I am keenly aware that the issue of Senators’ expenses is very much on the minds of all Canadians. It is imperative whenever public funds are spent, that it be done so with prudence. I can assure you that throughout my 25-year tenure as a Senator that has always been forefront on my mind. I have rarely used all of my allowable travel points, and in the period under review (March 2011 – April 2013), I used less than half the travel points permitted.
In spite of this, the Auditor General has selected a few of my travel claims and has challenged whether they were appropriate expenses. They said that while I did conduct Parliamentary business on every trip, they simply “felt” these trips were more for personal reasons than Parliamentary business. The genesis for all of the trips was Parliamentary business; personal affairs were only added to the trips after that. The Senate Travel Policy actually provides for the blending of personal business with Parliamentary business, as long as no expenses are submitted in regard to the personal portion of the travel. This is exactly what I did in the case of these trips.
Clearly, the Auditor General has reached a subjective conclusion, after the fact and without proper regard to either: i) the Travel Policy or Section 2(2) of the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators.
In my case, the travel in question is not only clearly permitted under the Travel Policy but is expected of me as outlined in the Code:
Given that service in Parliament is a public trust, the Senate recognizes and declares that Senators are expected a) to remain members of their communities and regions and to continue their activities in those communities and regions while serving the public interest and those they represent to the best of their abilities…
I invite you to read about the issue on this website where you will find a full and complete explanation regarding my Parliamentary travel. We provided a 120-page binder to the Auditor General explaining every trip they questioned, what I did, whom I met with and why it related to my work as a Senator from Manitoba with local, regional and national responsibilities. In addition to that, all of the individuals with whom I met for these trips have confirmed the meetings and that they related to Parliamentary business.
In sum, it remains my strong belief that with respect to these expenses, I have followed the Senate Travel Policy scrupulously and that the Auditor General has come to a wrong conclusion in my case.
I look forward now to participating in the arbitration process that has been established to consider claims made against Senators by the Auditor General. If, after the arbitration process, it is concluded that I should repay any of the aforementioned expenses, then I will certainly do so. But I am confident the expenses I incurred, which the Auditor General “feels” are not justified, will be deemed to be wholly legitimate and in full compliance with the Senate Travel Policy.
Time to Move Forward
As I have explained in earlier posts, the Auditor General has challenged some of the travel expenses I incurred in the past few years. And as I have explained in great detail on this website, I am adamant that all of my expenses were properly incurred and were in complete compliance with Senate polices on travel. I also remain firmly of the view that the subjective conclusion reached by the Auditor General’s team in my case is incorrect.
However, since the Auditor General’s report was released last week, I have taken time to consider my next course of action. And in that regard, I have reflected on not only what is in my interest but also what is in the best interests of the Senate, which has been greatly tarnished over the course of the past few years.
Tens of millions of dollars and almost two years was spent on this audit, only to identify a fraction of that amount in “questionable” claims. The arbitration process will add further to both of these totals. Throughout it all, the reputation of the Senate, an institution I fully believe in, has been sullied. And so, while I continue to refute the findings of the Auditor General, I have decided to put, what I consider, the interests of the Senate first.
Accordingly, I have decided to repay all of the amounts identified by the Auditor General in my case even though I remain firmly convinced they were all properly incurred and submitted. It is hoped that by doing so, it will in some small measure contribute to the process of restoring honour to the Senate. In my view, it is preferable to look forward and expend our energy and resources on learning from this experience, continuing to contribute to our regions, and revitalizing the institution of the Senate.