Senator's expense appeal defeated amid allegations of a 'personal smear'
Published Friday, December 15, 2017 7:11PM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 18, 2017 10:23AM EST
OTTAWA – Sparks flew during a meeting of the Senate’s internal economy committee on Thursday when Independent Sen. Marilou McPhedran accused the deputy chair of attempting to “smear” her name.
Now, the senator at the centre of the incident says that while the way the meeting transpired was "unfortunate," it was about making a bigger point about the committee’s decision-making processes.
McPhedran was appearing before the Senate Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration Committee, which handles Senate spending.
She was there to appeal the committee's decision to deny her request for the Senate to cover her $2,200 travel expenses for a late-November trip to Iceland, for a conference of women parliamentarians, while the Senate was in session. The initial expense estimate was for twice that.
McPhedran was asked to go, as were other Canadian senators. Her initial expense appeal was to go as a participant, along with a few other women senators. It wasn’t until after her claim was denied that she was invited to speak at the conference, a criteria that allowed a fellow Senator’s travel tab to be approved for compensation by the committee.
"The nature of my appeal yesterday was you gave permission to one senator to go to this conference and you said that the reason you said yes to that senator and no to the other women senators was because the other women senators weren’t being asked to speak," she told CTV News in an interview on Friday.
She said once her situation changed, she went to the committee but was turned down again. "They gave me no reasons," she said.
The Senate rules say that international travel is not allowed, unless it is for trips to New York City or Washington, D.C. for parliamentary business. Other claims for international travel require special approval.
If senators want to travel internationally, they must appear before the full committee in public to make their case, though this is a new step in the process, decided on a week prior to McPhedran’s latest appeal.
This application process was not in place at the time McPhedran first applied for her travel to be exempted.
Prior, senators made their appeals to a closed-door steering committee of the full internal economy committee.
Alleged to have 'misled' on past claim
It was not the first time McPhedran has appealed the committee's negative ruling on her travel costs since being appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year.
It was when a question was raised over a previously-settled travel appeal over a trip to Winnipeg, Man. that the meeting on Thursday took a turn.
McPhedran travelled to Winnipeg to attend a Manitoba Youth Parliament fundraiser, and also had a dental appointment. When she appealed the rejected claim for $1,900, she said that a staff member had told her it would be eligible for reimbursement.
Deputy-chair of the committee, Conservative Sen. Denise Batters brought up that she had heard about a letter written by a former staffer of McPhedran's regarding this trip.
Batters said that in this letter, the staffer claimed that their former boss misrepresented the staffer's advice on getting travel approved. Batters said she was concerned that McPhedran "misled" the committee on this matter as well.
Independent Sen. Larry Campbell then acknowledged the existence of an email, from someone on this matter.
He said because that person did not wish to appear before the committee, particularly with McPhedran in the room, he would not be tabling the letter.
In response, McPhedran became visibly unhappy and asked Campbell why he would allow Batters to read into the committee record an allegation if he was not going to back it up with evidence.
"So if what we’re doing here, Sen. Batters, is attempting to smear my reputation… Go ahead, just try it. It’s not going to work," said McPhedran.
"This is about my reputation…and I insist on being heard on this," McPhedran said.
As the exchange of words continued, Campbell called for order.
McPhedran's appeal of her Iceland trip expenses was ultimately unsuccessful, losing in a vote of 12 to one, and one abstention.
"We respect the decision of the Committee on this matter," said Campbell, Batters, and her fellow deputy-chair Liberal Sen. Jim Munson in a joint statement.
'Not about decisions made in secret'
Because the claim was denied, McPhedran paid out of pocket for the trip.
"I have a line of credit," McPhedran told CTV News.
Though, she said being denied the expense claims was not the "primary point."
To her, it was more about making a point about the process in which she believes a "secretive" committee makes "arbitrary" decisions as small group of Senators about whose expense claims get approved.
"A lot of what happened yesterday was perhaps unfortunate, but it’s going to get us to a better place. Transparency, accountability, and more consistent decision making," she said.
Though, a statement from Senate spokesperson Alison Korn disputed the Senator’s argument.
"This is not about decisions made in secret; this is about a Senator consistently asking for exemptions to clear rules. The rules are clear. International travel is not allowed," Korn said.