Suspended Senator Pamela Wallin says she regrets paying back money to the Senate because doing so gave her critics ammunition to declare she was guilty all along.
In her first extensive interview since being suspended last year, amid the Senate expenses scandal, Wallin guest-hosted on Newstalk 1010’s “live drive’’ radio program in Toronto Thursday evening.
Wallin said she has paid back about $38,000. The Senate has ordered that she repay a total of about $140,000, including the $38,000.
She decided to repay the money because the issue was becoming a “distraction.’’
“I thought, okay, let’s put this to rest. It’s distracting everybody from doing their work. It’s stopping me from doing my work. Other senators were resentful, the public was resentful,’’ she told co-host Ryan Doyle.
But she says she regrets paying the money because “I just think it’s given some people an excuse to say, ‘Oh well, you must be guilty because you paid it back,’’ she said.
She said she wishes she paid more attention to the books.
“In this system where there is an entire department — the Senate finance department — that is responsible for doing all of this, for interpreting the rules, and approving your expense accounts, I probably didn’t pay as much attention as I should have,’’ she said referring to her travel expenses.
“Every single one of my expense claims was approved.”
She also said “mistakes were made, but not many” in filing some of the expenses, but maintains that most of the claims she submitted were approved under Senate guidelines that she calls vague.
Her transgressions were more a result of sloppiness, not doing something done deliberately to “take money out of the system for me’’ Wallin, said in the interview.
“It was money that would have been paid by somebody else, so I didn’t benefit personally from any of it,’’ she said.
The program did not take calls from listeners during the segment Wallin addressed her role in the Senate scandal.
Wallin said there is a rule of law in Canada, a belief in due process and one should be able to answer allegations against them but “that was not an option’’ she had.
Asked what it’s like to be “hated’’ Wallin said it’s frustrating, and she’s received lots of hate mail, though when she responds some who’ve written her replied saying they didn’t fully understand how the Senate’s expenses system works.
The radio guest spot became available after Wallin approached the station. The 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. show has been filled by various guest hosts since John Tory left in February to run for mayor in Toronto.
The Conservative majority in the Senate voted in November to suspend Wallin and fellow Conservative senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau for filing improper expense claims.
Brazeau and former Liberal senator Mac Harb have been charged with fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust.
Harb, who was appointed in 2003 by Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien, has repaid $231,649 in expenses claimed since 2005. He retired after repaying the money.
As part of its own investigation, the RCMP have seized documents relating to Wallin from the accounting firm Deloitte.
She was appointed to the Senate in December 2008. She was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 2007 in part because of her distinguished career as an author, journalist and broadcaster.
She served as Canada's Consul General in New York from 2002-2006.