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Mark Rendell

Senator Sibbeston Dinged for $27K in Improper Expenses

The former NWT premier says the cost of travel in the North is a major factor

NWT senator Nick Sibbeston will have to pay back just under $27,000 to the Senate, following binding arbitration results released today.

In 2015 the auditor general determined that Sibbeston owed roughly $50,000 for improper expense claims, ranging from travel to hospitality. Along with 13 other senators accused of playing fast and loose with Senate expense rules, Sibbeston appealed the auditor general’s findings; today’s announcement is the result of arbitration overseen by retired Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie.

Although the amount is roughly $23,000 less than Sibbeston was said to owe in 2015, of the 14 senators involved in the arbitration, he owes the third most, after Sandra M. Lovelace Nicholas of New Brunswick and Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu of Quebec.

Sibbeston has not paid any of it back yet. He now has 30 days to do so.

"I impute no bad motives to any of the senators. They acted in accordance with what they believed to be their entitlement. Our disagreement, where it exists, is as to the content of that entitlement," Binnie told reporters on Monday according to the CBC. However, the CBC report adds, “he conceded that he didn't see his report as ‘exonerating abuse.’”

According to the CBC, Binnie explained that the difference between the initial report and the arbitration results had to do in part with him accessing documents that were not available to the auditor general.

"He is an auditor, he follows the paper trail. I am an arbitrator, I'm acting in the function of a judge or a dispute resolution mandate… I've taken a broader view of parliamentary purpose than the auditor general's office."

What was Sibbeston being hit for?

The ineligible expenses Sibbeston incurred were largely related to travel, according to the 2015 report.

“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,” reads the report.

The auditor general found Sibbeston owed $27,629 for trips – “including per diems, accommodations, airfare, mileage, car rental, and taxis” –  within the territories and Western Canada, where “there was insufficient information to enable us to determine whether the travel claims made by the Senator… were for parliamentary business.”

He was said to owe another $13,133 for several trips taken by his wife, which “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.”

A further several thousand in ineligible claims were highlighted for a range of expenses including hospitality, taxis and cell phone charges.

In response to the auditor general's report Sibbeston claimed no wrongdoing, arguing, “I never travelled to communities without good reason and always worked while there.”

He added: “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,” and that “I rely on my wife to attend to these matters when I can’t.”

“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.”