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Senator Wallin to repay thousands but disputes audit process

08/12/2013 04:01 EDT | Updated 10/12/2013 05:12 EDT
Senator Pamela Wallin will pay back the entire amount she is asked to by the Senate, with interest, but she is disputing the way independent auditors dug into her travel and expense claims, CBC News has learned.

CBC News has confirmed that Wallin will speak to the media around 5 p.m. ET on Parliament Hill ahead of the internal economy committee meeting. The committee is meeting to get a briefing on the Deloitte audit that was provided to a subcommittee, and to Wallin, earlier in the day.

Wallin is expected to describe the audit as "flawed" and "unfair" because auditors are retroactively applying new rules. She is also expected to say that she wants to stay on as a senator. CBC News has been told she will not take questions, she will only make a statement.

Wallin has already voluntarily paid the Senate back $38,000 and sources have told CBC News that the audit found ineligible claims amounting to as much as $140,000.

The senators in charge of writing the report on Wallin's audit findings are "digesting" a lot of information after receiving an "interesting" briefing from Deloitte Monday morning, one of them said.

Senator Gerald Comeau, chair of the subcommittee writing the report, told reporters that he wasn’t surprised by much of what the Deloitte audit found.

"It's interesting … some of it we were expecting," he said. He and the other two senators on the subcommittee wouldn't comment on what the audit revealed about Wallin's Senate expense claims and if she will be ordered to pay more money back.

Comeau, Carolyn Stewart Olsen and George Furey spent the afternoon working on the report and their colleagues on the internal economy committee are set to be briefed on the audit at a 5:30 p.m. ET meeting.

The audit and Senate report, containing recommendations, will be made public on Tuesday. Sources told CBC News that the 95-page audit reveals the following:

- The audit flags at least $120,000 in questionable claims, with another $20,000 to be decided by the Senate committee.

- Almost all of Wallin's problems revolve around travel expense claims, most notably dinners and other expenses in Toronto and Guelph, Ont., where she was chancellor of Guelph University and where she was doing university business rather than Senate business.

- Wallin made or attempted to make retroactive redactions or changes to her expense report, raising possible accusations of a coverup.

- Of Wallin's four former executive assistants, three have told Deloitte that they know of expenses that were altered by Wallin.

In an exclusive interview with Peter Mansbridge on CBC TV's The National in June, Wallin said expense claim paperwork is onerous and hard to keep on top of and she made "mistakes."

She said some airline tickets charged to the Senate, for example, should have been paid for by a "third party." The former journalist sat on several boards and was also chancellor at the University of Guelph until 2011.

Wallin's flights between Ottawa and Saskatchewan — the province she was appointed to represent by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2009 — were the subject of scrutiny because of stopovers in Toronto. She charged more than $300,000 in travel expenses since the fall of 2010.

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. Wallin owns a condo in Toronto.

The Deloitte audit on Wallin's expenses began more than six months ago. It originally was covering an 18-month period but then was extended to examine her claims from the time she was appointed in 2009.

Audits on senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb were completed in May. Those audits were more focused on their claims for primary and secondary residences and the housing allowances they collected.

Senator Marjory LeBreton, Conservative leader in the Senate, issued a statement Monday. "Our government will not tolerate the waste or abuse of the hard earned tax dollars of Canadians," it said. "We expect that any inappropriate expenses will be repaid. Senator Wallin is no longer a member of the caucus and must be held accountable for her actions."

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