OTTAWA -- Manitoba Sen. Rod Zimmer was cleared Thursday after a Senate committee interviewed him to ensure his claims for travel and living expenses were on the up and up.
The Senate's board of internal economy interviewed Zimmer and Nunavut Sen. Dennis Patterson earlier this week and concluded no further action was necessary for either senator. The interviews came after the board asked all senators to provide documents proving they lived in the province they represent, including a driver's licence, health card, income-tax returns and a signed document about where they are registered to vote.
Zimmer told the Free Press earlier this month he maintains a Manitoba health card and driver's licence and is registered to vote in Winnipeg. He did not respond to a request for an interview Thursday.
Sen. David Tkachuk, who chairs the board of internal economy, said Thursday Zimmer and Patterson both satisfy the residency requirements as laid out in the Constitution. The Senate had already forwarded the residency claims of three senators -- Conservatives Mike Duffy, former Conservative Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb -- to an outside firm for auditing. The travel expense claims of Tory Sen. Pamela Wallin are also being audited.
Zimmer recently purchased a home in Ottawa's Rockcliffe neighbourhood, where he lives with his wife, Maygan Sensenberger. However, he still owns a property in Winnipeg's Osborne Village and said he tries to travel to Winnipeg every second weekend.
Between September 2010 and November 2012, Zimmer expensed $49,903 for having a second residence in Ottawa, and $112,085 for travel between Ottawa and Winnipeg.
His travel claims were the lowest of five Manitoba senators who were in office during that time, but his living expenses were the highest. He is the only one of the current six senators who owns a home in Ottawa. The others either rent or stay in hotels.
Tkachuck said in the future, the board recommends senators be asked to provide a driver's licence, health card and income-tax returns on an annual basis.
Questions about the legitimacy of expense claims have dogged the Senate for months. Reports suggest Duffy claims his primary residence is in Prince Edward Island but that he really lives full time in Ottawa, still holds an Ontario health card and is registered to vote in Ontario. Duffy wanted to have the P.E.I. government fast-track an application for a health card in December after the board of internal economy requested documents from the senators -- but the P.E.I. government refused.
He recently said he may have made a mistake filling out the forms, blamed the forms for being confusing and offered to pay back about $43,000 in living expenses.
Brazeau filed claims for living in Maniwaki, Que., about 125 kilometres north of Ottawa. However, it's believed he spends most of his time at a home in Gatineau, Que., which falls within the national capital region, making him ineligible for a housing allowance.
Brazeau was suspended from the Senate for unrelated criminal charges.
Harb, who represents Ontario, is said to live mainly in Ottawa but claims his primary residence is in Pembroke, far enough outside the national capital region to allow him to claim the living expense.
Wallin, who represents Saskatchewan but lived mostly in Toronto and New York City prior to being appointed, has claimed $321,000 in travel claims since 2010. She says they are all appropriate, although it has also been reported she repaid some of those expenses when the auditors came calling. A full report of the audit of the four senators' expenses is expected to be made public once it is completed.
charged with election offences
THE top administrator of the Manitoba Liberal Party has been charged with eight offences under the Elections Act.
Dennis Trochim faces five counts of knowingly providing false or misleading information and three counts of making a false or misleading statement to the elections commissioner.
Trochim was not available for comment Thursday. The party's acting president said the charges stem from clerical errors Trochim made as a volunteer during the 2011 election campaign.
"The charges... have to do with candidate pre-registration," Mehra said.
"Dennis has 100 per cent owned up to the situation and taken full responsibility and complied with Elections Manitoba to the fullest extent possible."
As a volunteer, Trochim acted as an agent for many of the party's candidates. With just one legislature seat, little money and very few full-time staff, the party had to juggle many tasks to recruit and field candidates in all 57 constituencies.
The board of directors stands behind Trochim, Mehra said.
Trochim is due back in court March 14. The maximum penalty for the charges is a $10,000 fine and one year in jail.
Trochim is not the first person to run afoul of the law in connection with the 2011 campaign.
Elections Manitoba found NDP Health Minister Theresa Oswald guilty of violating a ban on government advertising in the 90-day period before election day. She took part in a media tour of a new birthing centre in south Winnipeg shortly before the campaign began.
Elections Commissioner Bill Bowles said the violation was inadvertent and the minister suffered no consequences.
-- The Canadian Press