POLITICS

Trudeau: RCMP's Senate Investigation Not A Waste, Even If No Charges Laid

03/16/2016 11:20 EDT

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it has not been a waste of money for the RCMP to investigate senators flagged with problematic expense claims by the auditor general and then decide not to lay charges.

Trudeau said the Mounties' probing of questionable Senate expenses pointed to a need for more transparency in the upper chamber even if none will be criminally charged.

justin trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen before addressing members of the media during his arrival to United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York, on March 16, 2016. (Photo: Jason Szenes/EPA via CP)

"The travails that the Senate and senators went through over the past years highlighted the need for greater transparency, greater openness, greater accountability and indeed a distancing from partisanship and the patronage that has defined the Senate over recent years and indeed decades," Trudeau told reporters at the United Nations in New York.

The Liberals have set up a body of outside experts to recommend appointments to the Senate, which now has 24 vacant seats and a baker's dozen of independents, including five who have left their party caucuses since the October election over concerns about partisanship getting in the way of them doing their jobs.

Trudeau said the plan would end up overhauling the Senate and turn it into a place "that actually examines" legislation in a "much less partisan way."

"The travails that the Senate and senators went through over the past years highlighted the need for greater transparency, greater openness, greater accountability."

"That is what we're committed to, that is what we're going to do and the various investigations and concerns and issues highlighted have led us to a place where I think we're on the right track," Trudeau said.

24 of 30 current and ex-senators off hook: report

The Globe and Mail reported late Tuesday that the RCMP have decided against pursuing criminal investigations against 24 of 30 current and former senators who were flagged with questionable expenses in last year's critical report by the federal auditor general.

That audit identified almost $1 million in problematic expenses and detailed a litany of oversight issues in how the Senate managed expense claims.

All 30 senators named in the audit were ordered to repay the questioned amounts, with 13 opting to go through an arbitration process led by former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie.

Binnie's final report is to be made public next week after senators on the internal economy committee, which is charged with oversight of Senate spending, meet to look over the report.

Senators with whom Binnie sides will not have to pay back any money to the Senate. Those against whom Binnie rules will be forced to pay the money back.

The Senate has previously said that those sitting senators who refuse repayment will have their salaries clawed back, similar to how the Senate withheld Sen. Patrick Brazeau's salary until he had repaid the approximately $49,000 in ineligible housing claims. Retired senators who refuse to pay will be taken to court by the upper chamber.

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