Senators choose costly plane trips over free train rides

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

It looks like — according to reports — that all but three senators have been cleared in the Senate's internal probe into housing allowances.

The expenses of the remaining three senators — Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb — have been referred to outside auditors.

Despite the 'good' news that most senators live where they're supposed to, it doesn't look like media attention over their expense claims will end anytime soon. And nor should it.

[ Related: Senator Pamela Wallin paid back some of her expenses: report ]

Postmedia News is scrutinizing the travel costs of senators who live in Toronto and Montreal and questioning why they charge taxpayers for plane trips when they're entitled to free train trips.

Senators and members of Parliament are eligible for free travel when they take Via Rail, a crown corporation. But the existing Senate rules do not require them to choose the least costly mode of transportation for their “regular travel” expenses – defined as costs of travelling between home and Parliament for work.

A train from Ottawa to Toronto takes about 4 hours while a train from our nations capital to Montreal runs just over 90 minutes.

Instead of travelling for free, however, senators from Ontario and Quebec have charged taxpayers thousands of dollars. Toronto-based Senator Don Merideth, for example, expensed $59,743 last year for his regular travel, according to Postmedia News.

In lieu of a dollar budget for travel, each senator is allotted a total of 64 travel points a year which essentially equates to 64 round trips to a senator's home province. If they don't use all their points they can give them to staffers or family to use. And, as an added perk, senators are entitled to fly business class — thanks to the taxpayers of Canada.

[ Related: Tory senator runs away from media over Nunavut residency questions ]

And what about flying coach to save some money?

B.C. senator Larry Campbell recently told radio station CKNW that if he had to travel coach, he might not want to be a senator anymore.

"I travel every single week, twice a week, 5 hours back and forth (from Vancouver to Ottawa)," he said.

"If people decided that if that was the big burning issue then that's fine we could travel in coach. I would have to really consider whether that this job was worth having if I have to do that twice a week for five hours."

(Photo courtesy of Canadian Press)

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