The Senate chamber sits empty on September 12, 2014 in Ottawa. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)When auditor general Michael Ferguson released his scathing report on the Senate expense scandal last year, one of his key recommendations was the creation of an independent oversight body to ensure that senators would no longer police themselves though the internal economy committee. Senate leadership appeared at the time to be cool to the idea, instead pointing to a binding arbitration process overseen by retired Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie they set up for senators who wished to challenge the findings of the auditor general. One of the complications against turning over the books is that the Parliament of Canada Act gives the internal economy committee exclusive authority over all financial and administrative matters, so handing control to an outside body is not as straightforward as it would seem.
Former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on March 21, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)Ferguson's June 2015 report, which followed an exhaustive two-year investigation, flagged nearly $1 million in problematic expenses, identified problems stemming from a lack of oversight and called for "transformational change" to the way the Senate handles its affairs. That included detailed recommendations for an independent oversight body with the final authority to decide whether expense claims comply with the rules. Ferguson greeted the openness to exploring independent oversight with cautious optimism. "It's more than a year now since we issued the report and certainly I would hope that the Senate would turn its attention to trying to put in place the right way to oversee the senators' expenses," Ferguson said in an interview Friday.
'Independence' fundamental: AG
"I get a bit tired of hearing that we are going to be accountable and transparent."Independent Sen. John Wallace said a recent decision by the internal economy committee to require Sen. Mike Duffy to repay nearly $17,000 in expenses — even after he was acquitted of related criminal charges in April — shows how the status quo leaves "far too much power in the hands of far too few people". He also said change is long overdue. "I get a bit tired of hearing that we are going to be accountable and transparent," he said. "I mean, those are wonderful words, but it's time to get on with it and get on with it now."
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