Local senator investigated in spending scandal

Two of B.C.’s most prominent political personalities, Gerry St. Germain and former Olympic gold medal-winning skier Nancy Greene Raine, were named Tuesday in the report by auditor general Michael Ferguson into inappropriate Senate expenses.

One of the events that got both into hot water was their decision to effectively bill taxpayers for their involvement in St. Germain’s 50th wedding anniversary at the Hazelmere Golf and Tennis Club in Surrey in 2011, which drew Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other prominent federal, provincial and municipal politicians.

Of the two, Langley resident St. Germain, an ex-policeman, businessman, former cabinet minister and Conservative party organizer who retired from the Senate in 2012, faces the most serious allegations.

The audit, tabled in the Senate Tuesday, found expenses incurred by St. Germain totalling $55,588 “that we determined were not primarily for parliamentary business.” Ferguson’s staff also found expenses “of at least $12,000 for which we had conflicting or insufficient information to determine that they had been incurred for parliamentary business.”

While 30 current or former senators are named in the report, St. Germain is one of nine whose expense claims should be investigated by the RCMP, according to the $23.5-million report that examined the expenses of 116 current and former senators between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2013.

St. Germain, in a written statement included in the audit, said he disagreed with the findings and considered them a “defamatory affront to my personal integrity.”

He said he couldn’t document many of his expenses because many paper files were shredded “as a necessity” after his 2012 retirement and before the 2013 start of the audit because he moved from his South Surrey ranch, where boxes of documents from his 30-year career were stored, to a smaller home in Langley.

Ferguson, in speaking to the lesser alleged transgressions of Raine and 20 other current or former senators, recommended that a Senate standing committee consider whether “further action” should be taken against them.

The audit had problems with five Raine expense claims totalling $2,800, of which three had been repaid totalling $2,386.

One of two Raine is challenging before former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie, who has been asked to arbitrate disputes, was $203 in incremental travel costs to attend the 50th wedding anniversary of St. Germain and his wife Margaret.

Raine, in a statement on her webpage, said the event was not just an anniversary but a tribute to a respected parliamentarian. “As a Senate colleague with great respect for (St. Germain) I considered it a parliamentary duty to attend the event.”

Raine added that her attendance fits the definition under Senate rules of “parliamentary functions,” including “public and official business and partisan matters.”

The largest amount that concerned Ferguson was the $43,727 in expenses for staff to attend six events held at St. Germain’s B.C. home – two involving a charity and four involving the Conservative Party of Canada.

Ferguson said St. Germain took the position that Senate rules didn’t prohibit staff travel for supporting “senators within their respective regions and when it was related to public business deemed to be significant.”

“He further 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.” However, Ferguson concluded that because the events involved St. Germain’s “personal activities,” the $43,727 spent on staff travel “was not primarily for parliamentary business.”

St. Germain, in his written response that was included in the audit, said he made efforts to help Ferguson determine that his staff were working on behalf of the public while in B.C. “I provided your office with a substantive list of people to call, including members of my former staff and other public office holders, who would have been able to speak to the public business and support to me that my staff provided on these trips. To my knowledge, your office has not contacted anyone.”

– Peter O’Neil is a reporter with the Vancouver Sun

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