OTTAWA â€” The chairman of the Senate committee charged with overseeing expense rules is firing back at the Liberal point man in the upper chamber over the level of accountability and transparency with senators’ spending.
The sharply worded letter is a rebuke of Peter Harder’s comments in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, saying the Senate was not yet the accountable, transparent institution envisioned more than a year ago after a critical review of its spending rules and oversight.
Harder wants the Senate to heed auditor general Michael Ferguson’s recommendation to run regular internal audits, and create an outside body to oversee spending instead of having senators police themselves.
The five-page missive from Conservative Leo Housakos, the chairman of the Senate’s internal economy committee, says the notion the Senate has “a long way to go toward implementing change” ignores the work senators have done on the file and is “very unhelpful to the institution in its attempts to regain the trust of the people we serve.”
In an interview, Housakos said he wrote the letter because senators feel they have been “bending over backwards to become a model of accountability and transparency.”
He said the Liberal government should be focused more on opening up spending information in the House of Commons and less time lecturing senators.
“They have to understand that the Senate is run by senators and not by the government and this government keeps forgetting that,” Housakos said.
“It’s not for the leader of the government (in the Senate) to be lecturing the Senate of how it should be operating, but second of all it’s terrible when he’s giving interviews and he knows full well the stuff he’s commenting on have either been addressed or are in the process of being addressed.”
The letter details the changes in expense rules in the wake of the spending scandal, the two-year-long review of claims by auditor general Michael Ferguson, and outlines work that was underway at the time of Harder’s comments â€” specifically the creation of the oversight body.
The Senate is set to unveil the details of the proposed new spending oversight body when senators return to Parliament Hill after the winter break. Housakos said the body would see senators and non-senators decide what expenses are appropriate, and which ones cross a line.
“This oversight body will be the first of its kind in any parliament in Canada, so we’re also very cognizant that we need to set the bar very high,” Housakos said.
“We hope we do such a good job with it that the House of Commons and other provincial legislatures will find it incumbent upon themselves to show the same degree of transparency that the Senate has over the last year and a half.”
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Jordan Press, The Canadian Press