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10 Ways To Explain Away Your Questionable Senate Expenses

As told by actual Canadian Senators.

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1. Blame it on a staffer.

Conservative Senate leader Claude Carignan said a new employee in his office "misunderstood how to interpret and apply the rule on travel expenses," which lead to the AG flagging $3,516 in inappropriate expenses.

2. Emphasize how rude it would be to keep notes on the work you're doing.


Liberal Senator for Northwest Territories Nick Sibbeston was flagged for $50,000 in expenses that were not for Parliamentary business. But according to Sibbeston, he's always working.

"As soon as I arrive, residents immediately approach me to strike up conversations about issues of concern... A southern Senator can choose to be anonymous but I can't," he said.

He said he didn't want to record this work because he didn't want to appear gauche.

"It would be considered unusual, even rude, to immediately record information in a notebook."

3. Tell them you were just rewarding your staff.


Senator Gerry St. Germain also flew his staffers to Conservative party events at his house, his 50th wedding anniversary, an awards gala where he was being honoured, and his retirement party. The total bill came to $43,727.

According to the audit, St. Germain "stated that he was rewarding his staff for their hard work and that the staff worked on constituency and partisan work from his home office during the summer months."

4. Tell the auditors that, unfortunately, you shredded all of your documentation.

"The Senator stated that he shredded his parliamentary documentation and that, consequently, he did not have sufficient information to answer our questions about each travel claim," the AG audit said about Conservative Senator Gerry St. Germain and his $55,588 of questionable expenses.

5. Make the case that a senator's job is to be in contact with all Canadians, everywhere.

Liberal Senator Terry Mercer was flagged for $29,338 in expenses. Much of this was travel to Saskatoon, Montreal and Vancouver for meetings of a volunteer board he was on, as well as a $3,452 trip to Toronto for the 100th anniversary of a curling club.

Mercer represents Nova Scotia, but told auditors his job takes him all across the country.

"My business in the Senate involves maintaining connections with stakeholders, indeed all Canadians," he said.

6. Explain that you only attended your brother-in-law's funeral because of your position in the Senate.

Conservative Senator Noël Kinsella and his wife expensed $5,663 to attend the funeral of his sister's husband in Sault Ste. Marie. The Auditor General of Canada determined this was not Senate business and taxpayers shouldn't have paid for it. But Kinsella explained he was attending the funeral of a prominent Canadian as a senator. Otherwise, he wouldn't even have gone.

According to the Auditor General's report, Kinsella told auditors "the decision to attend and speak at the funeral was not influenced by his personal relationship with the deceased. He also said that he would not have attended the funeral if he were not Speaker of the Senate."

7. Emphasize that you were only trying to "give a voice to the voiceless."

Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu would mail out copies of his book and expense taxpayers for the postage. He said he was just trying to do a good deed.

"As an advocate for the rights of victims and their families, I sometimes send copies of my book or other publications. Giving a voice to the voiceless is part of my duties as a parliamentarian," he said.

8. Say that you were conducting "community relations."

"Community outreach and relations with media outlets are an integral part of a Senator's functions and I had every right to use a contractor to help me," said Conservative Senator Leo Housakos on $6,710 in contract work deemed not parliamentary business by auditors.

9. Make the case that the auditor general shouldn't even be investigating this because another guy is on trial for something similar.

Former Liberal Senator Rod Zimmer was flagged for a whopping $176,000 in questionable expenses. Much of that is tied to primary residence questions similar to what Senator Mike Duffy is challenging in court.

Zimmer said he is "not clear how the Auditor General can make a public pronouncement with respect to Senate residency rules ... without appearing to be interfering in the judicial proceedings now taking place in the trial of suspended senator Mike Duffy."

Zimmer maintains that his primary residence was in Manitoba but auditors found he was in Ottawa for 613 days out of a 731-day period.

10. Tell the Auditor General's Office that they are dead wrong.

"I completely disagree with the findings of the OAG. The OAG's findings are based on adverse doubts and inferences—not on facts, as they should have been," said Conservative Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais about $3,538 in travel expenses deemed not to be for Parliamentary business.

Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at

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