Although there are a number of events occurring in Ottawa this week, the issue that is dominating most of the media spotlight is the recently released audit of the Senate from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG). This audit of the Senate covered the fiscal periods of 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, reviewed $186 million in spending contained in roughly 80,000 expense items involving 116 sitting and recently retired Senators.
The findings? Of the $186 million reviewed in the AG Senate Audit approximately $975,000 has been identified as either questionable or spent in a manner that is not in accordance with Senate rules. This questionable spending involves 30 of the 116 Senators audited; 21 of the 30 Senators have been publicly listed in the OAG Senate audit while the remaining 9 of these 30 Senators, also publicly named, have been referred to law enforcement for further investigation.
The OAG Senate audit also provided an opportunity for Senators identified in the audit to respond to the expense claims that have been referenced in addition there is also Senate created process that involves dispute resolution where there is disagreement. The Senate expense resolution process will be led by retired Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie. While it is not possible in the space of this column to list all of the Senator responses to the audit to date some Senators have admitted error in certain cases and made repayments while other claims are in dispute.
Auditor General Michael Ferguson has also made observations and recommendations regarding the Senate audit that include concerns over a lack of accountability and transparency and that in many areas Senators can make decisions that are more economical for taxpayers. In total the AG has called for a transformational change in how expenses are administered and the need to do so in a more accountable and transparent manner.
My thoughts? I have long been a supporter of increased transparency and accountability. This is why I make a point of publishing an annual accountability report that includes many items either not normally publicly disclosed or not easily located. To date my annual accountability reports have been well received and I encourage all elected officials to find ways to share similar information. Once concerning aspect of the Senate audit is that while just under $1 million in potentially questionable spending has been identified, the cost of this particular OAG Audit of the Senate is currently listed as $23.6 million. While I continue to fully support increased accountability and transparency it is also important for cost effective solutions to be identified. Canadians deserve a process that creates confidence in how your tax dollars are spent with regard to expenses of elected Members of Parliament and un-elected Senators.
It is also important to recognize that while some have promoted the idea of eliminating or de-funding the Senate, this could not be achieved without a national constitutional consensus among all of our Canadian Provinces and Territories. For more information on the Canadian Senate please see my February 26, 2013 MP report. For more information on the OAG Senate Audit or any matter before the House of Commons please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.