When I and my colleagues in the Senate return to Ottawa this fall, we must urgently move to ensure that our expense rules are clear, and that there are consequences for any rules that may have been broken.
From the day I took my seat in the Senate last February to the end of the session in June, I was listening, learning and observing. While spending the summer back home, I have been able to reflect on that experience and ask Albertans – the people who sent me to Ottawa - what they want from the Senate and from their Senators. Overwhelmingly, constituents have emphasized that they want questions of expenses thoroughly and fairly addressed as soon as possible, so we can move on to talk about the real issues facing Alberta. Conservatives in the Senate changed the rules in 2010 to post quarterly expenses online for the first time, and I’ve been happy to tell Albertans that I post detailed expense reports on my website.
The Canadian public agrees with Prime Minister Harper, who told reporters this week in the Northwest Territories that he “would expect that action will be taken to ensure full accountability for any breaking of rules.” Where clear rules were broken, there must be consequences.
Prime Minister Harper also correctly emphasized that the Senate makes the rules that govern Senators’ expenses. He is not subject to those rules, nor does he have the ability to change them. That responsibility lies with the Senate alone, and the Senate must now move quickly to ensure that expense rules are aligned with the intended role of Senators and with public expectations. The Steering Committee of the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee has made determinations about claims made by Senator Wallin that Deloitte identified as being subject to interpretation. Going forward, the Senate must clearly define “Senate business” so that the Canadian public understands what are and what are not acceptable expenses.
In a recent interview, I expressed my conviction that my role as an elected Senator is to ensure that I understand and voice the issues that are important to Alberta. As a legislator in Canada’s Parliament, I also need to understand how to advocate for Alberta’s interests within the framework of a strong federation based on cooperation and compromise. Expense rules must reflect that role. They must be stringent enough to protect the interests of Canadian taxpayers, but not so restrictive that they handcuff Senators to Ottawa and prevent them from getting out and listening to Canadians.
I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues this fall to give Canadians greater clarity around the role of Senators and what that means for the Senate’s expense rules. Canadians can also rest assured that the Senate will make sure that where clear rules were broken, there will be consequences.