'Troubling' Pamela Wallin audit referred to RCMP
Published Tuesday, August 13, 2013 8:18AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 13, 2013 11:17PM EDT
The audit of Sen. Pamela Wallin’s travel expenses has been referred to the RCMP, and the embattled senator has been ordered to repay more than $120,000.
The recommendations were contained in a report issued Tuesday by the Senate’s internal economy committee based on an outside audit conducted by Deloitte.
The report recommends that Wallin repay $121,348. Sen. Gerald Comeau, chair of the committee, told reporters that Wallin must repay the expenses with interest: prime plus one per cent.
Wallin has already repaid $38,369, so she must only repay the outstanding balance.
Another $20,978 in expenses were deemed “subject to interpretation” by the Senate steering committee, and will be reviewed in the coming days, Comeau said. Wallin will then be advised if she owes more money.
The Senate is also restricting Wallin’s travel to only direct or immediate connecting flights between Ottawa and Saskatchewan, the province she represents in the Senate.
“All other itineraries must be pre-approved,” Comeau said, reading from the report.
“Travel claims submitted for reimbursement by Sen. Wallin will continue to be monitored from the date of the adoption of this report for a period of not less than one year,” Comeau said.
The report has also been referred to “the proper authorities,” he said, meaning the RCMP.
Sen. George Furey told reporters he and his colleagues found aspects of Wallin’s audit “very troubling,” but would not get into specifics so as not to be seen as giving direction to the Mounties.
Comeau told reporters that the Deloitte audit “referred to inconsistencies, so we would like them to place judgment on that, rather than us. We are not an investigative body.”
Sen. James Cowan, Opposition Leader in the Upper Chamber, said Tuesday afternoon that he “fully supports the recommendation” to refer the audit to the Mounties and that Wallin’s expenses be monitored.
“What I want is a thorough, fair investigation,” he told reporters Tuesday on Parliament Hill.
“I think Canadians are justified in demanding that this be thoroughly investigated, that it be fairly investigated, and I think that there will be some legitimate concern about whether senators are appropriate to review our own behaviour.”
Auditors looked into more than $500,000 worth of travel expenses claimed by Wallin since she was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2009.
The audit cost almost $127,000 – more than the costs of audits into three other senators’ living expenses.
Those familiar with the process say Wallin’s audit was more complicated and involved many claims that had to be reviewed.
Wallin took a defiant tone when addressing the Deloitte audit on Monday, describing it as a "fundamentally flawed and unfair process" and accused auditors of applying Senate expense rules brought about in 2012 to expenses that were filed and approved before that time.
On Tuesday, Comeau denied that this was the case, saying “the policy has been there for years.”
Both Comeau and Cowan pointed out that in 2012, senators received more examples of what constituted Senate business eligible for travel expense claims. However, Cowan said, “I don’t believe that the underlying principles of what constituted legitimate Senate business or what didn’t have changed at all.”
Wallin, a former television broadcaster, said Monday she intends to pay back the full amount she owes.
'An activist senator'
Details of the audit obtained by CTV News on Monday showed that expenses highlighted by the auditors included personal trips Wallin made between Ottawa and Toronto and stopovers in Toronto while she was en route to Saskatchewan. She has previously stated that she often stayed in Toronto on her way home because there are a limited number of direct flights to Saskatchewan.
The report also shows the Wallin claimed an appearance at a 2009 University of Guelph convocation as Senate business. She was serving as the Ontario university’s chancellor at that time.
Wallin also billed taxpayers $1,620 to fly to Toronto to attend the 2011 Juno awards as a special guest.
She claimed $1,281 for a January 2010 flight fly to Toronto to attend a luncheon where the chief executive of Porter Airlines gave a speech. Wallin was on the airline’s board of directors.
She told reporters Monday that when she was first appointed to the Senate, she was determined to be “an activist Senator,” and was committed to making public appearances to “advance causes that are important to Canadians.”
Wallin, who now sits as an independent, said she believes travelling to public speeches and appearances is a "legitimate Senate expense."
When asked by reporters Tuesday whether guidelines for senators should be revised if senators are unclear about what constitutes Senate business, Comeau said the guidelines are “very straightforward.”
“In my experience, most of the senators that I know on the Hill have a fairly good idea of what Senate business is and what private business is,” he said. “If she has difficulty with it, or any senator has difficulty understanding the distinction between the two, they can come to the administration and seek guidance and seek advice.”
The audit also shows that 391 entries in Wallin's 2011 and 2012 Outlook calendar did not appear in the latest backup version of the electronic calendar, which keeps track of events the senator attended, while other entries were modified.
Wallin told reporters she was advised to only include relevant information in her calendar before handing it over to Deloitte auditors, which is why she omitted some items.
She made the comments after Postmedia News reported that it was Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk who advised her to omit some information.
However, Tkachuk said Tuesday he did no such thing.
"All I told her was to make sure her calendar was clean," Tkachuk told reporters in Ottawa. "The audit was taking a long time I wanted to move it ahead.
"It was a passing comment in an hour-long conversation where I said make sure you submit what you have to submit, and leave all the irrelevant information off your calendar."
With a report from CTV’s Omar Sachedina and files from The Canadian Press