Home Page Election 2019 News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In
Hill Life & People

Senators consider hitting the brakes on ‘runaway train’ of funding requests for trips abroad

By Charelle Evelyn      

The Internal Economy Committee’s steering group will mull over rules around approving trips or returning to past practice of not paying for travel outside New York or Washington.

From left, Conservative Sen. Scott Tannas, Independent Sen. Larry Campbell, Independent Sen. Éric Forest, and Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos were among the Senators who grappled with the issue of setting guidelines for approving Senators’ international travel at a March 1 Senate Internal Economy Committee meeting. The Hill Times photographs by Andrew Meade
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

Senators are considering returning to past practice of denying all exemption requests to their travel-abroad policy because some are worried the wiggle room they’re now showing will send spending down the “rabbit hole.”

The Senate’s long-standing travel policy sets out that international travel to locales other than New York or Washington, D.C., is not eligible for reimbursement. However, Senators can ask for an exception from the Chamber’s Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration Committee, which handles legal and financial matters.

Prior to a change made in early December, those requests were made quietly, but now Senators wishing to make a Senate-funded international trip outside the rules have to come before the committee and plead their case publicly in addition to the usual written request.

On March 1, after Independent Senator Anne Cools (Toronto Centre-York, Ont.) presented her case to the Internal Economy Committee to have a trip to England paid for (the committee subsequently approved it), Independent Senators Lucie Moncion (Ontario) and Éric Forest (Gulf, Que.) raised concerns over a lack of cost parameters that could be applied to the travel requests.

“I find that [there’s no criteria] strange; considering our history, we might want to think about that,” Sen. Forest said, alluding to the extra scrutiny of Senators’ expenses after a 2015 examination by auditor general Michael Ferguson found 30 Senators claimed about $1-million in expenses that fell outside of the rules between 2011 and 2013.

Independent Senator Larry Campbell (British Columbia), who chairs the Internal Economy Committee, rebutted Sen. Forest’s argument, saying “there is criteria—the criteria is there is no travel.”

He added: “So if there’s travel, you have to come before the committee and justify the travel. That’s basically the criteria, and every Senator has a different reason for wanting to go and brings different expertise and brings back significant knowledge from these trips.”

Senators can take a total of four trips per fiscal year to the United States capital and New York City, to attend United Nations events.

The Senate’s travel policy states that, on occasion, Senators “may also be required to travel to other locations in order to fulfill their parliamentary functions. Decisions to incur travel expenditures will be made with due regard to the need, frequency, cost, and purpose as they relate to a Senator’s parliamentary functions.”

Senators who travel internationally have to table reports on their trips with the committee. Recent reports include a Nov. 26 to Dec. 1 excursion by Independent Senator Kim Pate (Ontario) to Reykjavik, Iceland, to participate in the Women Political Leaders Global Forum and annual summit, which cost $3,998.57, and an April 24 to 26 trip by Independent Senator Rosa Galvez (Bedford, Que.) to Detroit, Mich., for the Great Lakes Economic Forum—at a cost of $1,417.67.

These trips by individual Senators are accounted for separately from those they may take as members of interparliamentary associations. Groups like the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association have their travel budgets decided by a joint committee of Senators and MPs given a yearly allotment from both Chambers.

Sen. Moncion agreed with Sen. Forest, noting her discomfort over the proposed $8,400 airfare request by Sen. Cools, but said it was uncomfortable to have to raise the question while the requesting Senator was still in the committee room.

Conservative Senator Leo Housakos (Wellington, Que.), who has served as both Senate Speaker and chair of the Internal Economy Committee, noted that past practice was for the committee to outright deny all requests, and that perhaps a move should be made back in that direction.

“Many of us at [the Internal Economy Steering Committee] for the longest time said once you start opening the door to an exception, it will become a runaway train as it has been in previous years,” Sen. Housakas said. “And we’re at the point right now where it’s about to become a runaway train.”

Existing criteria for international travel used by interparliamentary associations can be adapted to the Senate, said Independent Senator Raymonde Saint-Germain (De la Vallière, Que.), volunteering to do the work.

But having guidelines in place won’t remove the necessity of the Internal Economy Committee to have to approve or deny requests, noted Conservative Senator Scott Tannas (Alberta).

“Because if we lay out criteria and every Senator is now guaranteed if they tick that box they can go around the world, we will spend millions,” he said. “This is the rabbit hole that we’re talking about that our predecessors going back many, many years—probably to the beginning of the age of jet travel—have fought with.”

The matter was referred to Internal Economy’s steering committee, which meets behind closed doors, for further discussion in order to bring back a proposal for the entire Internal Economy Committee to consider.


The Hill Times

Explore, analyze, understand
Charting the CBC’s challenging present and uncertain future
Charting the CBC's challenging present and uncertain future: Where it has been and where it is going provides an insider profile of the struggles faced by Canada’s public broadcaster in the 21st century.

Get the book
You Might Be From Canada If…
You Might Be From Canada If . . . is a delightful, illustrated romp through this country as it celebrates its 150th birthday.

Get the book
Inside Ottawa Directory – 2019 Edition
The handy reference guide includes: riding profiles, MPs by province, MP contact details, both Hill and constituency and more.

Get the book

Politics This Morning

Get the latest news from The Hill Times

Politics This Morning

Your email has been added. An email has been sent to your address, please click the link inside of it to confirm your subscription.

McKenna wins re-election in Ottawa Centre, trumpets voters’ support for climate fight

News|By Neil Moss
'I’m so relieved,' Catherine McKenna said, about continuing with the Liberal climate change plan.

Election 2019 was a ‘campaign of fear,’ say pollsters

'There may well be a message to this to the main parties, that slagging each other will only take you so far,' says Greg Lyle.

Election 2019 campaign one of the most ‘uninspiring, disheartening, and dirtiest’ in 40 years, says Savoie

News|By Abbas Rana
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she has never seen an election where mudslinging overwhelmingly dominated the campaign, leaving little or no time for policy discussion.

Strategic voting to determine if Liberals will form government, say political players

News|By Abbas Rana
As many as nine per cent of progressive voters could vote strategically in this close election potentially affecting the outcome in more than 100 ridings, says Innovative Research president Greg Lyle.

Turkish offensive should pressure feds to act on repatriation of Canadian citizens in Kurdish-controlled ISIS detention camps, says expert

News|By Neil Moss
The issue of repatriation will be less politically fraught after the election, says expert.

Business tops experience among 2019 candidates, one-third have run for office before

Here’s an analysis of the record 1,700-plus candidates running for the six major parties this election.

Pod save us all: the growing role of political podcasts in election 2019

News|By Mike Lapointe
The Hill Times spoke with some podcast hosts taking a deeper dive into the political nitty-gritty, within a medium that only continues to grow in popularity.

No-shows from Conservative candidate could hurt party’s chances in tight Kanata-Carleton race, say politicos

News|By Palak Mangat
The Conservative's candidate, Justin McCaffrey, has skipped two events, including a debate on the environment, intended to feature all candidates.

For whom will the bell toll in Peterborough-Kawartha?

In a riding where voters are deeply engaged in the political process, candidates avoid the low-hanging fruit and stay out of the mud as they grapple with who to send to the House of Commons.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.