Brazeau, Harb must pay back housing, mileage expenses: Senate report
Published Thursday, May 9, 2013 9:25AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 9, 2013 11:16PM EDT
Senators Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb are being ordered to pay back housing and mileage expenses, plus interest, that they claimed dating back to April 1, 2011.
The directives were contained in reports by the Senate’s internal economy committee that were tabled Thursday afternoon. The reports contained the committee’s response to independent audits into housing and other expenses claimed by three senators: Brazeau, Harb and Mike Duffy.
Brazeau and Harb must pay back the expenses with interest: prime, plus one per cent.
Brazeau must repay $48,744, including interest, for the period from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2013. Harb must repay $51,482 including interest for expenses over the same period.
Because a probe into Harb’s other expense claims is going back seven years, he could end up repaying more than $100,000.
After saying he "may have been mistaken" when he filled out Senate housing allowance claim forms regarding a residence in Prince Edward Island, Duffy repaid more than $90,000 in claims in March.
Conservative Sen. Leader Marjory LeBreton said Thursday that Duffy’s repayment was accepted and the committee “considers the matter closed.”
The Senate committee met Wednesday and Thursday to discuss whether the audits should be referred to the RCMP. The committee, in the end, decided against it.
LeBreton said police were not called in because the audits, conducted by Deloitte, found that some of the rules governing Senate expenses were unclear.
“In response to this finding, the committee reported today a number of meaningful changes that will improve internal controls over the claiming of expenses and ensuring these costs are fully accounted for in a manner that provides Canadian taxpayers with the transparency and the accountability they deserve,” LeBreton said after the reports were tabled.
Later, LeBreton added: “There’s no more of the honour system around this place. When Senators put in their expense account and sign their name to it, it has to be accompanied by the appropriate receipts.”
LeBreton told CTV’s Power Play that the Senate will be putting in place strict spending rules.
Per diems will be restricted, receipts for travel by taxi will be required at all times and travel will be drastically limited.
Even though those changes were not discussed in the Red Chamber Thursday, “I’m not going to let this go,” LeBreton said.
But Liberal senators are vowing to fight the planned spending and travel restriction “tooth and nail,” CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert fife reported.
Those senators are upset that their international travel will be limited and that they won’t be able to bring their spouses along, Fife said.
Brazeau did not immediately respond to the audit findings. However, Harb has retained a lawyer and will attempt to “quash” the reports’ findings, reported CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson.
Fife reported that Harb has stepped down from the Senate’s Liberal caucus. When asked if Duffy would be asked to leave the Conservative caucus, LeBreton replied, “No, he will not.”
Brazeau sits in the Senate as an independent after he was charged with assault earlier this year.
On Thursday, Duffy said in a statement that the audit “has been a fair, impartial effort by a credible third party.” He also noted a lack of clarity in the Senate’s “rules and definitions with regard to residency and housing allowances. In this respect, the audit is consistent with the position I have maintained since this controversy first arose.”
Duffy also said the audit found a claim of just over $1,000 that “I erroneously claimed due to an administrative oversight.” Duffy said that claim was included in the $90,000 repayment.
Senators can claim an annual housing allowance of up to $22,000 if their primary residence is more than 100 kilometres outside of Ottawa.
Harb has claimed as his primary residence a bungalow in Westmeath, Ont., which is located more than 100 km northwest of Ottawa. However, neighbours told CTV earlier this year that no one seems to live in the house year-round. Harb has since put the home up for sale.
Fife reported Thursday that, using cellphone records and other investigative tools, the auditors determined that Harb spent about 21 per cent of his time at the bungalow over two years.
Brazeau's housing expense claims were audited because he claimed an address in Maniwaki, Que., as his primary residence, despite the fact that it is believed he lived in a home in Gatineau, a short drive from Parliament Hill.
Cellphone records show Brazeau spent only about 10 per cent of his time in Maniwaki, Fife said.
Earlier this week, CTV also reported that an audit into Sen. Pamela Wallin’s travel expenses will be expanded to begin at the time she was appointed to the Senate in 2009. Auditors had at first only been looking at about a year’s worth of her air travel expense claims.
LeBreton confirmed this on Thursday, saying Deloitte has asked for more time with its probe of Wallin’s expenses, and the committee “has granted them that request.”
With files from The Canadian Press