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Commons, Senate Audit Expected Next Week From Auditor General Michael Ferguson

OTTAWA — The auditor general is expected to deliver his report card on the efficient administration of the House of Commons and Senate next week.

Auditor general Michael Ferguson’s office is still hashing out the details of the report’s release with both chambers but plans to release the potentially controversial audit before Parliament rises for the summer break.

MPs fought tooth and nail against the audit in 2010 when then-auditor general Sheila Fraser proposed it. MPs argued their internal mechanisms and independent audits by professional firms were sufficient and Fraser’s watchful eye was unnecessary.

But after a massive public outcry, and assurances from Fraser’s office that auditors weren’t on a witch-hunt to find misbehaving MPs, the politicians allowed her to look at their books.

Fraser spoke with the Board of Internal Economy, the secretive all-party committee that oversees the administration of the House of Commons and its staff, in June, 2010. She told them she planned to look at procurement processes, human-resources management, security, financial management and the support offered to MPs.

Specific expenses incurred by MPs would be reviewed, Fraser said, but only as part of an examination into how well the financial controls function.

Fraser took great care to say she had no plans to look at how MPs manage their offices or question their spending.

“Our audit will let parliamentarians know whether or not the administrative systems of the House are being well managed and performing at the standard of quality that they expect. We will make recommendations for improvements if appropriate,” she said in June, 2010.

The same type of audit was planned for the Senate.

The Commons' budget for 2012-2013 is $445.9 million while the Senate's is $92.2-million. While elected members oversee the workings of both chambers, setting policy and approving budgets, the day-to-day functioning of both chambers is overseen by the Clerk of the House and the Clerk of the Senate.

Ghislain Desjardins, media-relations manager in the office of the auditor general, would not discuss the content of the upcoming report. He told The Huffington Post Canada, however, that if auditors had done spot-checks and found problems with a politician's spending, the identity of that member or senator would be withheld.

That was not the case in Nova Scotia in 2010 and Newfoundland in 2006 when provincial auditors general delivered explosive reports uncovering abuse of taxpayer funds by several elected officials and named them publicly.

The auditor general may highlight problems such as rules and regulations that are seen to be unclear. Earlier this year, it was revealed that former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe paid at least one senior party staffer, the Bloc's former director general Gilbert Gardner, out of his House of Commons' office budget for seven years.

While Duceppe argued that what he did was well within the rules, members of all the other parties said they believed this was inappropriate and that party workers should be paid for by party donors. House of Commons staff, however, had not verified with the Bloc leader's office what tasks Gardner as an advisor was being paid to do. The controversy also raised questions about the type of partisan activities staff on a parliamentary payroll should engage in. The Board of Internal Economy is currently reviewing the Duceppe's case.

Clarification: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the BOIE will review the report before it is tabled. The report will not be previewed by the board.

Like Huffington Post Canada's Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj's reporter page on Facebook and follow her on Twitter for all the latest news from Parliament Hill.

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