Senator Nick G. Sibbeston
Appendix B—Files recommended for review by the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration Senator Nick G. Sibbeston
Territory: Northwest Territories
Appointment date: 2 September 1999
For the period from 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2013
|Total amount of items referred to the Internal Economy Committee
(including applicable taxes)
We found several instances where travel expenses claimed by the Senator were not for parliamentary business, or where there was insufficient information to enable us to determine whether the expenses had been incurred for parliamentary business.
1. The Senator’s declared primary residence was in Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories. Fort Simpson is 630 kilometres or eight hours by car from Yellowknife. Given the duration of travel required between his residence and Ottawa, we considered a one-night stopover to be a reasonable practice.
2. Over the audit period, we found nine instances when these stopovers by the Senator and/or his spouse were longer than one day. The Senator stated that he usually attended meetings during stopovers and that he and/or his spouse sometimes stayed with or visited family or friends. The Senate Administrative Rules state that every person who uses Senate resources is responsible to account for that use. We received no additional documentation for the purpose of these stopovers or the events that took place during those times. However, we found that some extended stopovers were for personal activities. On the basis of the information available, we determined that the expenses incurred during the additional days of the stopovers were not for parliamentary business. The incremental cost for these stays, including accommodations, per diems, car rental, and mileage, was $4,436.
3. We found that the Senator’s spouse did not always travel at the same times or to the same locations as the Senator, including five instances when she travelled to Ottawa without the Senator. The Senator stated that his spouse travelled to maintain the integrity of the family unit. The Senate’s rules, policies, and guidelines recognize that a Senator’s parliamentary functions can result in frequent and lengthy periods of separation from family, and have provided for family-reunion travel as an important contributor to the health and well-being of Senators and their families. However, 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 dependants. The cost of these trips, including per diems, accommodations, airfare, mileage, car rental, and taxis, was $13,133.
4. We also found several instances where there was insufficient information to enable us to determine whether the travel claims made by the Senator, for trips within western Canada and the territories, were for parliamentary business. The Senator stated that the purpose of these trips was to meet with community members in his region. The Senate Administrative Rules state that every person who uses Senate resources is responsible to account for that use. We received no additional documentation for the purpose of these trips or the events that took place at that time. On the basis of the information available, we were unable to determine whether the expenses were for parliamentary business. The cost of the trips, including per diems, accommodations, airfare, mileage, car rental, and taxis, was $27,629.
We found several instances of other expenses incurred by the Senator that were not for parliamentary business or that we were unable to determine were for parliamentary business.
5. The Senator incurred hospitality expenses, to a maximum amount of $2,457, for which we were unable to determine whether they were for parliamentary business.
6. We found that the Senator took taxi trips in Ottawa for personal activities. The total cost for these trips was $913.
7. We found several occasions where records showed that the Senator’s cell phone was being used by someone else, in another location. We also found that the Senator’s staff had text-messaging charges that were for personal activities. The cost of these telecommunications charges was $1,534.
The Senator’s comments
All versions of the Senate policy—both the two in effect during the review period and the current one—permit combination of Senate and private business. None of the policies address the issue of stopovers at all, let alone limiting them to a single day, or require the most direct route (provided a different route does not increase costs). In cases where no parliamentary business was conducted, no additional expenses were ever claimed. This was a consistent pattern and the Auditor should recognize that. In some cases, I did stay with family while holding meetings with constituents. This reduced costs to the government. Given the high cost of northern travel, it was common sense to combine public and private business, particularly when I passed through Yellowknife during trips between home and Ottawa.
Senate rules permit spouses to travel with Senators but don’t require travel to occur on the same day as that of the Senator. Generally, [my wife] travelled with me but on occasion we travelled at different times. The Senate policy referred to “family unification” as the reason for permitting spouse travel. The Auditor General interpreted this narrowly as always travelling together. The real “intent” of the policy was to support families—including attending to things that cause stress, such as worries about protecting the family home from freeze-up during winter or concerns over the well-being of family members. I rely on my wife to attend to these matters when I can’t.
As the sole Senator representing the Northwest Territories, I am a well-known public figure whenever I travel to northern communities. 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. A southern Senator can choose to be anonymous but I can’t. Of course, such conversations are unplanned; even visits to community leaders are largely spontaneous. Formal meetings are sometimes scheduled with government officials but otherwise the way in which business is done is casual. I never travelled to communities without good reason and always worked while there.
It would be considered unusual, even rude, to immediately record information in a notebook. I followed up with phone calls, or asked my staff to act. Perhaps I could have been better at keeping records. Still, while there may be no documents in every case, work got done. The Auditor should understand that. Where records were found, I provided them; many claims were proven that way. Claims where sufficient information was not provided were often identical to the proven ones. I believe I demonstrated a pattern of carrying out parliamentary business that could be assumed in those cases. I remember every meeting and am only criticized for the lack of paperwork.
Finally, travel in the North is expensive, so even a few questioned claims can quickly add up. A similar report on a Toronto Senator would only be in the thousands of dollars. Readers should consider that when looking at this report.