WATCH: Global News has learned many of the details ahead of the auditor general’s release, including the names of some of the worst spenders and how the RCMP is getting involved. Mike Le Couteur and Tom Clark have the details and analysis.
OTTAWA — Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu is stepping down from the Conservative caucus after learning he is going to be the subject of an RCMP investigation, he said Thursday.
“I made this decision voluntarily,” the senator wrote.
The statement, in which the Quebec senator said he intends to stay in the upper chamber as an independent, came after Global News reported two senators were being asked to resign following a massive and detailed audit into the spending habits of more than 100 current and retired senators.
Earlier on Thursday, Auditor General Michael Ferguson delivered his final report, two years in the making, to the Senate.
Twenty of those audited, including three of the most powerful figures in the chamber, were found to have filed ineligible expenses worth thousands each. The expenses for another nine members, seven of who are now retired, were considered so egregious Ferguson recommended their files be referred to the RCMP for review.
The other two, one Conservative and one Liberal, have been approached by their respective leadership and asked to resign their positions in the Senate, sources said.
Even more than the leadership, another source told Global News that sitting senators have pleaded with the two to resign rather than risk further embarrassment to the institution.
Sens. Leo Housakos, Claude Carignan and James Cowan — the Speaker, government leader and opposition leader respectively — represent the hub of power in the upper chamber and are among the 20 flagged for inappropriate spending.
That list also includes currently-sitting Conservative Sen. Don Plett and Liberal Sens. Pana Merchant and Joseph Day, sources said.
Housakos told The Canadian Press he has already repaid $1,600 in travel expenses a staffer claimed for mileage between Ottawa and Montreal, and that he plans to appeal roughly $6,000 worth of office contracts the auditors flagged as inappropriate.
Cowan, meanwhile, said Ferguson has questioned slightly more than $10,000 in travel claims but maintains the expense claims were appropriate.
And anonymous sources told CP Carignan owes $3,000 after one of his aides improperly filled out an expense form.
On top of holding the power in the Senate, Housakos, Carignan and Cowan unilaterally took control of the committee responsible for responding to the audits shortly after they would have been alerted to being flagged in the report.
That move left the committee’s previous members , Conservative Sens. Larry Smith and Elizabeth Marshall and Liberal Sen. George Furey — whose names have not been associated with any misspending — without any say in how the upper chamber deals with the auditor general’s report and any potential fallout.
After Housakos, Carignan and Cowan took over the oversight committee, Housakos announced a system by which any senator disputing the auditors’ findings could turn to former Supreme Court of Canada justice Ian Binnie, who would act as a special arbitrator and referee any disputes.
Some Conservative senators have sent correspondence to the three men asking them to step down, to no avail.
With the report now in the Senate’s hands, the leadership is expected to work through the weekend to digest it and begin deciding what their next steps should be.
The current members of the upper chamber can expect to be called back Monday, rather than the usual Tuesday start to their weeks, for special caucus meetings and to start taking those next steps.
Costliest audit in auditor general’s history
Along with the report of the audit, Ferguson said his office will release what it paid out in contracts, the number of hours auditors put in and costs associated with other “support services,” which will be important in helping the public grasp the number, he said.
A source close to the audit told Global News recently that among the auditors that spent two years combing through expenses, some were pulled out of retirement and most were on contract.
Ferguson also balked at divulging information regarding the recommendations his office will make in the report and whether the RCMP might take up any of the files.
The upper chamber invited Ferguson almost two years ago to audit senators’ expenses. The call came as the Senate was awash in controversy after senators Mac Harb, Patrick Brazeau and Mike Duffy had their living and housing allowances subject to an independent audit.
Following those independent assessments, the Senate ordered the trio to repay tens of thousands of dollars in what were deemed wrongly collected allowances.
The RCMP has since charged all three with fraud and breach of trust; Duffy is also facing one charge of bribery. RCMP are also investigating Pamela Wallin, who was kicked out of the Senate along with Duffy and Brazeau, though no charges have been laid.