Canadian Senate Expenses Scandal

The Canadian Senate Expenses Scandal (2012–16) involved investigations into the housing and travel allowances claimed by dozens of Conservative and Liberal senators. Conservative senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin were suspended during the investigations. Duffy, Brazeau and Liberal senator Mac Harb were also charged with fraud and breach of trust but were either acquitted or the charges dropped. A 2015 audit of senate expenses revealed that 30 senators had been improperly reimbursed for expenses. The scandal dominated public discourse and put pressure on the Senate to establish clearer rules for travel, residency and living expenses.



Mike Duffy, November 2007.

Senate Expenses Scandal

The Senate expenses scandal began in 2012 with investigations into the housing allowances claimed by Conservative senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin and Liberal senator Mac Harb. Harb resigned from the Upper House in August 2013. In November 2013, the Senate voted to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau, as part of a widening scandal into alleged improper expense claims for housing and travel allowances by dozens of Conservative and Liberal senators. Brazeau, Duffy and Harb were also charged with alleged crimes including fraud and breach of trust in relation to the expense scandal.

Duffy was tried first and acquitted of all charges in court. This put the prosecution of the other cases in doubt. The charges against Brazeau and Harb were eventually dropped and Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin were reinstated as senators. However, Duffy's trial highlighted the lax rules and enforcement governing how senators spend Senate funds. This prompted renewed demands for the institution to modernize its internal financial controls.

The Duffy trial occurred in the wake of a 2015 audit of senate expenses by the federal Auditor General, who said 30 former and sitting senators had been improperly reimbursed a total of $992,000 in expenses. Many of the senators repaid portions of their disputed expenses. Fourteen others appealed the Auditor General's findings to a binding arbitration process led by retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Ian Binnie. Binnie ruled that 45 per cent of the expenses questioned by the Auditor General were in fact legitimate Senate expenses. However, the 14 senators who disputed the claims against them still had to pay back a portion of their reimbursed expenses — an amount totalling $178,000.

Significance

The expenses scandal, and the Duffy trial, dominated public discourse in Canada through much of 2014, 2015 and 2016. Some observers said that it may have contributed to the defeat of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government in 2015. It also put pressure on the Senate to establish clear, enforceable rules for travel and living expenses, and for stricter rules requiring actual residency in the provinces that senators are appointed from.

The scandal also raised questions about the personal or political work that many senators do, such as partisan campaigning, professional career work, or serving on corporate boards. The affair raised questions about whether senators should be required to abstain from such practices and instead devote themselves full-time to Senate business during their tenure in Parliament.