OTTAWA – Ten of 14 senators who chose to contest an order to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable expense claims back to the Senate had their payments reduced by a special arbitrator.
Still, former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie found a number of eyebrow-raising claims and explanations. Here are a few that stand out:
– Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu shouldn’t have billed the Senate $15,826 for a secondary residence in the national capital region in 2012 because the home near Ottawa was really his primary residence that year. Binnie paid little mind to the question of residency, one that has bedevilled other senators in recent years. “The issue here,” he wrote, “is the Senate travel policy, not the Constitution.”
– A staffer for Conservative Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais billed the Senate for a number of “fictitious” trips between Ottawa and Montreal that were in fact just 20-kilometre journeys between Montreal and Boucherville, Que.
– Auditor general Michael Ferguson ordered Liberal Joseph Day to repay $508 for a flight from Toronto to Ottawa at the tail end of his winter holiday. Day paid for his flight from Mexico and stayed in Toronto rather than heading home to New Brunswick. The Senate paid for his flight to Ottawa to prepare for a NATO meeting in Washington; finance officials pre-authorized his ticket. Wondered Binnie: how can one disallow the expense when the travel was already authorized?
– Liberal Colin Kenny diverted through Vancouver on a May 2011 trip out west for “lipo laser treatment” on May 24 and then again on May 28. It didn’t add to the overall cost of the trip, which was justified.
– In June 2011, Kenny charged $6,940 to fly out west to Vancouver and Victoria for meetings, “but these were added on to a weekend holiday with friends in San Diego,” Binnie wrote. On the way home to Ottawa, Kenny stopped in Toronto for a suit fitting at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel and stayed overnight to lunch with a journalist the next day. Total claim: $8,866. Binnie said only $1,021 was justified.
– In July 2012, Kenny flew to Toronto – one of several trips to the city that was not reasonable, Binnie said – and stayed overnight to have breakfast with a former Senate colleague the next day, and then attend his granddaughter’s birthday party before flying back to Ottawa on a Saturday night. The overnight stay, Binnie said, wasn’t a justifiable Senate expense.
– Kenny took 16 trips to Vancouver and Victoria between 2011 and 2013 for “parliamentary functions” even though he wasn’t on any committees or working groups, and was “essentially freelancing his own public policy agenda” or “networking.”
– Liberal Sandra Lovelace Nicholas stayed extra nights in Fredericton to allow her constituents to meet with her, but could provide no evidence of any meetings. “Essentially, her position is that if the records show she was in Fredericton on certain dates than she must have been meeting with ‘constituents,’ because that is what she does when she is in Fredericton,” Binnie wrote. “However, ‘accountability’ requires something more than such generalizations.”
– Retired senator Robert Peterson spent $11,492 to fly with his wife from Regina to Ottawa in December 2011 to take his office staff out for a Christmas dinner and then fly to Toronto to visit with family before heading back to Saskatchewan. Peterson said he needed to give “directions to my staff and to put my papers and files in order” – something Binnie said he could have done over the phone.
– Conservative Don Plett was told to repay $182 for a trip to Montreal in February 2012 where he met with fellow Conservative Leo Housakos. The Winnipeg Jets were in Montreal to play the Canadiens, so Plett went to the game. “Listen, I mean, it was Winnipeg playing, if you want to look it up. So what am I going to say?” Plett said. Binnie gave the Manitoba senator “full marks for candour,” and told him to pay the money back.
– Retired senator Terry Stratton was told to repay $1,191 for a trip to Calgary in June 2012 with his wife to help a friend who had, in Stratton’s words, “hooked up with a woman that… let’s just say the two of them out in public caused… embarrassment both to the (University of Calgary) and to the Senate of Canada.” Stratton took his wife to keep things under the radar. His visit didn’t help; the issue became public and the friend, a former Conservative, was forced to resign from the university. Binnie said the trip had “nothing very much to do with Parliament” and was trying to deal with a “potential embarrassment to his friend and to the party.”