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Manitoba Senator Janis Johnson repays $20K in flagged expenses; insists they were legitimate

Senator Janis Johnson

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Senator Janis Johnson

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/6/2015 (1272 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba Sen. Janis Johnson has repaid more than $20,000 in travel expenses the Auditor General said were not for Senate business, but not because she now believes he was right.

Johnson, a Conservative who has been in the Senate since 1990, posted news of the repayment on her website Thursday.

“I am adamant that all of my expenses were properly incurred and were in complete compliance with Senate polices on travel,” she wrote. “I also remain firmly of the view that the subjective conclusion reached by the Auditor General’s team in my case is incorrect.”

Nevertheless, said Johnson, she has spent the last week considering what to do and has decided it is in the best interest of the Senate for her to repay the money and move on.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/6/2015 (1272 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba Sen. Janis Johnson has repaid more than $20,000 in travel expenses the Auditor General said were not for Senate business, but not because she now believes he was right.

Johnson, a Conservative who has been in the Senate since 1990, posted news of the repayment on her website Thursday.

"I am adamant that all of my expenses were properly incurred and were in complete compliance with Senate polices on travel," she wrote. "I also remain firmly of the view that the subjective conclusion reached by the Auditor General’s team in my case is incorrect."

Nevertheless, said Johnson, she has spent the last week considering what to do and has decided it is in the best interest of the Senate for her to repay the money and move on.

"Accordingly, I have decided to repay all of the amounts identified by the Auditor General in my case even though I remain firmly convinced they were all properly incurred and submitted," she said. "It is hoped that by doing so, it will in some small measure contribute to the process of restoring honour to the Senate. In my view, it is preferable to look forward and expend our energy and resources on learning from this experience, continuing to contribute to our regions, and revitalizing the institution of the Senate."

Johnson is one of five current and former Manitoba senators identified by Auditor General Michael Ferguson in his audit of senate expenses. He found she spent $22,706 on seven trips to Vancouver which he believed were really for personal purposes that she tacked Senate business onto in order to claim the costs. Johnson fully disagreed, saying the audit findings were "inaccurate and misleading."

She said the trips were all for Senate business and that the rules allowed for senators to take some personal time on trips as long as no personal expenses were claimed. She said she never claimed anything for personal business she attended to while travelling.

In total, Ferguson found nearly $1 million in questionable claims made by 30 senators. His office spent nearly two years probing 80,000 expense items from 116 senators who were in office for any period between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2013. Nine of those 30 had claims Ferguson believed should be investigated by the RCMP including two retired Manitoba Liberals – Rod Zimmer and Sharon Carstairs.

He also found Conservatives Don Plett and Terry Stratton had made claims that were inappropriate and should be repaid.

The Senate has hired former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie as an arbitrator for senators who want to dispute Ferguson’s findings. Johnson said she considered that but decided that would just add more time and money to a process that has already been too expensive.

"Tens of millions of dollars and almost two years was spent on this audit, only to identify a fraction of that amount in "questionable" claims," she said. "The arbitration process will add further to both of these totals. Throughout it all, the reputation of the Senate, an institution I fully believe in, has been sullied. And so, while I continue to refute the findings of the Auditor General, I have decided to put, what I consider, the interests of the Senate first."

Plett has already repaid $2,975 of the $4,095 he owed. He said those were for personal travel that was accidentally claimed. He is disputing the remainder.

Stratton owes $5,466 for trips to Calgary the auditor said were not for Senate business. Stratton, in his written response to the audit, said one of the trips was clearly for Senate business because he was asked by his "leadership" to travel to meet someone in person to "limit embarrassment to two of the countries’ institutions." The other trip he didn’t deny was claimed wrongly, but said it could be "resolved by accepting that I left the Senate two weeks early" and saving two weeks worth of expenses that way. Stratton has repaid $59.98.

Both Zimmer and Carstairs were accused by Ferguson of making claims for a secondary residence in Ottawa when they didn’t spend enough time in Manitoba to warrant claiming it was their primary residence. Both said, in their written responses to his report, that they followed the rules and there was nothing that said how many days had to be spent at a residence to make it their primary home.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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