OTTAWA – A three-member Senate committee is expected to meet behind closed doors next month to take a first look at Sen. Pamela Wallin’s travel audit the same way it did with Sen. Mike Duffy’s expenses, despite allegations the Conservatives went easy on him.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus says it is proof there is still no accountability in the Senate.
“Everything about this whole process has been focused on trying to protect the Conservative brand rather than protect Canadian taxpayers. So why would we assume that it’s going to be any different this time?” he said.
The Senate steering committee, comprised of Conservatives Gerald Comeau and Carolyn Stewart-Olsen and Liberal George Furey, expects to receive Wallin’s audit from Deloitte in mid-August.
The steering committee will write a report based on the audit before the larger internal economy committee meets and presents its findings with recommendations to the Senate, said Comeau, who replaced Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk as committee chair in June.
The report, as well as the audit itself, will be released to the public as soon as it’s tabled with the Senate clerk in August.
“It’s a fair process,” said Comeau.
“Just like you cannot do an investigation in public, you cannot do a report in public. It’s just not possible.”
Liberal Senate leader James Cowan agrees.
“I think that’s entirely the right process. I think that’s a good process,” said Cowan.
Despite allegations that Conservatives changed a draft report that was critical of Duffy, after he paid back $90,000 in improper expenses with what was later revealed to have been former chief of staff Nigel Wright’s money, Cowan says he expects Wallin’s audit will be different.
“I’m sure (the Conservatives) learned and they won’t try to do that again,” he said. Furey was not available for an interview.
Angus pointed out to the fact that Stewart-Olsen was once Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s adviser, as proof the Conservatives are only interested in protecting themselves.
“I have absolutely no faith, in any internal, in-camera report that will be written by Carolyn Stewart-Olsen. She was Stephen Harper’s right-hand,” said Angus.
The RCMP is investigating whether there was an agreement between Duffy and Wright for the Senate to go easier on him if he repaid the $90,000 and stopped talking to the media about it.
Stewart-Olsen refuted claims that the committee changed the report to go easier on Duffy and said she did not know about any deal between Duffy and Wright. She said the report reflected the fact that Duffy had repaid the $90,000, and that the committee had no idea Duffy was double-dipping expenses or that Wright repaid the money.
“We would not be involved with covering it up,” she said. “I would not be involved with any kind of deals or anything. That’s not what we’re there for and I’m horrified by everything that’s happened.”
She said the committee originally asked Deloitte if they should refer the matter to a third-party such as the police, and auditors said no.
“I’m hoping that things will be a bit more clear on this audit on Senator Wallin so that, you know, we’re not kind of left trying to decide ‘well what do we do here,’” she said.
“Our job on that committee is to be absolutely fair to everyone and try to look in a dispassionate, non-partisan way and move forward. And that’s what I’m really wanting to see with the Wallin report.”
Senate communications could not comment on how far back the audit into Wallin’s travel will go.
Comeau said he would not speculate on the findings.
“If there’s any money that needs to be repaid to the Senate, the Senate will take the legal means possible,” he said.