Last week, an arbitration review of Senate expenses by former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie cut the amount of disputed expenses owed by 14 senators.
And when the RCMP dropped its investigation of 24 out of 30 senators on expenses, the only senator who took part in the arbitration but whose case has not been dismissed by the RCMP is Colin Kenny, who sits as an independent Liberal.
Mr. Kenny isn't commenting on the report, but his case was given special note by Mr. Binnie, who found that the senator still owed $27,458 in travel expenses.
The Globe and Mail reported: "During a two-year period, Mr. Kenny charged taxpayers more than $153,000 in total for travel to Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria and Edmonton and side trips, Mr. Binnie wrote in his report released on Monday. 'There's an air of artificiality about many of those trips,' Mr. Binnie told reporters.
"The report found that the senator routinely charged for travel to meet journalists – including The Globe and Mail's national security reporter, Colin Freeze.
"Mr. Kenny, who sits as a Senate Liberal, met with Mr. Freeze 17 times between April, 2011, and March, 2013, mostly over breakfast, according to the report.
"Mr. Binnie agreed with the Auditor-General that the meetings were 'a pretext to go to Toronto the night before on personal business and have the Senate foot the hotel bill and other travel expenses.' Mr. Kenny told Mr. Binnie that it wasn't 'unreasonable' to see his son and grandchildren while in town.
"Mr. Kenny also charged taxpayers to meet journalists such as Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese, the CBC's Mark Kelley and Jonathan Kay, formerly of the National Post."
A Globe reader from Waterloo, Ont., asked some good questions about this story: "I was unpleasantly surprised to read in today's Globe that the two Colins met 17 times in 23 months 'mostly over breakfast.' Clearly each found the other useful. However, given the flap over the senator's excessive, dubious expenses, and since the story doesn't make the point that Colin Freeze bought his own breakfasts, readers can assume Kenny picked up the checks. That's how I read it in any case. And I assume, since the breakfasts are mentioned in the Binnie report, Kenny subsequently billed the Senate for them.
"If Freeze requested the meetings, The Globe should have paid. And if Kenny requested the meetings, surely it is inappropriate for your reporter to accept free meals, especially 17 of them."
For background, Mr. Freeze is The Globe's national security reporter and at the time of the meetings, Mr. Kenny was the former chair of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.
Mr. Freeze tells me that the two spoke frequently as part of his beat. In every instance, it was Mr. Kenny who initiated the meetings, saying he was going to be in Toronto and asking whether Mr. Freeze like to meet over breakfast at his hotel.
Mr. Freeze said: "Kenny explained that his room came with two free breakfast vouchers. I said I can't have a free breakfast (or words to that effect). He suggested I pay a generous tip in lieu. I said fine (or words to that effect). It became my habit to pay the tip to the wait staff. … To my best recollection, I may have claimed some of the tips myself (but not all). So The Globe paid sometimes."
This explanation is in keeping with The Globe's Editorial Code of Conduct. Reporters, as part of their job, must maintain regular contact with key people on their beat to stay current with breaking news. They must follow the guidelines of the code, especially the spirit of the code, which says journalists must not be beholden to their sources.
In the section "Paying our way," the code says: "The guiding principle is that editorial staff members may accept no benefit of more than nominal value offered to them because they work for the newspaper or globeandmail.com. … Although it is seldom important who pays for lunch in business entertaining, The Globe and Mail pays whenever possible."
The phrase "whenever possible" is important here and so while there were breakfast vouchers and no direct way to pay for his own breakfast or for both of them on an alternating basis because there was no separate charge, Mr. Freeze did pay the full tip on the meal, thereby not adding to the charge to the taxpayer. Sometimes, as he said, he expensed that tip to The Globe.
The reader raises an important question and it's a good reminder that issues can arise even years later. And Mr. Freeze said those questions are embarrassing – "to have been found by a retired Supreme Court judge to have been invoked as a recurring and primary 'pretext' for taxpayer-funded travel that was not warranted. I should have raised more questions about the travel than I did, and I regret not having done so. "