Dear Senator Harder: It was with great interest that we read your comments on independent Senate oversight and the 2015 report of the OAG (Office of the Auditor General) in your recent opinion piece in Policy Options. As each of us undersigned personally went through the audit first hand, it is always insightful to hear the perspective of one who did not but who is, all the same, subject to the lessons learned in the form of revised rules and procedures that came about as a result of or related to that experience.
We would like to take this opportunity to say that we agree wholeheartedly with you on the importance of independence of Parliament, specifically as it pertains to self-governance. Parliament’s right to “manage our own house” as you say, is a crucial part of our Westminster system that applies broadly rather than on an ad hoc basis.
With that said, our main purpose in writing is not to discuss the merits of one form of oversight vs another. As you know, work on the creation of an Audit Oversight Committee is well underway with input from all Senators, yourself included, and will be based on industry best practices.
However, while we may not have implemented recommendation 52 to the letter, we want to assure Canadians that we most certainly have addressed the associated concerns raised by the AG. We have done so in a number of different ways that culminate in opening ourselves up to a level of public scrutiny unparalleled by other legislatures, including the House of Commons.
We have, as you mentioned, implemented a more detailed model of proactive disclosure for senators’ expenses with everything posted on our website for everyone to see. Also, although it was not mentioned in your piece, we have also been holding our meetings of Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration in public for quite some time and are now even televising those meetings. We believe these measures ensure, to quote you, a reasonable degree of transparency. One might even argue that in so doing, it is Canadians who are the ultimate arbiter on senators’ expenses.
Which brings us to the item that is most troublesome about your piece, the belief that there is no or has been no appeal mechanism available to Senators regarding their expenses. That is simply not accurate and it concerns us that some Senators may not be aware of what is available to them.
Allow us to be perfectly clear, should you take issue with a decision regarding the admissibility of any of your expense claims, you most certainly have the right to appeal that decision, in full view of the public, to the Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration. Should you not find the decision of CIBA satisfactory, you have the right to further appeal by taking the matter to the entire Senate, again in full view of the public.
It should also be noted, that you are also free to request the matter be heard by independent arbitrator Former Justice Ian Binnie. The independent dispute resolution process, including arbitration with Justice Binnie, was originally put in place to deal with the OAG findings to ensure, contrary to the completely false assertion in your opinion piece, Senators were not sitting in judgment of other Senators. Regardless, that process remains in place should any Senator choose to exercise his or her right to it.
We hope this clears up any confusion you may have regarding the appeals process available to you should you encounter any issues with your expenses.
The Honourable Leo Housakos, Senator, Chair, Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.
The Honourable Jane Cordy, Senator, Deputy Chair, Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.
The Honourable David M. Wells, Senator, Member of the Subcommittee and Agenda and Procedure Honourable Larry W. Campbell, Senator, Member of the Subcommittee and Agenda and Procedure
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