April 21, 2015 - 7:02 AM
OTTAWA - Senators will have to account more openly for how they spend taxpayers' dollars under soon-to-be updated rules, the Speaker of the Senate says.
Pierre Claude Nolin made the promise Monday as Mike Duffy's fraud, breach of trust and bribery trial entered its third week.
The court has been regaled with examples of how the suspended senator allegedly used vague rules and little oversight to maximize his entitlement to various expense allowances and to contract work to friends, a cousin and even his personal fitness trainer.
Duffy's lawyer maintains the senator did not break any rules or engage in any criminal activity.
In a statement provided to The Canadian Press, Nolin said the Senate, under his leadership, "is committed to modernizing its rules and processes in keeping with best practice standards."
"We are moving towards greater transparency and accountability, principles upon which I strongly believe. To this end, we will be updating our requirements around senator office budget reporting to include publishing a more detailed breakdown of expenses."
Nolin said the rules will be further updated to take into account the findings of the auditor general, who is expected to report in June on a comprehensive audit of all senators' expenses.
In an apparent bid to lead by example, Nolin revealed that his entire Speaker's office budget was devoted to staff salaries in 2014-15 and that none of his staff is a member of his or any other senator's family.
At the moment, senators must publicly report how much they spend each quarter for staff, hospitality, living expenses in the capital region and Senate travel. There is no itemized list of expenses under each of those broad categories, although some senators voluntarily provide more details.
By contrast, MPs' expenditure reports disclose spending on employees, service contracts, travel (including a breakdown of travel by the member, designated traveller, dependents and employees), accommodation, per diems, secondary residences, hospitality, gifts, advertising, printing, constituency office leases, furnishings, equipment, computers, phones, postage and courier services, supplies and training.
Herewith, a primer on some of the allowances parliamentarians are eligible to claim, in addition to their basic annual salaries of $167,400 for an MP and $142,400 for a senator.
A senator whose primary residence is more than 100 kilometres outside the national capital region is entitled to claim accommodation expenses while in the capital on Senate business, to a maximum of $22,000 per year. The senator may choose to claim one of the following:
— Up to $200 per night for a hotel room.
— Monthly cost to rent or lease an apartment, condo or house. The rent is claimable even for months in which the Senate is not sitting.
— Daily allowance of $29.28 for a secondary home which is owned by the senator, payable every day of the year regardless of Senate sittings. That amounts to $10,687 annually.
On top of the accommodation allowance, senators are entitled to claim per diems of up to $92.70 for meals every day they are in the capital on Senate business. The Senate sat for 83 days in 2014, putting the total for the maximum meal per diems at $7,694 for the year.
Accommodation allowances for MPs whose primary residences are more than 100 km. from the capital region are almost identical to those given senators. However, the overall cap is slightly higher ($28,600 per year), as is the daily rate for those who own a secondary home ($30.28). The per diem for meals is the same ($92.70).
An MP may also seek reimbursement for one hotel room when his or her spouse and/or dependents visit the capital region, provided that the MP stays with them and attests that his or her usual secondary residence is "unsuitable for use" for the occasion.
MPs whose primary residences are 50 to 100 km. from the parliamentary precinct may claim transportation expenses at a rate of 49.3 cents per kilometre.
Travel outside the capital region:
All parliamentarians travel free on Via Rail. For other modes of transportation, senators and MPs each get 64 travel points every fiscal year to cover travel expenses for themselves, one designated travel companion each, dependents and eligible employees. The points may be used for "regular travel" to and from the parliamentarian's home province or riding or for "special trips" elsewhere in Canada and, on limited occasions, to Washington, D.C., and New York City for parliamentary business.
Generally, one return flight from Ottawa to the parliamentarian's home region is worth one point.
Senators, their designated travellers and dependents are allowed to fly business class. MPs, their designated travellers and dependents are allowed to fly business class on flights of more than 2 hours but are expected to fly full-fare economy on short flights.
While travelling on parliamentary business, senators and MPs may claim the $92.70 per diem for meals and incidentals. A senator's designated traveller is also entitled to the per diem but an MP's designated traveller is not.
Senators and MPs may also claim up to $200 per night for hotels.
If an MP or senator chooses to stay with friends or family while travelling on parliamentary business they may claim a $50 per night "private, non-commercial accommodation" allowance.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015