OTTAWA – Sen. Pamela Wallin calls an independent audit of her travel claims “fundamentally flawed and unfair,” but says she will repay any disallowed expenses, with interest.
Global News has learned the Deloitte audit, to be released Tuesday, places Wallin’s questionable expenses somewhere between $120,000 to $140,000.
Deloitte also says Wallin altered paperwork for her expense claims well after the fact, and sometimes claimed travel to events she didn’t attend.
In the brief press conference on Monday, Wallin said she never knowingly tried to claim expenses that she didn’t believe were legitimate Senate business.
“When appointed to Senate in 2009 I was determined to be an activist Senator — one who saw it as her job to advance causes that are important to Canadians.” said Wallin. “When invited to appear publicly and speak… I saw it as my duty to accept whenever I was able to do so. Travel to these public speeches and appearances was – and is, in my continuing view –a legitimate Senate expense.”
“Deloitte has — wrongly, in my view, and in the opinion of my lawyers — applied the 2012 changes made to the senators travel policy retroactively. The result is that travel expenses which were approved and paid by Senate finance in 2009, 2010 and 2011 have, in a number of cases, now been disallowed.”
Wallin said she’ll repay the full amount ordered by the committee with her own money — an apparent jab at her Senate colleague Mike Duffy, who borrowed $90,000 from former Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright to pay back his disallowed claims.
“While I have serious concerns about the fairness of this process, I want to return my focus to the people of my home province.”
A three-person Senate steering committee is reviewing the audit. Its deliberations, and the audit itself, have been kept secret so far.
On Monday the committee presented a draft report to the larger board internal economy committee, which is expected to meet Tuesday morning to make recommendations to the Senate and release its findings to the public Tuesday afternoon.
A Senate source tells Global News the committee wants to ask the RCMP to investigate Wallin, a former Conservative sitting as an independent.
Wallin left the Hill without comment, saying the meeting was in-camera.
Sen. Gerald Comeau, head of internal economy, said he was impressed with the audit.
“After having read the Deloitte report at this point I’m quite satisfied with the very professional manner with which they approached the report,” said Comeau.
“I’m very proud of the Senators. The way they asked very, very professional questions tonight. They dug deep. You could see they did a fast reading of what was in the Deloitte report and so I was quite impressed with the questions.”
“We sent them home to reflect and digest what was discussed.”
Conservative Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen, one of the three members of the steering committee said she could not confirm the findings before the report is released.
In a statement, outgoing government leader in the Senate Marjory LeBreton said she expects inappropriate expenses to be repaid.
“Our government will not tolerate the waste or abuse of the hard earned tax dollars of Canadians,” she said. “Senator Wallin is no longer a member of the Caucus and must be held accountable for her actions.”
Wallin was audited for about $321,000 in travel and housing expenses that she has claimed since Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed her to the upper chamber in January 2009.
The former broadcaster, who now sits as an independent, has so far paid back $38,000 to the Senate. But CBC is reporting Wallin could be ordered to repay as much as $140,000 – and that attempts were made to alter some of the claims after auditors got involved.
Wallin is one of a handful of senators facing allegations of questionable spending, along with former Conservative colleagues Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau and former Liberal Mac Harb. The spending scandal has renewed calls from critics to reform or even abolish the Senate.
The steering committee, which at the time included Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk as chair, faced criticisms in the spring after its report on Duffy was less critical than the other two senators.
All three senators are now under RCMP investigation.
Stewart Olsen brushed aside concerns the committee whitewashed Duffy’s report.
“There is no going soft on anyone,” she said. “I don’t think getting $90,000 and monitoring expenses for a year, is going soft on anyone. I seriously don’t. And I don’t think that there’s a mood in the Senate to be soft on anyone who has been found to have abused taxpayers’ money.”
Furey said Monday he is happy with the discussions he is having with his Conservative colleagues on the committee.
With files from The Canadian Press