EDITORIAL: Senate expenses beg questions

Conservatives facing criticism in wake of yet another Senator with "troubling" travel expenses.

There can be no doubt Pamela Wallin has joined a select, but unenviable, group of senators, following fallout over her “troubling” travel expenses.

The ostracized few – including fellow former Conservatives Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau – are no longer permitted to charge travel expenses other than direct flights to and from their home ridings.

Wallin’s apparent habit of charging taxpayers for sidetrips to Toronto, while travelling between Saskatchewan and Ottawa, is part of a pattern that led auditors to call for her to repay more than $121,000 of her travel claims for 2009-’12.

Wallin argues auditors used 2012 rules to evaluate pre-2012 expenses and suggests some discrepancies are a result of sloppy bookkeeping. Others suggest senators were given erroneous information when they assumed their duties.

None of which alters the fact that Wallin – as a former high-profile TV personality, like the previously disgraced Duffy – should have known the damage bad optics have done time and again to political figures, particularly when there is any suspicion of misuse of the public dime.

It’s no secret that Wallin – like Duffy – was an appointee of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and that both were vociferous in campaigning on behalf of his party. Could that have accounted for a certain sense of invulnerability on her part?

While the Conservatives have since done everything they can to distance themselves from Wallin, Harper has not escaped criticism for giving Wallin’s expenses a clean bill of health as recently as February. By May, Wallin was asked to resign from the Conservative caucus.

Asked for comment on the Wallin affair, South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale Conservative MP, Russ Hiebert responded by email, also noting former-Liberal Senator Mac Harb’s fall from grace after alleged financial improprieties.

“I think all Canadians have been disappointed to learn about the apparent actions of Senators Wallin, Harb and Duffy, all of who have been removed from their Conservative or Liberal caucuses.”

While noting he awaits a “just resolution” of these matters at the hands of an RCMP investigation, he said these cases had led the Harper government to “toughen up” Senate rules and demonstrated the need for Senate reform.

But constituents could be forgiven for asking what changed about Wallin’s expense claims, between February and May, to alter Harper’s tune so dramatically on such an ardent – and presumably useful – supporter in the red chamber.

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