Senators invoke Duffy trial as they push back against auditor general’s report

OTTAWA — For some senators, the Auditor General’s scrutiny of their expenses sent them hurtling right into the Mike Duffy dimension.

Just 16 months after many of them voted to suspend the former Conservative senator over his contested living and travel expenses, some of them are now invoking his trial as they push back against Michael Ferguson’s highly critical report.

The living expenses, the funerals, the office contracts and the poor record keeping — many of the details in the auditor general’s report find their echo in the trial of the suspended senator down the street at the courthouse.

Duffy has pleaded not-guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, in connection with his office, living and travel spending.

One of the central areas revolves around the nearly $90,000 he claimed for living expenses for his longtime Ottawa area home, while declaring a residence in Prince Edward Island his primary residence.

The Senate’s internal economy committee found in 2013 the cases of fellow Senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau they should have understood the difference between primary and secondary residence.

But it would seem those controversial reports are just a distant memory now. Some senators quoted directly from the Duffy trial in their letters back to Ferguson.

In particular, they seemed to hang on the testimony of former Senate law clerk Mark Audcent, who said during the trial there were no real criteria for what constitutes a primary and secondary residence.

Ferguson’s team, meanwhile, refers to “normal” travel patterns, and “substantive presence” at their primary residence, terms that the auditor general’s office created.

“The auditor general is applying a test that was rejected by the former law clerk in order to reach a conclusion that is not supported by my clear and many attachments to my province while I was a member of the Senate,” fumed former Liberal senator William Rompkey, who had $3,134 in living expenses questioned.

Fellow retired Liberal senator Rod Zimmer suggests that the auditor general could be interfering in the entire Duffy trial by pronouncing on residency requirements in his report.

A Senate official who spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday acknowledged that senators could find the residency issue caught up in two tracks — the Duffy trial and on the desk of special arbitrator Ian Binnie, a former Supreme Court justice assigned to deal with the cases raised by the AG.

“Will this be seen as prejudging the conclusion Justice Charles Vaillancourt will reach on the same matter, and what if Justice Vaillancourt does not agree with the Auditor General’s interpretation?” writes Zimmer, who is red-circled for $47,132 in living expenses.

Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu racked up $15,826 in living expenses, while the AG found he was spending little time in Sherbrooke, Que.

“Sherbrooke was my primary residence under the rules of the Senate, the Civil Code of Quebec and income tax rules,” Boisvenu retorted.

Retired Liberal Sen. Sharon Carstairs was highlighted for $2,399 in living expense claims. Her response matched that of Duffy.

“There are no rules with respect to the number of days spent in the primary residence,” Carstairs said. “Had such rules existed I would have fulfilled them as I did all other rules in the Senate.”

Other issues that are raised in the auditor general’s report that have also come up during the Duffy trial include questions around what constitutes legitimate public business — such as trips to funerals, or travel where personal visits are mixed in.

Jennifer Ditchburn, The Canadian Press

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