You never know who you’re going to run into on the Ottawa-Toronto shuffle.
You’ll find cabinet ministers, MPs, lobbyists, spin doctors, journalists — the legions who have one foot in each city. And on more than one occasion, the honourable senator from Wadena.
It’s unlikely I’ll run into Pamela Wallin again soon on her now infamous Toronto Two-Step on the way to and from Saskatchewan, her future now in the hands of the RCMP.
The Senate has clipped her wings, her taxpayer-funded wanderlust is now a form of house arrest, she is under order to pay back $121,348 in travel expenses (including the $38,369 she had forked over on her own).
Another $20,978 is still under review.
Wallin said she will repay the money plus interest, but it is unlikely she can rebuild her reputation.
I’m surprised I didn’t run into Wallin more often because we now know that the Saskatchewan senator stayed at her Toronto home more than 75 nights in 94 trips to Saskatchewan, claiming “Senate business,” time and again for trips home to her mid-Toronto condo.
A comprehensive audit of her travel and spending patterns released on Tuesday showed Wallin spent more time in Toronto than either Saskatchewan or Ottawa during the 45-month period studied.
Those Toronto stopovers cost taxpayers $31,025 more in higher air fare and cab fares than had she flown home directly to Saskatoon, then driven to Wadena. Of course, that is mere pocket change compared to the $532,508 (73 per cent legitimate) she billed in travel expenses over that time.
Perhaps most damning, auditors from Deloitte found Wallin and her staff made more than 500 additions, deletions or modifications to her personal calendar over the 1,369 days audited, turning up travel claims for non-existent dinners, speeches that were not made, a meeting that was actually done by phone. Her office deleted a reference to “Senate business” that referred to the convocation at Guelph University, where she was chancellor.
Wallin has blamed the record changes on advice provided by Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk, continuing a Wallin pattern of blaming everyone but herself. Since she has been under this cloud of suspicion, she has blamed her troubles on a mountain of paperwork she could not keep up with.
She has claimed there were no direct flights back to Saskatchewan from Ottawa, doubtless news to those booked out of here to Saskatoon on Air Canada on Tuesday evening.
She has claimed the Senate changed the rules, applying new 2012 rules to her pre-2012 travel, that the process was flawed, that she was an “activist” senator.
Fine, but she billed for a limo in Calgary while on private time, claimed $438.40 for “Senate business” to get from Trenton to Toronto to appear as the Conservative on a pre-election television panel and in late June 2011, she billed $1,654.88 return airfare from Ottawa to Toronto because she had been advised to remain close to Ottawa in case she was needed for a vote. She was receiving a living allowance in Ottawa, but flew home to Toronto “so she would be able to return to Ottawa in a timely fashion.’’
On one trip, Wallin told me on the ferry to the Toronto City Airport that she was heading to the Dominican Republic the next morning to speak at an international women’s conference.
What she didn’t tell me was that the $511.14 for the flight from Ottawa to Toronto to catch a connecting flight was billed as “Senate business.” Deloitte has told her to pay it back.
About a year later, with Wallin embroiled in the spending scandal and a news story about her plight strewn through the Porter departure lounge, she was less effusive.
As she spoke on her cellphone, she spotted me, scooped up three bags in one arm and without breaking conversation, disappeared, only to reappear in seat A1 of the Porter flight, where, as an airline board member, she had pre-boarded.
A “good morning, senator,’’ was met with a death stare.
Before poring through the 95-page audit, I was prepared to believe Wallin had been blindsided by an extended audit in which her older spending was subjected to newer rules, that she was indeed an “activist” senator operating in grey area in what constituted Senate business, that perhaps she and another disgraced celebrity-senator, Mike Duffy, had been given a nod and a wink when Stephen Harper appointed them, leaving them with the impression they were somehow operating on a different plane with different rules.
But after wading through the Deloitte study, one can only conclude that Wallin has buried herself and potentially eclipsed a lifetime of accomplishments under the weight of hubris and entitlement.
Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.