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This article was published 6/6/2015 (1594 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Manitoba Sen. Janis Johnson says the auditor general is way off base with accusing her of taking personal trips on the Senate dime.
Johnson, in a posting on her website, responded to the report of Auditor General Michael Ferguson, and says the audit appears to be retroactively applying new rules.
She is one of 21 senators who Ferguson as having claimed incorrect expenses that should be repaid but whose offences were not deemed to be possibly illegal.
From documents posted on her website, it is clear the auditor has concluded several trips Johnson took were for "essentially personal" reasons and that the meetings she said she was attending "appeared to be secondary."
Other concerns raised about the trips was that they took place around holidays and that they weren’t properly documented in an Outlook Calendar.
Johnson was first told of the preliminary findings of the audit in early March, and received word of the final conclusions on April 22, the same day almost all senators received a letter from Ferguson letting them know the results of the audit.
In a letter to Ferguson written six days after that final letter, Johnson says she is not "prepared to confirm that the final conclusions present audit findings that are factually based."
"In fact, the audit findings are inaccurate and misleading."
She says her expenses "were in complete compliance" with the Senate Travel Policy.
Johnson says all the trips were for Senate business and that personal time she took on the trips was added after the Senate business was planned. She says she often travels around holidays because she is normally in Ottawa while the Senate is in session and "like Cabinet Ministers and MPs" she uses breaks and holiday periods to travel so she doesn’t miss Senate sittings.
She also accuses the auditor of making up arbitrary guidelines for whether a trip had too much personal time involved for it to be considered a work-related expense regardless of the value of the work completed.
The Senate Travel Policy, says Johnson, allows for personal time to be incorporated into business trips as long as there are no expenses claimed for that personal time.
She also says she was never told, nor is it in any Senate rules, that trips have to be organized in an Outlook Calendar and rarely uses one.
Johnson’s spokesperson says the Senator can’t say how much she has been asked to repay until Tuesday because of a confidentiality agreement but plans to take her case to the independent arbitrator hired by the Senate to handle disputes between the auditor and the senators involved.
Johnson says the auditors either didn’t read or ignored the material she provided to support all the trips she expensed as a senator.
According to publicly available Senate expense documents, during the audit period from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2013, Johnson claimed approximately $45,691.30 for "other travel" which refers to any trips taken that are not between Ottawa and a senator’s home province.
Ferguson was called in to audit all Senator expenses in 2013, as the upper chamber faced down a growing scandal about several senators claiming costs for secondary residences in Ottawa when they really did not live at all in the primary residence they claimed and claiming trips for reasons other than Senate business.
Three of those senators, Conservatives Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, and Liberal Mac Harb, have been charged with fraud and breach of trust. Duffy is on trial right now and Brazeau and Harb will go on trial later this year.
Conservative Pamela Wallin was investigated by the RCMP but hasn’t been charged to date.
Ferguson has identified the expenses of nine other senators which he thinks should be looked at by the RCMP, including two from Manitoba. Retired Liberal Rod Zimmer has more than $176,000 in expense claims Ferguson found to be illegitimate and retired Liberal Sharon Carstairs had $7,500 in questionable expenses identified.
As well there were three Manitobans among the 21 senators asked to repay money but who weren’t flagged for an RCMp investigations. Johnson, Conservative Don Plett and retired Conservative Terry Stratton.
Plett says he won’t speak about the audit until Tuesday when the report is released publicly. Stratton has not been reached.
Johnson was appointed to the Senate in 1990 by Brian Mulroney, is the longest serving of the three current Manitoba senators.