OTTAWA — A Liberal senator says top senators and officials from the Prime Minister’s Office should explain whether they leaked details of a confidential spending audit before most senators had read it.
Celine Hervieux-Payette told a Senate committee on that copies of the auditor general’s report were sent to three of the Senate’s most influential members — Speaker Leo Housakos, government leader Claude Carignan and Liberal leader James Cowan — and the PMO days before the report was publicly released.
Details of the audit leaked to the media, including The Canadian Press, which is where Hervieux-Payette and other senators say they learned about the contents of the report, including who among their peers were being referred to the RCMP.
The audit led to seven former and two current senators having their spending referred to the Mounties for a criminal review and 21 others were named as having problematic claims, including Housakos, Carignan and Cowan.
All three repaid their challenged expenses, but denied any wrongdoing.
Hervieux-Payette said the Senate’s rules committee should investigate the leaks immediately and consider harsh sanctions for anyone who provided journalists’ information on the audit.
She said the investigation wouldn’t be a witch hunt against journalists because they have a right to protect their confidential sources.
When challenged directly about whether she was the source of the leaks, Hervieux-Payette was adamant she was not: “I swear I never talked to the media. Period.”
The committee made no decision on the matter Tuesday.
Earlier at the committee, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation urged senators to quickly approve a bill that could strip misspending politicians of their pensions, lest they be seen as circling the wagons around their accused colleagues.
Under the bill, parliamentarians could forfeit their pensions if they are convicted of crimes such as fraud and breach of trust stemming from their time in public office.
CTF federal director Aaron Wudrick told senators that people will believe senators are trying to protect themselves or their peers accused of misspending if they don’t approve the bill before Parliament goes on its summer break.
Since there is no plan to recall Parliament before the October federal election, all bills left unpassed will die.
Wudrick admitted there are some small problems with the bill, but said there isn’t enough time to fix the flaws.