RCMP to get Senate referrals today; audit flags $977K in spending

OTTAWA — The Senate is sending the expense files on nine senators to the RCMP later today amid the reverberations of an explosive forensic audit that flags nearly $977,000 in questionable spending.

The Canadian Press has viewed a portion of the audit that shows auditor general Michael Ferguson’s report identifies $976,627 in questionable spending among 30 current and retired senators.

Of those 30, the Senate is recommending that the Mounties do a criminal review on the spending of nine senators — two of them still sitting, the other seven retired.

The decision will add to what is already a tense time in the upper chamber as senators await the public release of Ferguson’s report, which was delivered to the Senate Thursday afternoon. The full report won’t be released until Tuesday, giving top senators a chance to pore over the details of the document and craft a public response.

Just five senators account for about $546,000 of the spending Ferguson identifies in the audit, which was delivered to the Senate on Thursday and is to be released publicly next week.

The audit, which reportedly cost nearly $21 million to conduct, reviewed more than 80,000 transactions worth about $180 million.

Multiple Senate sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter, said the nine senators include:

— Sharon Carstairs, a former Liberal government Senate leader who used to teach new senators about the expense rules to ensure they didn’t make mistakes;

— Gerry St. Germain, a former Conservative senator who promoted aboriginal issues and who had some of his expenses reviewed in a much narrower audit of Senate spending in 2012;

— Donald Oliver, the former deputy speaker of the Senate, who skipped his last few days in the upper chamber before retirement rather than sit through the debates to suspend Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau without pay;

— Rod Zimmer, a former Liberal senator who attracted media attention in 2012 after an incident aboard an Air Canada flight involving his wife, Maygan Sensenberger;

— Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a victims-rights champion appointed by Harper in 2010 who declared he would sit as an Independent late Thursday after confirming he’s the subject of a police investigation. Boisvenu had previously been cited by the Senate ethics officer for giving a job to a woman with whom he was romantically linked; he repaid the Senate about $900 for housing expenses when he stayed at her apartment.

— Sen. Colin Kenny, the other sitting senator on the RCMP list, who marks 31 years in the upper chamber at the end of June after being appointed by Pierre Trudeau in 1984.

The details behind the expense claims have yet to be made public.

Beyond the nine whose expenses are going to the RCMP, a separate group of 21 senators have thousands of dollars of spending being challenged by Ferguson.

Three of the 21 hold the most powerful positions in the upper chamber. Speaker Leo Housakos; James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate; and Cowan’s Conservative counterpart, Claude Carignan, will be named in the report as having problematic claims.

A staffer for Carignan repaid about $3,000 that auditors said he wrongly claimed for travel expenses. A staffer for Housakos repaid about $1,600 after a similar finding. Housakos and Cowan both plan to appeal Ferguson’s finding that they repay, respectively, about $6,000 for contracts and $10,000 for travel.

Others on the list of 21 are expected to do the same, hoping former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie uses his new role as the Senate’s special expense arbitrator to recommend Ferguson’s findings be quashed.

The arbitration process was not available to Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin when they were suspended from the Senate over dubious expense claims. Duffy and Brazeau, along with former senator Mac Harb, have since been charged with fraud and breach of trust while Wallin remains under police investigation.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press