OTTAWA — Senate Speaker Leo Housakos denied Wednesday that he was the source of severals leaks of the auditor general’s report into senators’ expenses — while two of his Conservative colleagues pressed for an end to the inquiry into the source of the leak.
The Huffington Post Canada reported allegations Tuesday made by two people, employed by the Senate, who said they had first-hand knowledge that Housakos had leaked the audit to several journalists days before it was tabled in the Senate.
In an statement, Housakos said it was unfortunate that he had to respond to “unfounded, unsubstantiated allegations being made by un-named sources.”
“The work being done to reform the Senate is too important to allow it to be sullied by these types of salacious rumours and innuendo,” the statement said. “[Senators] will not be deterred from our commitment to be more efficient, transparent and accountable, certainly not by stories like this.”
Senate Speaker Leo Housakos called the allegations unfounded and unsubstantiated. (Photo: Canadian Press)
One woman who served in a non-partisan function told HuffPost she was on the sidelines when Housakos leaked pages from the audit.
“He asserted to me on multiple occasions that he had leaked the documents,” she said. One of her staff members was also present when Housakos leaked the audit, she said.
“We battled on a number of occasions: when I was asked to observe the leaking of parliamentary privileged documents; when I was asked to behave in an unprofessional manner with the media; when I was asked to break the Official Languages Act; when I was asked to perform my work in a partisan fashion, i.e. Conservative partisan fashion.”
She was let go in September when her contract expired. A failed Conservative candidate – and former Stephen Harper staffer – was hired to replace her.
Another individual who works in a different section of the Senate also reported seeing Housakos show the documents to a well-known reporter.
Senators decline to comment
On Wednesday, several Tory senators declined to comment, including Claude Carignan, the Conservative leader in the Senate; Yonah Martin, the deputy leader; Internal Economy committee member Denise Batters and David Wells who sat on the committee that chose the former Tory staffer to fill a non-partisan bureaucratic function.
One Conservative senator, who requested anonymity, said it was “pretty obvious” that Housakos had leaked the audit. The person suggested the HuffPost story would make it easier for the Liberals to dump the Conservative Speaker and pick a Liberal instead.
Before the Senate rose for the summer, the committee on Rules, Procedures and Rights of Parliament began investigating the source of the leak.
Sen. Céline Hervieux-Payette, a Liberal, requested the inquiry, arguing that many senators had “felt trapped” after being placed in the uncomfortable position of having all the details of the audit out in the public sphere — revealing their names, the sums of money allegedly involved, and even the list of nine senators whose files were turned over to the RCMP — while being forced into silence by a pledge to refrain from commenting on the budget before it was tabled in the Senate.
Sen. Vern White, seen in 2013, said he wanted to get to the bottom of the leak. (Photo: Canadian Press)
On Tuesday, Vern White, a Conservative senator and the chair of the rules committee, told HuffPost he hoped Hervieux-Payette would bring her motion forward again because he — whether or not he was still the committee chair — wanted to get to the bottom of the leak.
Hervieux-Payette and Independent Senator Anne Cools echoed his comments.
Some Conservatives senators, however, felt differently.
“Investigating who gave the information, I don’t think that is what is going to move the file,” said Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais, one of the people whose name was leaked to newspapers and television outlets. The auditor general said Dagenais had inappropriately submitted $3,538 worth of travel and per diem claims for his staff. He disputes the findings.
“The auditor made errors in his calculations, so for me finding out who leaked information is not important, what is important is trying to figure out what ends up happening with that report,” he said.
“I think we should move on. I’m more looking forward to a new agenda, hopefully under the new mandate and new government things will get better and positive.”
Sen. Victor Oh told HuffPost that senators should not be rehashing “‘bad things.”
“I think we should move on,” he said. “I’m more looking forward to a new agenda, hopefully under the new mandate and new government things will get better and positive. You know, there are a lot of senators doing a lot of good things,” he said.
Oh was enthusiastic about the idea that the Liberals’ proposals might mean a less partisan chamber.
“I think that would be great! I think giving senators more freedom, more positive thinking that everybody could express what they think of their views…. I think that is good. I’m in favour if it is going that way.”
Although Oh declined to say whether he ever felt pressured under Stephen Harper’s government to vote in a certain way, he said he was looking forward to fewer whipped votes.
“I would rather we have … some independent thinking on our own.”
The Auditor General’s Office, which many senators considered the source of the leak, declined to say whether it prefered to see the investigation into the leak continue.
“We prefer to let the Senate decide whether or not to pursue the investigation into the source of the leak,” Ghislain Desjardins, the media relations manager, wrote in an email.
“The OAG will co-operate fully if the Senate does decide to pursue.”
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