OTTAWA -- All six of Manitoba's senators expect to easily pass a Senate review of their Manitoba residency requirements and expense claims.
Responding to a short survey by the Free Press, all six said they own at least one property in Manitoba, have provincial health cards and driver's licences, and are registered to vote both federally and provincially in Manitoba.
"I said in caucus today I'm about as Manitoban as you can get," said Sen. Don Plett. "I would pass the smell test on every rule."
All of Canada's senators are under the microscope as several audits take place questioning everything from expense claims to whether they live in the province they represent.
An outside auditor is investigating expense claims for a secondary residence in Ottawa made by three senators -- Conservatives Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb -- after allegations were made the three were improperly claiming expense amounts for having a second residence in Ottawa when they live in the capital full time. An audit is also looking at the travel expense claims of Saskatchewan Conservative Sen. Pamela Wallin, who claimed more than $300,000 in travel to locations other than Saskatchewan since 2010.
Conservative and Liberal Senate leaders also demanded every senator prove they live in the provinces they represent by providing copies of their health card and driver's licence, the page of their income tax forms showing in which province they paid taxes, and a declaration about where they are registered to vote in provincial and federal elections.
Manitoba's senators all believe they will easily pass the residency and expense-claims tests.
Janis Johnson lives in Gimli, Maria Chaput in the RM of Ste. Anne, and Plett, Terry Stratton, Rod Zimmer and JoAnne Buth all live in Winnipeg.
All six made claims for accomodation while in Ottawa but only Zimmer actually owns a home there. Plett and Chaput both rent while in Ottawa, while Stratton, Buth and Johnson all stay in hotels.
Stratton, who is due to retire next month, said he used to rent an apartment but gave it up a few years ago.
Plett said he stayed in a hotel for the first several months after being appointed to the Senate but grew tired of living out of a suitcase.
All six say they regularly travel to Manitoba on weekends and when the Senate is on break, though the amounts claimed for travel varied greatly. Between Dec. 1, 2011 and Nov. 30, 2012, Plett claimed $107,117.23 for travel between the two cities, almost twice the $56,544.58 claimed by Zimmer. Buth, who was only appointed in January 2012, so her expenses were for just under 11 months rather than 12, claimed the least at $34,630.17.
Plett said he has spent fewer than five weekends in Ottawa since he was appointed in 2008. Zimmer, 70, said his health has affected how much he travels in recent years, though he says when he is feeling well, he tries to get to Winnipeg every second weekend and during Senate break weeks. Zimmer has been treated for cancer. He was recently released from an Ottawa hospital where he spent three weeks after contracting pneumonia.
By comparison, Wallin billed taxpayers $142,190.26 for trips between March 1, 2011 and Feb. 29, 2012.
"Her travel costs are comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country over that period of time," said Prime Minister Stepehn Harper, coming to Wallin's defence. "Last year, Sen. Wallin spent almost half of her time in the province she represents in the Senate. The costs are obviously to travel to and from that province, as any similar parliamentarian would do."
Only $10,551.99 of Wallin's travel expenses were declared as travel between Ottawa and Saskatchewan. The remaining $131,638.27 was filed under "other."
Plett said recent controversies in the Senate have made "it difficult for all of us," and he thinks some of the rules and regulations need clarification.
So does Zimmer, who noted by rule a senator can represent a province as long as they own at least $4,000 worth of property there. In 1867, that was a lot of money, but by 2013 standards it's nothing, he said.
-- with files from The Canadian Press
Tracking your tax dollars
Living expenses in the National Capital Region
December 1, 2011 - Nov. 30, 2012
Rod Zimmer: $23,479.18
Maria Chaput: $21,377.34
Don Plett: $22,052.50
Janis Johnson: $18,556.05
Terry Stratton: $18,003.52
JoAnne Buth: $18,138.98*
Regular travel between Ottawa and Manitoba, Dec. 1, 2011 to Nov. 30, 2012
Don Plett: $107,117.23
Terry Stratton: $79,916.75
Janis Johnson: $68,509.98
Maria Chaput: $67,940.57
Rod Zimmer: $56,544.58
JoAnne Buth: $34,630.17*
Travel expenses claims to destinations other than Manitoba, Dec. 1, 2011 to Nov. 30, 2012
Don Plett: $22,788.03
Janis Johnson: $18,236.38
Maria Chaput: $10,339.93
Terry Stratton: $10,124.33
JoAnne Buth: $8,940.08*
Rod Zimmer: $233.83
--* Buth was appointed to the Senate on Jan. 6, 2012, so her expense claims are for the period Jan. 6, 2012 to Nov. 30, 2012