POLITICS

Senate Expense Scandal: Tkachuk Call Out Auditors For 'Low Blow'

09/26/2013 06:27 EDT | Updated 11/26/2013 05:12 EST
CP
OTTAWA - An RCMP probe into ineligible expenses claimed by senators is set to intensify just as Parliament resumes with a mid-term throne speech the Harper government had hoped would change the channel on the scandal.

Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk says the Mounties have asked to speak to him once he returns to the capital about fellow Saskatchewan senator Pamela Wallin's travel expenses.

Tkachuk says an appointment has been scheduled during the week after Thanksgiving — the same week Parliament is to resume with an Oct. 16 throne speech.

Carolyn Stewart Olsen, another Conservative senator, says she too "fully expects to meet" with the Mounties when she returns to Ottawa.

Marjory LeBreton, the former government leader in the Senate, says she was interviewed by the police about Wallin within the last two weeks.

The RCMP has so far refused to comment. But a source not authorized to speak publicly about the matter said it appears the force is in the very early stages of a preliminary examination of Wallin's expenses and has not yet determined whether a full-scale investigation is warranted.

It also appears that, for now at least, the Wallin probe is being conducted separately from the full-blown criminal investigation that is under way into the ineligible housing allowances claimed by senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb.

Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen sat on the Senate's internal economy steering committee, which ordered an external audit into Wallin's travel expenses.

It's not clear if the third member of that committee, Liberal Sen. George Furey, has been or is about to be interviewed by the Mounties about Wallin.

Wallin's office declined to comment Thursday.

Wallin, who was appointed as a Conservative but now sits as an independent, has reimbursed the Senate for more than $150,000 in travel expenses. However, she maintains she wasn't treated fairly by independent auditors who examined her claims or by the internal economy committee, which she has accused of succumbing to a "lynch mob mentality."

Harb, a former Liberal senator, also maintains he was treated unfairly. Nevertheless, he resigned from the Senate last month and reimbursed the chamber $231,649 for all living expenses claimed over the past eight years.

Harb's lawyer, Paul Champ, said Thursday that the RCMP has not yet asked to interview Harb directly.

Duffy, appointed as a Conservative but who now sits as an independent senator, repaid $90,000 last spring in ineligible living expenses. But his problems only deepened when it was revealed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had given Duffy the money.

Wright resigned shortly after news of the transaction broke.

The audit into Wallin's expenses concluded that more than one quarter of her travel claims, made between January 2009 and September 2012, were not related to Senate business and should not have been paid. In many instances, the purpose of the travel appeared to be partisan or personal in nature.

It also found that Wallin's electronic calendar had been altered, adding some details but deleting others.

Wallin maintains that was done on the advice of Tkachuk, then chair of the internal economy committee, to provide only information that related to specific travel claims. Tkachuk says he only suggested Wallin restrict herself to information the auditors asked for and needed to conduct their investigation.

And he's miffed that the auditors did not ask him for his side of the story.

"I thought that was a low blow on their part," he said in an interview Thursday.