May 26, 2019

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Former senators could be sued over expense claims

COURTNEY CAMPBELL/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Former senator Sharon Carstairs </p>

COURTNEY CAMPBELL/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Former senator Sharon Carstairs

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/4/2016 (1130 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Two former Manitoba senators could still be sued to recover monies they claimed for second homes in Ottawa despite an Ontario Court judge determining Thursday the Senate’s rules did not specifically outline what constituted a primary or secondary residence.

Sharon Carstairs and Rod Zimmer are among the seven former senators who have yet to repay more than $527,000 that auditor general Michael Ferguson said they improperly claimed as expenses between April 1, 2011, and March 31, 2013.

Carstairs owes $7,528 and Zimmer owes $176,014. All of Carstairs’ amount and most of Zimmer’s came from travel to Winnipeg or secondary residence claims for Ottawa homes. Ferguson said the claims were improper because neither senator spent enough time in Winnipeg to claim it as a primary residence.

The Senate had given senators until Thursday to repay the money or face legal action. In a statement Thursday, senators Leo Housakas and Jane Cordy, the chair and co-chair of the Senate’s internal economy committee, indicated legal action has not yet been launched but is still intended.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/4/2016 (1130 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Two former Manitoba senators could still be sued to recover monies they claimed for second homes in Ottawa despite an Ontario Court judge determining Thursday the Senate’s rules did not specifically outline what constituted a primary or secondary residence.

Sharon Carstairs and Rod Zimmer are among the seven former senators who have yet to repay more than $527,000 that auditor general Michael Ferguson said they improperly claimed as expenses between April 1, 2011, and March 31, 2013.

Carstairs owes $7,528 and Zimmer owes $176,014. All of Carstairs’ amount and most of Zimmer’s came from travel to Winnipeg or secondary residence claims for Ottawa homes. Ferguson said the claims were improper because neither senator spent enough time in Winnipeg to claim it as a primary residence.

The Senate had given senators until Thursday to repay the money or face legal action. In a statement Thursday, senators Leo Housakas and Jane Cordy, the chair and co-chair of the Senate’s internal economy committee, indicated legal action has not yet been launched but is still intended.

However, the verdict Thursday clearing Sen. Mike Duffy of 31 charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust related to his expenses has given the senators a strong defence in court, says University of Ottawa law expert Errol Mendes.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES </p><p>Former Manitoba senator Rod Zimmer </p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Former Manitoba senator Rod Zimmer

"Absolutely it does," Mendes told the Free Press in an interview. "He says the rules were so lax."

In his 308-page ruling that took much of the day to deliver, Justice Charles Vaillancourt determined the Senate had no specific rules that defined what constituted a primary residence. Neither was there a requirement for a senator to spend a certain number of days in his or her home province in order to make expense claims for living costs while attending Senate business in Ottawa.

Those arguments were also made by Carstairs and Zimmer in their written responses to the audit last June. Zimmer accused Ferguson of interfering with the Duffy trial, "where the issue of residency and the interpretation of the Senate rules concerning residency are central to the proceedings."

Mendes said the Senate might do better to look forward, rather than backwards at this point, and take the time to improve the rules so this kind of thing can’t happen again.

"My strong advice for the Senate is to clean house," he said. "This ruling is as important to the Senate as is it is to Sen. Duffy."

Neither Zimmer nor Carstairs have spoken publicly about the audit findings outside of their written responses included in the audit report. Two different sources have told the Free Press Zimmer is in extremely poor health and cannot respond currently. Carstairs has not returned repeated phone calls.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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