Senators under review amid scandal, spending questions

by | Feb 14, 2013 | News

PHOTO BY Andrijko Z. VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS. The Senate of Canada.

PHOTO BY Andrijko Z. VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS. The Senate of Canada.

by Jenifer Alvarez

Physical and sexual assaults, reports of tax exemptions, allegations over falsifying important information, and now overspending, are all issues creating controversy in the Canadian Senate.

Saskatchewan Sen. Pamela Wallin is the latest parliamentarian to face questions over spending.

Wallin wrote an opinion piece published in the Globe and Mail Wednesday where she said both industrial progress and Senate demands are part of the reason as to why her traveling expenses are so high.

“The Senate has a real matter to wrestle with over this question of residency, as set out long ago in the Constitution. Back then, rail was the main way politicians got around. Needless to say, those who lived far from Ottawa seldom went home because of the distances and time involved,” wrote Wallin.

“The airplane changed all that. Now, although it can be exhausting, my political colleagues and I can and do commute and fly home for weekends and during parliamentary breaks,” she added.

Wallin has claimed $29,423.84 in regular travel and $321,037.58 in “other” travel since Sept. 2010.

The expenses have been defended by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as “comparable to any parliamentarian traveling from that particular area of the country over that period of time,” as reported on the Toronto Star’s website.

“I spend every possible minute I can at my home in Wadena or at my cabin at Fishing Lake during the summer,” said Wallin.

Wallin also said the Senate’s policy is not based on dollar amounts, although dollar amounts are what are reported.

Wallin said the Senate operates on an annual travel points system per senator and this system works to see that all senators are “all treated equally – we have the same number of flights, regardless of distance.”

“And I have never exceeded my designated points. If I did, I’d be on the hook for any costs,” Wallin wrote.

The Wallin allegations come after the recent criminal assault allegations against Sen. Patrick Brazeau, who was recently forced into a leave of absence and removed from the Conservative caucus by Harper.

There have also been questions raised over living expense claims by Sen. Mike Duffy.

The Star revealed that Duffy claimed about $42,802 in living expenses between Nov. 30, 2010, and Nov. 30, 2012, according to quarterly expense reports.

The Star reported senators are allowed to claim up to $22,000 in living expenses per fiscal year when they are in Ottawa on parliamentary business and as long as their primary residence is more than 100 kilometres away.

A recent Harris-Decima survey revealed almost 32 per cent of Canadians want to see the Senate abolished.

The percentage is up from a similar study done approximately two years ago and shows that, for the first time ever, the same amount of people who want to see an elected senate matches the amount of people who don’t want a senate at all,  the Star reported.

The Senate is made up of appointed members, on the recommendation of the prime minister. The Senate is also referred to as the upper house of Canada’s Parliament.

The official website describes the Senate as a body that is responsible for the reviewing and conducting debates on proposed bills, allowing room for “sober second thought.”