The Canadian Senate will conduct an audit of all housing expenses claimed by senators amid allegations that some members of the Red Chamber are misusing the taxpayer-subsidized living allowance.

Senators working in the nation’s capital are allowed to charge up to $21,000 in housing and meal expenses annually, if their primary residence is located more than 100 kilometres away from Ottawa.

A CTV News investigation last month found that Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau receives an annual $20,000 housing allowance for claiming his principle residence is his father's home in Maniwaki, Que., 130 kilometres from Ottawa. But Brazeau also shares a rented home with his girlfriend in Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa.

Brazeau has denied any wrongdoing, saying he does, indeed, primarily live with his father in Maniwaki.

Earlier this week, The Ottawa Citizen reported that Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy has claimed more than $33,000 in housing allowances since September 2011, even though he is a long-time Ottawa resident. Duffy, who represents Prince Edward Island, lists a cottage he owns in his home province as his primary residence. He too said he has not broken any rules.

The Ottawa Citizen also reported that Liberal Sen. Mac Harb, a former Ottawa MP, claims expenses for a home in the capital listed as his "secondary residence," while his primary residence is listed as a property near Pembroke, Ont.

The Senate’s internal economy committee announced in a statement Thursday that it had instructed the Senate administration to conduct an audit to "assess whether all senators' declarations of primary and secondary residence are supported by sufficient documentation."

The statement also said a bipartisan subcommittee struck on Nov. 22 to probe Brazeau’s expenses will now also review allegations against Harb.

The three members of the investigative panel are:

  • Conservative Sen. Elizabeth Marshall, a former auditor general of Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Liberal Larry Campbell, a former B.C. chief coroner and mayor of Vancouver
  • Conservative Gerald Comeau, a former MP under the Brian Mulroney government

Senators are required by law to have a residence in the province they represent and the housing allowance is intended to compensate those who must constantly travel to Ottawa and stay in the capital for Senate business.

Sen. David Tkachuk, head of the Senate’s board of internal economy, said senators have never had to show documentation proving which home is their primary residence. All senators swear an oath that the information they provide is true and that has been the policy since 1867, he said. 

The repercussions for not telling the truth are “ominous,” Tkachuk said. A senator can lose his or her seat or be charged criminally for lying under oath.

“We always thought (the oath) was sufficient and we still think it’s sufficient, but we’re going to do a quick review because of some of the allegations that have taken place over the last few days,” Tkachuk said.

“No one is more concerned about this than all of us – the senators themselves,” he added.  “Any time there are allegations that besmirch the Senate, as far as I’m concerned and I think most senators would feel the same way, we want to deal with it right away and restore confidence.”

With files from field producer Philip Ling in Ottawa and Andy Johnson