POLITICS

Senate Audit Has Some Calling For Review Of MP Expenses, Too

06/05/2015 03:37 EDT | Updated 06/07/2015 11:59 EDT

OTTAWA — The damning Senate audit should renew calls for an audit of MPs in the House of Commons, some recently audited senators say.

The NDP, the Liberals, the Greens, Quebec upstart party Forces et Démocratie and independent MP Brent Rathgeber all support the idea of calling Auditor General Michael Ferguson to look at their books. But only the Greens have urged the House to adopt a motion asking the AG to review MP spending.

And that has led some senators to believe that members of Parliament are being disingenuous, trying only to score political points against the upper chamber.

“Forget what they mutter publicly,” Senator Larry Campbell, a B.C. Liberal, told The Huffington Post Canada Friday. “What is stopping them? Oh, right,” he said, pointing to what he described as the NDP’s alleged theft of $2.7 million of House resources for partisan purposes.

“You think they want an audit? And can you imagine if they audited retired MPs? No, hypocrisy runs rampant in the other place,” Campbell said.

If the AG went after the House of Commons with the same scrutiny he used on senators, the result would be “absolutely disastrous,” a senior Conservative familiar with the audit report said, insisting on anonymity.

Conservative Senator Linda Frum said she thought it was offensive for people such as NDP MP Charlie Angus to “challenge the integrity of those of us who have willingly subjected ourselves to scrutiny while he steadfastly refuses.”

Angus has been a vocal critic of the upper chamber and point man on the Senate scandal.

Frum said, however, that she isn’t sure — based on the Senate’s expensive experience — that the AG is necessarily the right office to audit the House of Commons. “Twenty-one million dollars later, there has to be a better way,” she said.

Tory Senator Bob Runciman also felt the Senate audit would make some question the need for a House audit. He suggested that the cost would be “a strong negative.”

“More likely, [it will lead to] calls for maximum transparency and tighter control by Internal Economy,” he wrote in an email.

Liberal Senator Percy Downe told HuffPost he was also concerned about the cost of the AG’s audit. But he, like senators Jim Munson and Jane Cordy, thought MPs’ books should also be reviewed.

Last May, Downe introduced a motion calling for the House of Commons to be audited at the same time as the Senate. In a speech, he said that after hearing MPs expressing so much concern about transparency and accountability in the Senate, he thought “MPs would immediately spring into action” and prepare a motion to invite the AG to audit their own expenses.

“But it appears that the NDP MPs — who were so vocal on the issue of Senate expenses and the need for openness with the spending of all taxpayer money — have gone into the witness protection program,” he told the upper house on May 6, 2014. “It turns out they wanted accountability for everyone else, but they did not want it for their own expenses.

“What was acceptable 20 years ago, 10 years ago — is not acceptable now and all parliamentarians have to keep up with the public demands for greater accountability,” the P.E.I. Liberal senator said.

The motion was never voted upon, and the Conservative senators are unlikely to push it, even now, a Tory source said.

And not all Senate voices were unanimous. Nova Scotia Conservative Stephen Greene said he opposes an AG audit of the lower chamber.

“I am not in favour of an audit like senators had for MPs,” he wrote in an email. “Perhaps there could be a general systems audit for the House, but not for individual MPs. Not only do voters have an opportunity to toss out under-performers every 2-5 years, but can you imagine the mess if an audit was underway during an election campaign?” he asked.

In the House of Commons Friday, NDP MPs launched a blistering attack against the Conservatives and Liberals in the Senate for what they labelled a “Senate corruption scandal.” The NDP has no senators.

NDP MP Rosane Doré Lefebvre said half the Senate has now been fingered by the AG for a total of nearly $1 million dollars. There are currently 82 senators. Thirty current and former senators have had their expense claims flagged by auditors."

NDP deputy leader David Christopherson said the Senate audit explained why the Liberals and Conservatives were “desperate” to use a “kangaroo court” to attack his party for its spending.

The Board of Internal Economy, a committee with a majority of Tories, two NDP MPs and one Liberal that administers the Commons, has admonished the New Democrats for misusing office resources and mailing privileges for purposes that were judged too partisan, and it has ordered them to repay more than $2.7 million. The NDP is fighting the case in court.

Paul Calandra, the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, tried to deflect attacks over the Senate audit by charging that the NDP had “taken money out of their riding — money meant for their constituents — and redirected it to an illegal partisan party office in Montreal, and now they are refusing to pay back the taxpayers of Canada.”

NDP MP Irene Mathyssen said the Tories were redefining reality. “We are talking about repeated abuse of taxpayers’ dollars, with Conservative and Liberal senators submitting travel expenses that weren’t really about Senate business,” she said.

“The auditor general’s report will confirm just how deep the rot runs,” said NDP Democratic reform critic Craig Scott. “It’s never been clearer that … [it] is necessary to abolish the Senate,” he said.

Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre suggested the Conservatives are willing to move to abolish the upper chamber but only if the provinces push it. “The court has now said that it would require unanimous approval of all 10 provinces, and so far...that consensus has not come from the provinces. But if the provinces do bring that forward, we will support it.”

The AG’s office said it would not confirm the cost of the audit or how many questionable expenses it uncovered until the report is made public Tuesday.

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