OTTAWA – Taxpayers helped defend Senator Patrick Brazeau against accusations he was abusing the public purse as he faced an audit into his housing claims.
Brazeau received $4,000 in legal assistance from the Senate during the time his improper housing allowance claims were being investigated by his peers and external auditors at Deloitte.
Senate officials confirmed to Global News that “legal assistance in the amount of $4,000.00 was provided, under the Policy, to Senator Brazeau in relation to the work of the Subcommittee on Living
Allowances and the related audit”.
Senator James Cowan, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, also told Global News “the $4k was provided to Brazeau in accordance with Senate rules and upon approval by the Steering Committee of Internal Economy.”
When asked earlier this week whether Brazeau was receiving financial assistance to cover his legal costs, his office replied “we have no comment”.
But this evening Brazeau’s office told Global News that “Senator Brazeau was not given any money for legal fees. Nor has he billed the Senate for his legal fees. The Senate is asking him to reimburse them for their legal fees.”
The legal assistance was provided to Brazeau as an audit was being done into his housing claims. That audit led the Senate’s board of internal economy to conclude Brazeau would have to repay the public purse nearly $49,000 in improper claims made between April 2011 and September 30, 2013.
Senators can claim up to $22,000 in annual housing allowances to compensate them for rent or a second home if they live more than 100 kilometres outside of the capital region.
The audit showed Brazeau spent just 10 per cent of his time at his father’s home in Maniwaki, Que., a location he claimed as his primary residence. Instead, Brazeau had been living with his girlfriend just 15 minutes away from Parliament Hill in Gatineau, Que.
Senate officials say because “the matter resulted in adverse findings for Senator Brazeau…the Senator has been asked to reimburse the Senate” the $4,000.00 in legal assistance.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the story inaccurately characterized the adverse findings. The Deloitte audit did not find Brazeau broke any rules or polices.
Senators are eligible for legal assistance or indemnification if it relates to the carrying out of their
But NDP MP Mathieu Ravignat said asking for such assistance in Brazeau’s case shows a “gross lack of judgment” and a lack of respect for taxpayer dollars.
“They are on a completely different planet than most Canadians. They think they are entitled to things that they really shouldn’t be entitled to and that Canadians frankly find insulting,” said Ravignat, whose party favours abolishing the upper chamber.
Neither Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin nor Mac Harb – who all faced or continue to face probes of their expenses – had their legal fees paid for by the Senate.
“I don’t think taxpayers should be paying for senator expenses when it comes to legal issues,” Harb told Global News. “I think those should be dealt with by the senators themselves.”
Harb has hired and is paying for a former Supreme Court of Canada justice to fight the Senate report and audit that found he made false housing claims and owes $51,500.
Covering legal costs follows longstanding Senate rules, said Opposition leader in the Senate Liberal Senator James Cowan during an interview to be aired Sunday on The West Block with Tom Clark.
“I’m not surprised,” Cowan said. “There’s probably a program in place that provides that senators can get legal assistance if they are in difficulties in relation to their Senate duties and then if they are in the wrong, the Senate recovers the money from them.”
While it only took a few hours for Senate communications to confirm they weren’t paying the bills for Duffy, Wallin and Harb, it took nearly a week for the Senate to disclose the fact that it had provided Brazeau legal assistance.