Expense rules need independent enforcement

By Lorne Gunter, Edmonton Sun

Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella speaks during a news conference in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 2, 2013. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella speaks during a news conference in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 2, 2013. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Two more senators — one Tory, the other Liberal — appear to have been drawn into the Senate expenses scandal.

Noel Kinsella, a Tory senator appointed by Brian Mulroney and now the upper chamber’s speaker, and Pierrette Ringuette, a Liberal appointed by Jean Chretien, both represent New Brunswick. Both have lived in Ottawa for more than a decade, yet both claim to have primary residences in their home provinces so they can claim the Senate’s $22,000-a-year housing allowance on their Ottawa residences.

According to property records unearthed by canada.com, Kinsella bought a house a year before he was appointed to the Senate. Back then, he was a senior civil servant in the Foreign Affairs department.

His purchase of a home at a time when he would have had no idea he would be elevated to the Senate would seem to suggest he intended to make the national capital his home, or maybe already had.

Similarly with Ringuette.

She was the first francophone woman elected to the New Brunswick legislature. After a term in Fredericton, she ran and won a seat as a Liberal in the House of Commons.

Yet after just four years, she was defeated in the 1997 federal election — as many Maritime Liberals were after their party significantly tightened the rules for unemployment insurance.

After her stint in the Commons, Ringuette stayed in Ottawa and became the manager of international trade development for Canada Post.

It was during her time at the Crown Corporation (1998) that she bought a home in Ottawa.

But it was not until 2002 that Chretien appointed Ringuette to the Red Chamber.

Again, the fact that Ringuette bought her Ottawa home so far in advance of her Senate appointment would seem to indicate she intended to make the capital region her home. So her claim now that she is a resident of New Brunswick for the purposes of claiming the Senate housing allowance will stink in most people’s nostrils.

But here’s the kicker: I don’t think Kinsella or Ringuette (or Senators Mike Duffy or Pamela Wallin, for that matter) have violated any Senate ethics rules, at least not when it comes to their housing allowances.

That’s not because their expense claims are entirely ethical. Rather, it’s because, as Kinsella himself said, “the rules were not crystal clear.”

Duffy has claimed throughout this nine-month-long scandal that he was only doing what Senate staffers advised him to do. He claimed a small home he had on Prince Edward Island — the province he represents — as his principal residence so he could qualify for a bonus expense allowance on his “secondary residence” in Ottawa. This despite the fact he has lived and worked in Ottawa for nearly 40 years.

This seems wrong (and should) to ordinary taxpayers who could never get away with such a shell game. It is a perk that is all the more stinky because senators voted it for themselves. They get to set their own rules and sit in judgment of whether their own actions do or do not violate those rules.

Nice arrangement.

I have no trouble believing though that these senators themselves thought they were within the rules. Kinsella is the chairman of the rules committee. If the rules weren’t entire clear to him, who would they be clear to? Nor is it hard to believe that well-meaning senior bureaucrats in the Senate assured these senators they were acting aboveboard.

It is simply proof of the culture of entitlement in Ottawa and most provincial capitals that politicians and civil servants have convinced themselves they deserve such perks, and proof that stringent new expense rules are needed that are independently enforced.

 

 


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