OTTAWA — The Senate has named former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie as a special arbitrator who will help to referee any disputes arising among senators over dubious expense claims flagged by the auditor general.
Binnie will be called in to intervene in cases where senators who are ordered to pay back disallowed expense claims opt to challenge either the findings of the report or the amount they are required to repay.
All of Binnie’s decisions will be made public, along with any repayments ordered by the Senate, Speaker Leo Housakos told a news conference Tuesday on Parliament Hill.
“Every single case that the auditor general identifies where there are disagreements will have the arbitration process at their disposal, including those that will be — I assume — referred to the RCMP or any other authority,” Housakos said.
Senators who don’t repay the upper chamber will have their salaries clawed back until the Senate recoups all the money owed to it.
Retired senators caught in Ferguson’s report will have to sign an agreement that Binnie’s decisions are binding, Housakos said. If they fail to repay any money owed, the Senate intends to take those retirees to court.
Binnie said the new process will be independent, fair and impartial.
“Every citizen has the right to due process,” he said. “The Senate arbitration process ensures this.”
The arbitration process wasn’t available in the fall of 2013 when the Senate suspended Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin without pay over their questionable expenses. All three complained they were being treated unfairly and asked for a chance to plead their case before a panel of their peers. The majority of senators rejected the request.
Senators in the most trouble with auditors are expected to avail themselves of the arbitration process, hoping to avoid a hefty repayment order, or having their file sent to the RCMP for review. Senate sources say auditor general Michael Ferguson will recommend 10 cases be referred to the RCMP.
Up to 30 more senators are expected to face repayment orders worth thousands of dollars — up to $20,000 in at least one case — over travel claims that involved no trace of Senate business, as well as questionable office contracts and housing claims.
Many have already started repaying amounts challenged by Ferguson’s auditors. The Senate has declined to release the total amount already repaid, citing the confidentiality of Ferguson’s audit.
Ferguson’s report is expected to be delivered to the Senate sometime next week.