A Senate committee report released Thursday recommends that Liberal Senator Mac Harb and Independent Senator Patrick Brazeau repay housing and mileage claims for the past two years, and that their expenses should be monitored for the next year.
Harb resigned from the Liberal caucus Thursday and is mounting a legal challenge to have the report's conclusions about him quashed.
The report recommends that Harb must repay $51,000 for housing and mileage claims dating from April 2011, and Brazeau must repay $48,000. As well, Harb's expense claims will be audited for a seven-year period before 2011.
The report also noted that Conservative Senator Mike Duffy has already repaid money for housing expenses he submitted based on his claim that his primary residence is in P.E.I. The report explained that Duffy had written to the head of the Senate committee stating he "may have made a mistake" in filling out his expense forms. Duffy's claims will also be monitored for the next year.
Harb, Brazeau and Duffy claimed tens of thousands of dollars in housing allowance claims in recent years.
Brazeau, a former Conservative who now sits as an Independent, is currently suspended from the Senate over a criminal charge in a separate matter.
Harb announced immediately after the report was released that he has retained a lawyer. In a press release Thursday afternoon, Harb challenged the committee's assertion that he spent more days in Ottawa than in what he deemed his primary residence in Pembroke, and that, therefore, his principal residence is in Ottawa.
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"This criterium is not found in Senate regulations or guidelines and has never been communicated to senators or implemented by financial officers," Harb's statement said.
In fact, the independent audit, done by the accounting firm Deloitte, says, "There is a lack of clarity in the terminology used for the different residences mentioned or discussed in the applicable regulations and guidelines."
The Senate committee on internal economy, which monitors senators' expenses, made its recommendations based on the Deloitte audit.
Rules for expense claims to change
The committee also recommends that rules around claiming per diems should change. The section that stated that senators operate on an honour system for purposes of filling out expense claims will be deleted.
Senators currently can claim a per diem for any day that they are in Ottawa, whether the Senate is sitting or not. That will change, so that per diems can only be claimed if the senators are in Ottawa for Senate business (when the Senate is sitting or to attend committee meetings for example), plus 20 extra days if they are in Ottawa for other activities related to Senate work.
Other areas where the rules will be tightened up include mileage and taxi claims. Receipts will now be required for all taxi use; previously, senators could claim $30 without a receipt.
It was the housing allowance claims being made by senators that first prompted the Senate to launch the review.
Since 2010, Harb has been claiming his primary residence is outside the capital, even though he had lived in Ottawa for decades before that time and owns several properties in the city. However, he says that he moved to a bungalow near Pembroke, Ont., about 145 kilometres from Ottawa and has been claiming expenses for maintaining what he says is a secondary residence near Parliament Hill he needs when he attends Senate sittings.
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Senators who live more than 100 kilometres from Ottawa are allowed to claim housing expenses of up to $22,000 a year.
Harb's home near Pembroke is now for sale. He says he is selling the property because he has lost his right to privacy. He listed it about two weeks ago.
Senator Brazeau is also being audited by Deloitte, because he claimed his primary residence is in his father's apartment in Maniwaki, Que.
Brazeau, however, also lives in a house in Gatineau, Que., just across the river from Ottawa.
Duffy charged per diems for Florida visit
Before the Deloitte audit was finished, Duffy had voluntarily repaid the Senate $90,000 for claiming a house in P.E.I. as his primary residence even though he has been a longtime homeowner in Ottawa.
In a statement issued Thursday, Duffy said he and his wife "came to the conclusion that repaying the $90,000 was the right thing to do, regardless of the outcome of the audit that was to come. It was the right decision then, and it is the right decision now."
However, the Deloitte audit found that Duffy improperly claimed expenses for a Florida trip. "Included in these claims were twelve (12) days of per diems during the period where Senator Duffy appears to be located in Florida, United States, for a total amount of $1,050.60 (12 days at $87.55 per day)," the audit said.
Deloitte said it determined Duffy was in Florida through his phone records. The accounting firm notes it was not able to speak with Duffy nor obtain any documentation from him while the audit was being conducted.
However, the audit relates that Duffy voluntarily repaid the $1,050.60, once he realized — according to a letter to the Senate committee leader reproduced in the audit — that temporary staff in his office had made a mistake.
In question period Thursday, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair dismissed the Senate's response to the issue as a "fraud."
"Even the bogus investigation by his handpicked cronies in the Senate found that Mike Duffy does not maintain a primary residence on Prince Edward Island," Mulcair said in a question to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"The auditor has concluded that the rules in place were not clear, however, the Senate itself has decided it expects better judgment from the senators," Harper replied. "Senator Duffy has some months ago repaid the money and the Senate has decided that other senators will be expected to similarly repay those amounts."
A fourth senator, Pamela Wallin, is also being audited by Deloitte, but the firm has asked for more time to complete its report on her travel expenses between Ottawa and Saskatchewan.
'This was a crisis, pure and simple'
Late Thursday Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, the head of the Senate committee that stickhandled the audit and wrote the Senate report, put out a statement, saying: "The process that we have gone through has raised serious questions in the media and among Canadians about our institution and our ability to govern our own activities. This was a crisis, pure and simple."
Tkachuk went on to say that didn't enjoy judging his colleagues, but added, "As a non-elected democratic institution, the ones we govern do not have the ability to 'throw the rascals out'.
"We are protected by parliamentary privilege and by constitutional requirement. We therefore have a higher obligation," he said.
He noted that Duffy had already repaid his expenses, and that the matter was closed, adding that Harb and Brazeau would have to "immediately repay". Tkachuk also said that the changes to rules about expense claims would be adopted late Thursday by the full Senate.
Liberal Senate House leader Jim Cowan told reporters that he was disappointed that the Senate committee had not recommended disciplinary action against the three senators other than reimbursement of funds inappropriately claimed.
And in a statement, Cowan said, "If further action is deemed necessary by the police, they will take that action. That is a decision for the police, not for the Senate."
The RCMP told CBC News late Thursday that it has received no complaint or referral in regards to the Senate audit. The Mounties could launch their own investigation into potentially criminal matters, but in such cases the RCMP does not confirm if an investigation has begun.
Pamela Wallin, at Tory senator from Saskatchewan, also found her expense claims under close scrutiny in Februrary when it was revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/13/pamela-wallin-travel-expenses-harper_n_2680229.html" target="_blank">she billed taxpayers $142,190.26 for trips between March 1, 2011, and Feb. 29, 2012</a>. But only $10,551.99 of her expenses were related to travel between Ottawa and Saskatchewan, while the remaining $131,638.27 was filed under "Other." Questions were also raised about whether or not she satisfied the residency requirement needed to represent Saskatchewan in the Upper Chamber. Wallin split her time between Toronto and New York prior to being named a senator in 2008, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/senate-residency-pamela-wallin-duffy_n_2648325.html" target="_blank">does own a plot of land in the province and two properties with family members.</a> <em>With files from CP</em>
Patrick Brazeau first came under fire in December of 2012 amid reports he was using <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/patrick-brazeau-charges-sexual-assault_n_2643606.html?utm_hp_ref=patrick-brazeau" target="_blank">his former father-in-law's address </a>in Maniwaki, Que., to claim a Senate housing allowance, while actually living in Gatineau, just across the river from Parliament Hill. The Senate Board of Internal Economy subsequently asked an auditor to look at Brazeau's residency claims and expenses. In early February, Brazeau was arrested and charged with <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/patrick-brazeau-charges-sexual-assault_n_2643606.html?utm_hp_ref=patrick-brazeau" target="_blank">assault and sexual assault </a>after a heated argument with his girlfriend turned violent. The charges promptly got Brazeau turfed from the Conservative caucus. On February 12, Brazeau was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/12/canadians-growing-ever-we_n_2667332.html" target="_blank">suspended indefinitely </a>from the Upper Chamber. <em>With files from CP</em>
Conservative Mike Duffy also courted controversy over his housing allowance. The P.E.I. senator <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/22/mike-duffy-paying-back-money_n_2744800.html" target="_blank">claimed his cottage in Cavendish as his primary residence</a> and his long-time in home in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, as a secondary residence for which he collected $33,000 in living allowances he since 2010. While always maintaining he was entitled to the compensation, Duffy <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/22/mike-duffy-paying-back-money_n_2744800.html" target="_blank">vowed on February 22 to repay the money</a>. He blamed the entire issue on confusing and vague Senate paperwork. <em>With files from CP</em>
Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu, a Conservative senator from Quebec, came under fire in early March when it was revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/03/pierre-hugues-boisvenu-senate_n_2803052.html?utm_hp_ref=pierre-boisvenu" target="_blank">he collected a housing allowance of $20,000 despite living little more than a drive across a bridge from Parliament.</a> Boisvenu claimed his primary residence was in Sherbrooke, but sources said he had been staying at his secondary residence in Gatineau since separating from his wife in February, 2012. Boisvenu was then forced to admit in March that he had been <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/pierre-boisvenu-affair_n_2957596.html" target="_blank">carrying on a relationship with an aide, Isabelle Lapointe</a>. The Senate ethics officer had told him last year that he couldn't have his girlfriend on the office payroll but Boisvenu ignored the warning for months. The two have since split up and Lapointe is now working elsewhere. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/pierre-boisvenu-affair_n_2957596.html" target="_blank">Boisvenu has repaid the $900 stipend he collected while living with Lapointe for three months near Ottawa.</a> <em>With files from CP</em>
Liberal senator Mac Harb also had his expenses audited after it was discovered that he claimed <a href="http://metronews.ca/news/canada/560000/senate-controversy-senator-mac-harbs-home-in-the-spotlight/" target="_blank">about $40,212 in living expenses for a secondary residence in Ottawa from Nov. 30, 2010 to Nov. 30, 2012</a>. Harb, a former Ottawa MP, claims his primary residence is <a href="http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/senator-harb-rarely-seen-in-area-he-calls-home-neighbours-1.1198184" target="_blank">a bungalow in the tiny village of Westmeath</a>, but neighbours claim that nobody lives there year-round and that it is basically a cottage.
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