What the senator told ‘The National’ and what an audit discovered are not quite the same thing
“I was doing what I thought my job was. To not sit in Ottawa in an office, not sit in the Senate chamber always, but to be out there.”
— Sen. Pamela Wallin
in a June 13 interview
on “The National”
When I watched CBC’s Peter Mansbridge question Sen. Pamela Wallin in June about her hefty travel expenses, I was disappointed he gave her such an easy ride. I’ve always respected Mansbridge and his well-researched, straightforward approach to interviewing prominent people, and I felt he pulled punches in questioning Wallin, who is no stranger to no-holds-barred questioning herself.
But when I read the transcript of that interview this week, I realized it wasn’t necessarily that Mansbridge didn’t ask the right questions, but that Wallin’s answers sounded half-reasonable at the time.
What’s changed between then and now is the audit report released this week that turns some of Wallin’s explanations on their ear.
I’d love to see how she’d answer those questions now in light of the audit; questions like this one:
Mansbridge: “Was it that you were charging the Senate for things that the (Conservative) party should have been charged for?”
Wallin: “No, it didn’t have anything to do with the party.”
It’s strange a seasoned journalist like Ms. Wallin did not get that little fact straight.
According to a CBC report on Tuesday, the expenses she charged to the Senate that have been deemed ineligible include these: $81.63 for speaking at a Conservative party fundraiser in April 2009; $466.16 for attending a Conservative party rally and making a Conservative campaign visit to a Saskatchewan Muslim community in April 2011; and $2,595.13 for being the keynote speaker at a Tory provincial election campaign in September 2011.
Nothing to do with the party, indeed.
Mansbridge: “So we’re talking flight costs?”
Wallin: “Flight costs. So money is not in my pocket, the money is in the pocket of the airlines.”
What Ms. Wallin clearly does not get is that it is taxpayers’ money that is in the pocket of the airlines, courtesy of her largesse on our behalf. Our money has been used to pay airlines to take her to events to raise the profile of the Conservative Party of Canada. In other words, whether we personally support the Conservatives or not, we have been bankrolling some of their activities, thanks to Sen. Wallin.
Wallin: “I, you know, I do a lot of public speaking. I do a lot of other events.”
Mansbridge: “Are those for the Senate or are those for the party?”
Wallin: “No, for the Senate. I did very little direct party work. Obviously in Saskatchewan, I went and campaigned for some of my colleagues, obviously I would do that. But, there weren’t charges associated with that, because I’m actually at home.”
Well, as we see now, there were charges associated with that.
And was she actually at home? Because despite Wallin’s assertions that the Senate’s residency criteria are straightforward (as opposed to poor old Mike Duffy, who was hopelessly confused by the forms), the auditors found that she actually spends most of her time in Toronto, which flies in the face of her claim to have her primary residence in Saskatchewan.
Wallin: “You declare your primary residence in the province you represent. It’s a pretty straightforward thing, you know. Outside, when you drive into Wadena, Saskatchewan, there’s a sign right there, it says ‘home of Pamela Wallin.’ It’s my home.”
Well, it’s home for 27 per cent of the time, according to the time period the auditors examined. Wallin spent 35 per cent of her time in Toronto, and often made stopovers there of a day or two when she was travelling from Ottawa to her “home” province of Saskatchewan on Senate business.
As a result of the audit, those pricey stopovers have been prohibited and her travel claims will be closely monitored from now on.
Wallin: “I didn’t deliberately set out to abuse this system in any way. In fact I thought I was being pretty rigorous, but I actually wasn’t being rigorous enough. And that’s on me and I am going to try and make that right if I can and I’ve done the best I can so far to try and do that, and I am waiting for this final report, when and if it comes, and then I’ll try to make, I’ll try to make that right too.”
Well, the report is in and Wallin owes more than $80,000 above and beyond the $38,000 she’s already paid back.
Did she react by immediately reaching for her chequebook? No, she did not. Instead, she called the report “fundamentally flawed and unfair,” and said it was created by applying new rules to old expense claims.
But the auditing firm disputes that, noting in a CBC report by Leslie MacKinnon on Tuesday that, “the overall principles of the (travel) policy did not change, i.e., the travel costs would be reimbursed if the purpose of the travel was to carry out the senator’s parliamentary functions.”
Clearly Wallin was not always racking up frequent-flyer points in her quest to be an “activist” Senator. She was certainly an active one, I’ll give her that. Travel to a Grey Cup gala, a tribute to Brian Mulroney, the Juno Awards, a convocation address — we paid for her travel to all that and more.
Wallin: “(Being a senator) is a chance to do something that matters. It’s not about the money.”
Perhaps Wallin should tell that to the RCMP. It is about the money. And it’s about the tarnished credibility of the Senate and the PMO and the added mistrust Canadians now have — and rightly so — of journalists who preach the gospel of almighty truth but don’t necessarily practise it.
Hear that thud? That’s the sound of another senator and prominent Canadian felled by her feet of clay.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email email@example.com.