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5 things to know about the Senate expenses audit

WATCH ABOVE: The auditor general says 30 senators claimed ineligible expenses amounting to almost $1 million, billing taxpayers for things like golf trips and hockey games. What’s even more outrageous is that Canadians were also on the hook for more than $21 million to cover the cost of the audit. Mike Le Couteur has the details of the AG’s report.

OTTAWA – Auditor general Michael Ferguson is calling Canada’s Senate to account, flagging the expense accounts of 30 members and urging “transformational change” to do away with a sense of entitlement in the upper chamber.

Here’s everything you need to know:

Issues flagged:

Lack of independent oversight and audits

Senators not prioritizing the taxpayer when claiming expenses

Having no requirement to disclose close personal or business relationships allows senators to benefit personally from hiring and paying certain people, or even renting a specific home and claiming the expense.

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What could the Senate have saved?

On top of the $977,000 that was potentially illegitimately claimed, the report claims the Senate could have saved an additional $400,000 during the period covered (April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2013) by zeroing in on per diem claims, telecommunications and holiday greeting card charges.

  • Per diems, or a daily allowance afforded for meals and incidentals while on travel, were often claimed when meals seemed to have been provided (while speaking at a luncheon, travelling on a plane for example)
  • Instead of making their own greeting cards, senators can use one of the standard options the Senate offers
  • Senators and their staff could plan in advance of trips in order to mitigate roaming charges.

Recommendations:

Improve oversight, don’t just change or add to the rules

Develop a formula to weigh the cost to taxpayers against the financial cost of doing parliamentary business

More transparency:  Senators should fully disclose their use of public funds, provide itemized lists accessible online. They should also disclose personal and professional relationships with anybody who might receive Senate funds.

Key dates:

June 2012: Performance audit of Senate administration concluding that they needed to improve record keeping in order to prove transactions were for parliamentary business.

2012-2013: Questions start bubbling up about living expenses Sens. Patrick Brazeau, Mac Harb and Mike Duffy claimed, as well as travel expenses Pamela Wallin claimed.

June 4, 2013: The Senate invites Auditor General Michael Ferguson to perform a “comprehensive audit” of Senate expenses.

June 7, 2013: Ferguson accepts the Senate’s request.

By the numbers:

116 senators examined

30 incurred questionable expenses

9 files should be referred to the RCMP because they claimed living expenses while in the National Capital Region or had not established proof of their primary residence

21 senators had expenses the auditors said were not for parliamentary business. The AG recommended these files can go to the Committee on Internal Economy for review

80,000 expense claims examined

With files from the Associated Press

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