POLITICS

What To Expect From Senator Wallin's Audit

08/12/2013 05:07 EDT | Updated 10/11/2013 05:12 EDT
CP
A Senate committee will get a first look Monday at a long-awaited audit into the expenses of one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's highest-profile appointments.

Pamela Wallin, a well-known former journalist and anchor who helped Harper fundraise and drum up voter support during the last election, is the latest senator who has been subjected to scrutiny by the independent auditing firm Deloitte in an expense scandal that has turned out to be the biggest crisis the Senate has faced in its nearly 150-year-old history.

Early Monday, a Senate subcommittee will receive the audit, as will Wallin herself if she chooses to attend, before it is released to the full Senate committee of internal economy at the end of the day. Auditors will be on hand to brief senators on the audit's findings.

The subcommittee will deliver a report on the audit on Tuesday.

The CBC's Chris Hall reported Sunday night that the audit is expected to reveal that Wallin owes tens of thousands of dollars more in ineligible expense claims than the $38,000 she has already voluntarily repaid.

Although there may be other surprises in the audit, much of its content has already been flagged by one of the auditors conducting the examination and by Wallin herself

The focus of Wallin's audit will centre on her travel expenses, specifically flights she charged to the Senate. That's what she told host Peter Mansbridge of CBC-TV's The National in an exclusive interview that aired in June. Any issue over her expenses, she said, is about "flight costs. Flight costs. So, money is not in my pocket, the money is in the pocket of the airlines."

Wallin told Mansbridge that Senate paperwork is so onerous it's as if it were not "humanly possible to keep on top of. So I made mistakes."

She said that as she re-examined her expenses paperwork with the help of her two Senate assistants, she realized some of her airline tickets charged to the Senate should have been paid for by what she called a "third party," which she said was "more like a board than an event."

Wallin sat on at least three boards for most of the time she's been in the Senate, including Porter Airlines and the investment firm Gluskin, Sheff. She's since resigned from those positions.

Wallin told Mansbridge she had voluntarily paid back $38,000 to the Senate, and admitted she might owe more.

Stopovers on the way to Saskatchewan

Wallin also told Mansbridge that the reason her travel claims to the place she calls her home — Saskatchewan — seem so low over a two-year period compared with the $300,000 claimed for other travel is that she often stops over in Toronto on her way back to her native province.

"If I have a day like a Friday where I can go to Halifax or Edmonton or Toronto and do a speech or do an event, I will do that on the way home. I am still going home. That doesn’t count as travel to my home. It counts as 'other.'”

Wallin said that flights to Saskatchewan from Ottawa are long and infrequent, and although an airline ticket might appear to be for an Ottawa-Toronto route, the final destination could be Saskatchewan.

Although Wallin owns a condo in Toronto, she said she spent 168 days at her home in Wadena, Sask.

Wallin, appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a Conservative senator now, sits as an Independent.

Wallin's audit was extended twice

Something about the pattern of Wallin's claims, however, must have been red-flagged by the Senate's administration. Deloitte has been asked twice by Senate staff to extend the audit period for Wallin's claims, which at first covered an 18-month period. The audit now begins when she was first appointed to the Senate at the start of 2009.

The Deloitte audit has been underway for over six months, and in June a Deloitte auditor appeared before a Senate committee to explain the delay.

In a rare 15-minute period when the normally secretive committee of internal economy allowed the public to listen to testimony from one of two auditors working on Wallin's case, Gary Timms explained that the "lens" he was using was different from the one employed with three other senators.

In the cases of senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb, the Deloitte audits examined how much time the senators spent in homes they claimed were their primary residences as opposed to days spent in Ottawa.

In Wallin's case, Timms said, the focus is "more on the nature of the expenses and whether they were Senate business expenses." However, Timms confirmed the audit process is the same as the one employed in the other senators' audits.

In those cases, Deloitte tracked the daily whereabouts of Duffy, Harb and Brazeau using data gleaned from their Senate-issued credit cards and cellphones. Deloitte was able to prove that the senators spent little time in the places they declared were their primary residences.

A senator who lives at least 100 kilometres from the capital is allowed to charge the Senate for maintaining a secondary residence.

The same auditing process could have been deployed for Wallin, ascertaining how many days her flight stopovers on what she said were trips to Saskatchewan lasted, and how much time she spent in Toronto.

The RCMP are investigating Duffy, Harb and Brazeau and have filed court documents revealing the force suspects each senator of filing inappropriate expense claims contrary to the Criminal Code. No charges have been laid and none of the allegations have been proved in court.

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