OTTAWA — A Conservative senator is pushing back against criticism that a proposal for keeping tabs on senators’ expense claims amounts to asking them to mark their own homework.
Sen. David Wells says he was surprised to hear the government’s representative in the Senate, Peter Harder, reject the proposal to create a permanent audit and oversight committee, made up of five senators.
Harder is pushing instead for creation of an independent committee that includes members from outside the Senate.
He argues a senators-only committee raises the perception of conflict of interest, with senators sitting in judgment on the expense claims of their colleagues.
But Wells, who chaired the sub-committee that recommended a senators-only oversight committee, says Harder is oversimplifying the matter and ignoring crucial elements of the proposal.
He points out the proposal includes recommendations that both internal and external auditors should be permanent advisers to the oversight committee; that the committee should review all Senate expenditures — not just individual senators’ expense claims — and should conduct blind, random audits of senators’ expenses.
“Some of things that (Harder) said were inaccurate and I think very unfortunate because he’s presenting the view to the public … that essentially the expenses issues, it would be a case of marking our own homework,” Wells said in an interview Thursday.
Wells said the proposed committee was unanimously recommended by his sub-committee, which included members of the Conservative, independent Liberal and independent senators’ caucuses.
However, auditor general Michael Ferguson recommended an independent oversight body after examining the expenses of more than 100 current and former senators over a two-year span. In a 2015 report, he flagged more than 30 current and former senators who had made questionable expense claims totalling nearly $1 million — a figure that was subsequently reduced through a binding arbitration process.
Since the expenses scandal shook the Senate to its foundations, Wells said senators have taken steps to repair the chamber’s shattered reputation. Among other things, he said 100 per cent of each senator’s expenses are now posted online for anyone to review.
“So we have the eyes of 36 million Canadians giving whatever oversight they wish to give,” he said. “There’s nothing secretive about our process.”
Wells said Harder’s narrative about the need for outside oversight has been overtaken by reforms already adopted.
“We’ve gone above and beyond even what the auditor general recommended.”
The Canadian Press