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Tories seek audit of Senate expenses

Want complete examination to help quell controversies

OTTAWA -- Stephen Harper's government is calling in the auditor general as it attempts to stamp out the political inferno raging over improper Senate expenses.

Sen. Marjory LeBreton, government leader in the upper chamber, intends to introduce a motion today calling on auditor general Michael Ferguson to conduct "a comprehensive audit of Senate expenses."

"Canadians deserve to know at all times that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and in accordance with the law," she said.

LeBreton called on Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan to support her motion. "I see no reason why we would oppose it," Cowan said in an interview.

Still, he added, he wants to hear more about what LeBreton has in mind. He noted her statement refers to an audit of "Senate expenses," which is not necessarily the same as auditing each individual senator's expenses.

Moreover, he said he wouldn't want to simply repeat an audit conducted by Ferguson last year into the administration of the Senate, including financial management and control polices. As part of that audit, the auditor general examined a representative sample of senators' expense claims.

However, LeBreton said she's proposing to give the auditor general free rein to examine all aspects of Senate expenses, including all claims by individual senators if he so chooses.

"When I say a comprehensive audit of all Senate expenses, I mean everything," LeBreton said in an interview.

That would allow Ferguson much broader scope than last year's audit, in which LeBreton said the Senate's internal economy committee "put some fences around what (Ferguson) could and could not do.

"I actually don't think that's proper. The auditor general should go where he wants to go."

LeBreton acknowledged a comprehensive audit could reveal an even bigger scandal over invalid expense claims by senators -- as happened in Nova Scotia several years ago when MLAs' expenses were audited.

"Most senators... conduct themselves absolutely appropriately," she said. "But those who haven't, it may not be pleasant but people are the architects of their own actions, eh?"

With senators' expenses put under the auditor general's microscope, LeBreton said "there'll be obviously pressure" on the House of Commons to allow similar scrutiny of MPs' expenses.

LeBreton's motion is the latest Conservative effort to damp down the spreading scandal, which has become a staple of question period in the Commons.

Last week, the Conservative-dominated Senate adopted tougher rules on travel and other expense claims. The chamber also agreed to call on the RCMP to investigate Sen. Mike Duffy's expense claims. Duffy's problems began with improper claims for housing expenses but have since expanded to include dubious travel and living-expense claims, and an explosive "gift" of $90,000 given to him by Nigel Wright, the prime minister's chief of staff, to reimburse the Senate for his invalid claims.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2013 A7

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