OTTAWA — The Senate spending scandal dragged to a close Thursday as the upper chamber abandoned plans to sue a group of former senators to recoup questionable travel, office and housing expenses.
The Senate's internal economy committee decided it wasn't worth the cost to sue the seven — one of whom is dead — who refused to repay money flagged in a critical review of Senate spending released last year by the federal auditor general.
The Senate chamber sits empty on Sept. 12, 2014 in Ottawa. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
The top senators on the committee said in a statement that lawyers hired to review the situation made it clear that the chance of recovering a significant amount of money was remote.
"The legal fees that would be required to pursue any viable claims would be greater than the amount to be recovered," read the statement from chair Sen. Leo Housakos and vice-chair Sen. Jane Cordy.
"The committee felt that to proceed would not be a responsible use of taxpayers' money."
An outside lawyer who reviewed the case said legal efforts would likely net the Senate, at most, $60,000 of the almost $530,000 in problematic spending.
Going to court would be expensive point
Lawyer Brenda Hollingsworth said the Senate could go to court if it wanted to make a point about spending issues, but it would be an expensive point, as legal costs would be higher than any monetary settlement.
"In the end, my analysis came down to what is it going to cost taxpayers to pursue these items," she said. "There are definitely expenses that, if these were sitting senators, I would say pursue, but to spend $15,000 to recover $6,000 is the concern."
Senators on the committee worried about more spending from the public purse to deal with the expenses scandal.
Several pointed to the $23.6 million cost of the auditor general's review — a total that includes costs that would have been incurred regardless of what auditors were working on, such as salaries, utilities and office space — to identify less than $1 million of questioned spending.
"We don't want anybody to get away with something that was wrong, but at which point do we cut our costs?"
"We don't want anybody to get away with something that was wrong, but at which point do we cut our costs?" asked Liberal Sen. Percy Downe.
Independent Sen. Grant Mitchell said the senators in question have already paid a price in damage to their reputations.
"It's not like they're getting off scot-free by any means whatsoever," Mitchell said.
"In fact, it may well be beyond the imagination of people that haven't been through that kind of reputational attack to imagine the price they have paid."
7 still owe money
The seven who owe money are retired former Conservatives Don Oliver and Gerry St. Germain, as well as retired Liberals Sharon Carstairs, Marie-Paule Charette-Poulin, Rose-Marie Losier-Cool, Bill Rompkey and Rod Zimmer, who died in June at age 73.
Hollingsworth said much of the spending is for small expenses like meals, taxis, and couriers that would be difficult to recoup and housing spending that would be impossible to collect in light of the decision in the Mike Duffy trial earlier this year.
Duffy was cleared of 31 criminal charges in April after a high-profile trial that put a focus on the ins and outs of the Senate's spending rules. The judgment called the Senate rules unclear and Duffy was acquitted of criminal wrongdoing for living expenses charged for his Ottawa home.
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