Senator Nick Sibbeston has been flagged by the auditor general of Canada for $50,102 in questionable expense claims for items such as overnight stays in Yellowknife, taxi trips and his wife's travel to Ottawa.
Nick Sibbeston: Senate audit report flagged $50,102 in NWT senator's expense claims. - NNSL file copy
Sibbeston, the territory's only senator, is one of 30 others cited in a report released June 9 on the growing expense scandal. The 120-page report is the culmination of a two-year review that flagged a total of nearly $977,000 in improper claims, citing a lack of "oversight, accountability, and transparency" in the Senate expense system.
Nine of the 30 have been referred to the RCMP for further investigation. Sibbeston is not among them. His spending will be referred to a Senate committee for further examination and to determine whether the costs should be repaid.
The report found Sibbeston's claims were either not for parliamentary business or there was insufficient information to determine whether the expenses had been for parliamentary business.
He disputed that in an interview with News/North June 9. He said he's disappointed with the findings of the audit.
"I would say I'm ashamed," he said. "I don't like that I've been pointed out in the auditor general's report because it gives the impression that, 'Wow, you did something wrong.'"
There were several instances of overnight stays in Yellowknife en route home to Fort Simpson by the senator and his wife that were claimed as senate business. The auditor general could not confirm the purpose of the extended stays which cost $4,436 for accommodations, per diems, car rental and mileage. In his written response included in the audit report, Sibbeston stated that the rules for overnight stays were not as clear as the report suggests. He also pointed out the high cost of travel in the North. As a well-known public figure, he said he's always on duty as a senator.
"As soon as I arrive, residents immediately approach me to strike up conversations about issues of concern. In essence, I am always on the job," he stated.
Travel costing $27,629 within western Canada and the territory claimed as Senate business was also found to be problematic because its purpose could not be confirmed.
"Hospitality expenses" of $2,457 were also cited, which Sibbeston said were for lunches in Ottawa and Fort Simpson.
His wife's trips to Ottawa were also referenced. Senate rules state expenses can be claimed to reunite a spouse with a senator. Her travel was, on five instances, considered in breach of the rules.
"We determined that the spouse's trips on these occasions did not respect the objective of family reunification, because the expenses were incurred for personal activities, including reuniting with independent adult children and their families, rather than with the senator and any dependents," the report states. The costs, including per diems, accommodations, airfare, mileage, car rental and taxis, totalled $13,133.
Sibbeston was critical of the auditor general's narrow interpretation of the family reunification rules. He referred to an instance where she went to Yellowknife for an appointment a day before he did and then the next day they both went on to Ottawa. He said the auditor suggested they should travel together.
"'We didn't both have to travel (together), and look, I saved the government money,'" he said he told the auditors. "It's things of that sort that are an issue. They interpret the rules very narrowly."
The report also states records show his cellphone was being used by someone else in another location and that this staff had text-messaging charges that were for personal activities. The cost of these telecommunications charges was $1,534.
Sibbeston served in the NWT legislative assembly from 1979 to 1991, spending six years in cabinet and two years as premier.
He was appointed to the Senate by former
Liberal prime minister
Jean Chretien in 1999.
Former NWT premier Dennis Patterson, now senator for Nunavut, owes $22,985 according to the report. Patterson, appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2009, has already repaid $6,200. Sibbeston has not repaid anything.