Senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau seemed to be clearly violating the expense rules, trying to get their costs covered for living at home, Senator Nancy Greene Raine said Tuesday.
While Greene Raine doesn’t know either man well or the circumstances around their questionable expense claims, she said it seems clear they were in violation of the rules.
“The expenses are for those who are flying around the country,” she said. “Senator Brazeau, he’s kind of in the same situation. I just find that wrong.”
The senate expense scandals have prompted Greene Raine to look over her own expenses. She has found some that could be viewed as questionable and said she’ll be asking the finance committee to look at them.
For example, she made stops while en route to Ottawa to attend fundraisers, which she believed was acceptable.
“Conscience has to rule and you have to look at your expenses in an ethical, honourable way,” she said.
“We made our own judgment call on that. I didn’t do anything where I incurred a huge expense to go out of my way for a fundraiser, but that’s probably because I feel an obligation to come home to my family. And I have obligations to Sun Peaks.”
Every senator’s situation is different and she isn’t sure there is a way to come up with a one-size-fits-all set of rules for expenses, she said.
“I don’t think there can ever be too much scrutiny. I think our expenses should be very transparent. Every senator has such a different situation and is doing such different kinds of work that to write up a prescriptive chart, or what you have to do. . . . it’s a little problematic,” she said.
“I look at it from my point of view and that of those travelling vast distances. If you’re traveling from the west to Ontario and you have a grandchild in Winnipeg, you should be able to break your travel home and have a visit with that grandchild and then continue on home.
“It doesn’t make any sense not to do that from a human point of view. But if it incurs extra expense, you as a senator should pick up that tab.”
She pointed to the case of a senator from the Maritimes who lives an hour and a half from the nearest airport. The woman isn’t comfortable driving in winter, so she gets her husband to do it. But because he drives, the travel between home and the airport isn’t paid for.
“She’s not allowed to put in mileage for those two trips, but she can call a taxi, which would cost far more, or she can drive herself and park the car for a week which costs far more,” said Greene Raine.
Being a senator isn’t a nine-to-five job, she said.
“I would say most people who are doing this are giving up another life a business life, professional life, in my case I gave up income to become a senator. The income I’m earning as a senator is probably about the same as what I was giving up. But you don’t do it for the money,” Greene Raine continued.
“The auditor general, it looks like, is going to audit everybody, which is fine. And I think most senators are anticipating that. In this time, when we are in a deficit situation, as Conservatives, our prime objective is to get that deficit down and start paying off the debt. And if it means we can’t do charity events, that’s how we should look at it.”
Still, Greene Raine has some sympathy for embattled Senator Pamela Wallin, who has been ordered to pay back $139,000.
“I know Pamela pretty well and she’s a lovely person. I really don’t think there was any intent to defraud or to cheat. It’s just her travel was so complicated, it just got away on her,” said Greene Raine.
She also sees the senate as having value, although many Canadians are questioning it.
“The thing that really people don’t understand and one of the reasons they don’t is because we’re not politicians. We’re not out there tooting our horns all the time. If you’ve ever read a Senate report on anything, they’re really detailed. It’s kind of like a think tank looking at issues that are important.”