06/03/2013 05:41 EDT | Updated 06/03/2013 07:16 EDT

James Cowan, Liberal Senate Leader, Wants House Of Commons Audited, Too


OTTAWA — If the Conservative government wants a full scale audit of the Senate by the Auditor General of Canada, the Liberals won’t stand in their way.

But they want the House of Commons audited, too.

Liberal Senate leader James Cowan told The Huffington Post Canada on Monday that if there is a comprehensive audit of senators’ expenses, the same should be done in the House — just as MPs and senators did last year when the AG had a small peek at their books.

"You improve your system as a result of these things so we’re in favour of that," he said.

Cowan said Marjory LeBreton, the government’s leader in the Senate, did not call or consult him before issuing a press release Monday afternoon saying she would call on the Liberal opposition in the Senate to support a motion Tuesday requesting the Auditor General conduct a “comprehensive audit of Senate expenses.”

The Conservatives don’t actually need Liberal support as they have a healthy majority in the upper house with 60 out of the total 105 seats. The Liberals have 35 seats.

Cowan said he didn’t know what a "comprehensive audit of Senate expenses" means but if LeBreton wants a full review of all senators’ expenses, Liberals will support that "no problem."

"And I assume, they will want to do the same thing in the House of Commons," Cowan added, just as the Senate and the House did last year in parallel.

While the NDP refused to say whether they would support a full audit of all MPs’ expenses in the House of Commons, the Conservatives said they believe none is needed.

The Chief Government Whip in the House of Commons, Gordon O'Connor, said the Tories are looking at ways of making more information on MP expenses available to the public. He said the next MP expense report tabled by the Board of Internal Economy would be more detailed.

O'Connor said the Government believes that the Auditor General has already had a comprehensive look at the House's books and another audit isn't needed for another four years.

"The Auditor General suggested that there be a return audit within a five year period. We believe that this is an appropriate time frame," he wrote in an email.

In June of 2012, the Auditor General tabled an audit of the House and the Senate administration.

Michael Ferguson looked at a representative sample of some parliamentarians’ spending but did not look at all MPs and Senators’ expenses.

He found that some senators’ expense claims did not contain sufficient documentations. He warned, for example, that the Senate’s administration had been lax in requiring proof of residency for two out of seven senators studied who claimed living expenses for a home they owned in Ottawa. In some cases receipts were missing and several times senators had not stated for what purpose they were travelling.

Over on the House of Commons’ side, Ferguson found that from the sample tested about seven per cent of expenses claims "did not contain sufficient documentation or information to demonstrate proper authorization" and five per cent "did not demonstrate sufficient support for the transaction."

"All expense claims should have adequate supporting documentation. Lack of documentation or information leads to uncertainty about whether the by-laws, policies, and directives of the Board of Internal Economy have been followed," the Auditor General wrote.

Cowan said he isn’t sure what the AG will find if he looks at the books but he suspects there will be some wrongdoing to report.

“I don’t know. I mean auditors always find something,” he said.

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