often refused if they do not meet the test. If there is a dispute then the Steering Committee of the Internal Economy Committee makes the decision and every Senator has the right to argue that decision in public in the Internal Economy Committee.
I have sat on boards of charities and public companies and this is as demanding as any organization I know. We now have third parties, the auditors and the public.
More important we have responsibility. Each Senator will have to face the press and the public as well as his peers. No Senator will be able to say that a third party signed of on his or her expenses and therefore he or she is not responsible.
Spouses of Senators travel to Ottawa with Senators from home or to official business. This is a longstanding tradition of most legislatures including our House of Commons. I live out of a suitcase from Monday to Friday. I am not complaining about it, simply stating a fact. I must maintain by the constitution a home in my home province, a policy I fully support. My spouse does not travel often with me to Ottawa but there are occasions when the spouse is invited to events where other spouses are also invited.
There was an erroneous report, that spouses’ international travel is paid. That is not the case. This is our policy and we may agree to disagree on this matter.