OTTAWA — A new motion proposing the creation of a new audit and oversight body in the Senate isn’t being met with unbridled enthusiasm by all senators.
The motion, tabled Thursday, proposes that a mixed-member group be created to appoint auditors and to ensure recommendations from completed reports don’t sit on a shelf, forgotten. It would also be responsible for ensuring audits are comprehensive.
“We are confident that the time has come for this,” Independent Sen. Tony Dean told HuffPost Canada. Asking for external advisors to be involved in audits isn’t unusual, he said. The private sector and large parts of the public sector already do it.
“It’s more difficult in a parliamentary context because as I’ve discovered there’s this issue of privilege,” he explained. “But that doesn’t mean that can’t be overcome and in a balanced way.”
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Dean said the creation of the new committee would help modernize the Senate and improve public confidence in the upper Chamber, which is a self-regulating body.
Senate Opposition Leader Don Plett told HuffPost his caucus will study the motion carefully “because, at first glance, it goes beyond the scope of crafting the audit oversight committee.”
Conservative caucus members are independent, he said, adding that “some have reservations” about the proposed new body.
If the motion is adopted, it would spark the creation of a five-member standing committee on audit and oversight. Three seats would be for senators and two for external experts.
Dean explained that the external experts would have the ability to file dissenting reports that would be made public. He called it a “safeguard” to ensure the committee isn’t held captive by senators’ interests.
The motion resurrects an effort made in the last parliamentary session to introduce external oversight over the Senate’s internal handling of expenses, which was rejected. The Senate’s rules, procedures and the rights of Parliament standing committee said there was a lack of consensus, and also cited calls for the creation of an arm’s-length oversight committee to be outside its mandate.
Discussions to introduce more oversight and transparency have been ongoing for years.
Increased oversight has been on the wishlist of many newer senators, including Dean, appointed to the upper chamber years after controversy related to senators’ improper expenses.
The scandal compelled the late former auditor general Michael Ferguson to launch a sweeping audit of senators’ expenses. His report found the structure of the Senate untenable given the perception senators “may be viewed as looking after their own interests.”
The report’s recommendations included the creation of an oversight body that would have direct access to the Senate’s internal and external auditors.
“The meetings of the oversight body should be open to the public, and all its reports, minutes, decisions, and reasons should be published on the Senate’s website,” the report read.
“Simply changing or adding to existing rules will not be enough. Improvements in oversight, accountability, transparency, and Senators’ consideration for the cost to taxpayers are needed to resolve the issues that we have identified.”