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Senate takes steps to open books to auditor general

OTTAWA (NEWS1130) – The Harper government is hoping to restore public confidence in the Senate by putting the scandal-plagued chamber’s books under the auditor general’s microscope.

Sen. Marjory LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate, has introduced a motion asking Auditor General Michael Ferguson to conduct a comprehensive audit of Senate expenses, including the expense claims filed by individual senators.

But New Democrats, who long ago concluded the unelected Senate is beyond redemption, have introduced a motion of their own to essentially starve the chamber to death.

The NDP motion calls for funding to the Senate to be cut off as of July 1.

LeBreton’s motion is to be debated in the Senate on Wednesday while the NDP motion is to be debated at the same time, down the corridor in the House of Commons.

Liberal senators say they support LeBreton’s motion in principle, but refused to give unanimous consent to deal with it immediately.

LeBreton says she decided to call for full scrutiny of Senate expenses after reading hundreds of emails from taxpayers outraged by the scandal involving invalid housing, living and travel expense claims made by at least four senators.

“This next step is actually to make sure this doesn’t happen again and also indicates to the Canadian public that we are very serious about managing taxpayers’ dollars,” LeBreton said after introducing her motion.

“I’m sure at the end of the day, the Canadian taxpayer will be well satisfied and also the institution of the Senate will have started to recover some of its credibility.”

Controversy over the housing allowance claims of three senators — former Conservatives Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau and former Liberal Mac Harb — has been swirling since last fall. Their claims were subjected to an external audit.

An external audit of Sen. Pamela Wallin’s travel expenses is still ongoing.

The Duffy affair has proven most explosive thus far. It was revealed last month that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, personally gave Duffy $90,000 so that the senator could reimburse his improperly claimed expenses.

Wright resigned shortly after his involvement was revealed. The transaction is now under investigation by the ethics commissioners for both the House of Commons and the Senate.

The RCMP was also called on to investigate after it was discovered that Duffy appears to have made Senate expense claims while campaigning for Conservative candidates during the last election.