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New audit committee to keep tabs on Senate spending
October 27, 2020
HOW & WHY

Senators have created a permanent Senate committee to review and report on the Upper Chamber’s spending.

The Standing Committee on Audit and Oversight will include two non-parliamentarians to enhance the institution’s transparency and accountability.

“The essence of this committee is to ensure that all Senate expenditures have oversight,” said Senator David Wells, who moved the motion calling for the creation of the new committee with support from senators representing the Senate’s recognized parties and groups.

“Canadians have valid expectations and we must meet those expectations.”

The work of the five-member committee will include supervising internal and external audits of the institution’s spending, reviewing financial reports and regularly delivering public reports to senators – all of which will be public.

When and why was the new audit committee created?

The decision to create the audit committee follows careful study by the Subcommittee on the Senate Estimates​ — which Senator Wells chaired — and the internal economy committee. This work was undertaken in response to recommendations by the former auditor general to create independent oversight of senators’ expenses.

After extensive discussion, senators from all groups supported creating a new standing committee with built-in external membership and the power to audit not only senators’ office and travel expenses, but all the Senate’s spending.

On October 1, 2020, Senator Wells introduced a motion in the Red Chamber to create the audit committee and it was unanimously adopted.

What can the new audit committee do?

According to Senator Wells’ motion, the committee is authorized to:

  • retain the services of and oversee internal and external auditors
  • supervise the Senate’s internal and external audits and report them to the Senate
  • review the Senate’s quarterly financial reports and audited financial statements and report them to the Senate
  • review the Senate administration’s action plans
  • provide observations and recommendations to the Senate in a report at least once a year.

The committee also has the authority to meet when the Senate is adjourned, a power afforded to only two other Senate committees.

Who can sit on the new audit committee?

Senators agreed on a mixed membership structure for the new audit and oversight committee.

Of the group’s five members, three will be senators. The other two members will be independent of the Upper Chamber — the first time in the Senate’s history that a committee will include sitting members who aren’t senators or members of Parliament.

But who gets to choose those members? To start, the Senate’s Committee of Selection will formally recommend three senators to serve on the audit committee.

The three senators will then have to agree on who the two external members should be. They cannot nominate former senators or former members of the House of Commons.

To respect the parliamentary rights of senators, the audit committee’s external members won’t have voting powers. However, all members will have the freedom to include “individual observations and dissenting opinions” in any of the committee’s reports.

There are also some limits on which senators can sit on the audit committee. No senator can be a member of both the internal economy committee and the audit committee. In addition, the chair of the audit committee cannot belong to the same recognized party or parliamentary group as that of the internal economy chair.

You can follow the work of the Standing Committee on Audit and Oversight on the Senate website.

Senator David Wells read a motion to create the new Standing Committee on Audit and Oversight on October 1, 2020. The motion was seconded by senators representing the Senate’s recognized parties and parliamentary groups.