Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Housing-allowance flap intensifies

Opposition wants police probe despite audits

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OTTAWA -- Independent audits into dubious housing allowance claims by three senators did little Thursday to silence allegations of improper spending and coverup hanging over Canada's much-maligned upper house.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed accusations the trio was defrauding taxpayers, together collecting nearly $200,000 in invalid housing allowances. Harper declared it a matter of fuzzy rules rather than impropriety.

But New Democrat and Liberal MPs, as well as Liberal Senate leader James Cowan, said the police should have been asked to investigate the housing claims.

"Personally, I think that's the appropriate thing to do," Cowan said, predicting the police would take it upon themselves to review the audits -- even without an invitation to do so from the Senate.

The audits, conducted by Deloitte, resulted in the Senate's internal economy committee demanding hefty sums be repaid by Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy, former Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb.

Harb, who intends to fight the matter in court, resigned from the Liberal caucus until the matter is settled.

Conservative Senate leader Marjory LeBreton declared the matter closed and said Duffy will remain in the Conservative caucus. Harper echoed her remarks in the Commons.

"The auditor has concluded that the rules in place were not clear; however, the Senate itself has decided it expects better judgment from the senators," the prime minister said.

"Sen. Duffy has some months ago repaid the money and the Senate has decided that other senators will be expected to similarly repay those amounts."

But the integrity of the audit process was also called into question amid suspicions Duffy was tipped off about irregularities in his expense claims by the chairman of the committee that was investigating them.

A letter from Duffy suggests fellow Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk, head of the Senate's internal economy committee, told him Deloitte auditors had found he collected more than $1,000 in a daily living allowance while on vacation for 12 days in Florida.

"Following our informal conversation, Tuesday evening, I went through my files for January 2012," Duffy says in the April 18 letter to Tkachuk, obtained by The Canadian Press.

"I discovered that through a clerical error, per diems were inadvertently charged for several days when I was not in the National Capital Region."

The informal conversation referenced in the letter took place April 16 -- the same day Tkachuk was briefed by the auditors on their findings.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2013 A22

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