Senate audit not worth $23 million

Senate “This scandal could not be any more Canadian if public money was used to get Drake to drink maple syrup on Niagara Falls.” – John Oliver, Last Week Tonight

Canadians should be pretty frustrated with the results of the recent Senate audit.

I’m not talking about the part where 30 senators were found to have “questionable expenses” totalling nearly $1 million.

No. It’s the $23 million cost of the two-year long audit that gives me concern.

In Sun Peaks, we’re trying to fund the construction of a health centre and a skate park.

Most communities in B.C. have their own list of local projects they’d like to see funded. Just a cut of that $23 million would make a huge difference for many small communities trying to deliver better services or facilities for their residents.

“But those Senators were ripping taxpayers off,” you might say. “They’re criminals. If I stole $100 from my job the police would lock me up. They should be locked up too!”

Well hold your horses buddy. If history has taught us anything, it’s that white-collar crime is very rarely punished. (See: Global Economic Crisis of 2008.)

But is it even white-collar crime? If you scratch the surface of the Senate audit even a little, it’s hard to figure out what qualifies as a questionable expense and what’s just common sense.

Case in point: Director of skiing for Sun Peaks Resort LLP, Senator Nancy Greene Raine, who was reported to be owing $2,800 in the audit.

Never mind the fact she’d repaid $2,386 of those dollars of her own accord years ago. She still “ripped off” taxpayers to the tune of $414.

Or did she?

One of Greene Raine’s claims occurred due to a late night flight from Ottawa to Vancouver. With no connecting flight back to Kamloops, Greene Raine had no other option but to overnight in Vancouver as part of her Senate travel.

The next day, she had scheduled time off for holidays, so she remained in Vancouver, rather than waste time and taxpayer money with a senseless flight back to Kamloops. In a similar situation, many of us would have done the same.

And for making that common sense choice, she was flagged for “questionable expenses” to the tune of $211.

That’s dumb.

And it’s a bit indicative of the Senate audit in general.

The Canadian Government just spent $23 million of taxpayers’ money and two years’ worth of resources to find $1 million.

It’s a bit like buying an expensive metal detector because you like to collect pop cans for the deposit. But dumber. Because using a metal detector would be fun.

If the Senate audit is going to teach us anything, it’s this: We place a great deal of trust in our Senators, but we can’t afford to monitor every single purchase they make — from postage stamps, to breakfast, to travel costs. It’s not feasible.

The vast majority of “questionable expenses” were not malicious or criminal. They were expensed because Senators and staff are likely not given clear direction or have sufficient resources directed to how and what they can purchase.

Spend $1,000 and put on some sandwiches and coffee and a PowerPoint presentation to teach them what’s what — not $23 million in an effort to make them look silly and make the auditor-general seem relevant for once.