© THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
The Senate chamber on Parliament Hill is seen Tuesday May 28, 2013 in Ottawa.
P.E.I.’s three Liberal senators say they welcome the auditor general’s plans to examine all Senate expenses, including their own spending.
Last week, it was revealed Auditor General Michael Ferguson is planning a comprehensive look at the expense claims of all senators in the wake of the spending scandal that has mired the upper chamber in controversy for the last several months.
His audit is also expected to include a probe into the way the institution itself manages its resources.
Prince Edward’s Island’s three Liberal senators told The Guardian this week they will fully co-operate with the investigation and, in fact, welcome it.
“There’s no question that all the ongoing controversy has had a very negative effect on the Senate,” Catherine Callbeck said.
“I think it’s been very damaging to the institution and something like this needs to be done and this is what the Senate voted to have done.”
Percy Downe was somewhat hesitant to comment on the issue, as he is on the committee that has been examining the housing claims of P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy, Liberal Senator Mac Harb and the now independent Senator Patrick Brazeau as well as the travel expenses of Pamela Wallin.
But he did say he welcomes Ferguson’s upcoming probe.
“Not only am I in favour of him doing it, I hope he does it on the House of Commons and other national institutions such as the CBC, for example. I think the more transparency the better,” Downe said.
“There’s a cloud over institutions when there’s a lack of light. Let the light shine in.”
Aggregate data for senators’ expenses is available online dating back to September 2010.
This data shows P.E.I.’s four senators spent a total of over $2.2 million in travel, living, hospitality, office and staffing expenses between September 2010 and May 2013.
The overall biggest spender in that time period was Duffy, who has been a central figure of the Senate spending controversy over his living expense claims.
His online expense reports show he expensed a total of $674,482 between Sept. 1, 2010 and May 31, 2013. But most of his quarterly reports date back to before he was found to have inappropriately claimed $90,000 in housing allowance. This amount was refunded to the Senate with a cheque from former chief of staff to the prime minister, Nigel Wright — a transaction now part of an RCMP investigation into Duffy’s expense claims. The senator’s most recent quarterly expense report shows a negative line amount of $17,000 under living expenses for March 1 to May 31, 2013.
Another noteworthy figure in P.E.I. senators’ expense reports is found among those of P.E.I.’s most low-profile senator, Elizabeth Hubley.
She spent over $228,000 in ‘regular travel,’ over the last three years. Regular travel is defined on the Senate of Canada’s website as “expenses incurred while travelling between the senator’s province/territory and Ottawa.”
This is a significantly higher amount than all three of the Island’s other representatives in the Red Chamber.
In the same time period, Duffy spent $165,582, Downe spent $76,528 and Callbeck spent $50,240.
In an interview with The Guardian Tuesday, Hubley said she travels every Monday to Ottawa and returns to the Island every Thursday. She did not want to comment further on her expenses, as they will now be subject to review by the AG.
“I think any comment on expenses now would be a little bit premature in the fact that we’re not even sure of the scope of the audit or how he will proceed with his audit. So I make no comment on my own expenses or anybody else’s right now,” she said.
Hubley did say, however, she fully supports Ferguson’s audit.
“I think transparency is something that not only we welcome, but I think the Canadian public welcome as well and I think this is a major step forward in that direction.”
In response to an email from The Guardian requesting comment for this story, Duffy replied only, “It would be inappropriate of me to comment while the RCMP is examining these issues.”