Senators defend expense claims for art rentals, hospitality

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Some senators are defending their discretionary spending practices after the Senate released a breakdown of expenses showing thousands of dollars in art rentals for senators’ offices and lesser amounts on dining out, gifts and hospitality.

The expense claims were released as part of the Senate’s renewed efforts to be more transparent, following the damaging expense scandal in 2013.

All of the claims in this latest release appear to be well within the rules, including the fees for renting art from the Canada Council Art Bank.

Independent Senator Andre Pratte expensed more than $5,600 to rent artworks over two years, while another Independent senator, Chantal Petitclerc, claimed just over $5,700 to rent three pieces of art over the same time period.

Pratte says it is appropriate to use his budget to rent art from the Art Bank because it helps to support young Canadian artists.

“If the money went to a private collector, perhaps not,” Pratte said in an e-mail to CBC News. “But the Art Bank uses the profits from the rental fees to buy art from young artists, which helps them pursue their career… I understand many government offices make use of this program.”

Andre Pratte senate

Senator Andre Pratte paid out of pocket to cover some art rental fees, after he felt cost to taxpayers was ‘too high’. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Pratte’s tally of $5,600 to rent artwork would have been larger, but he paid $7,820 out of pocket because he said he felt the full price was “too high” to bill taxpayers for.

Petitclerc also says the Art Bank program is a worthy use of taxpayer dollars for its contribution to, and promotion of, Canadian art.

“The objective of this program in the Senate is to make these creations more accessible to a large public and so that our offices can serve as public showcase for these talented artists,” Petitclerc said in an e-mail. “Furthermore, each work exhibited is clearly identified.”

Hospitality claims

The disclosure report shows that 36 senators expensed a combined total of about $10,000 in hospitality in the period covered by the report.

The claims range from meals at an Ottawa restaurant to public celebrations with hundreds of people.

Conservative Senate Whip Don Plett charged taxpayers for a purchase at the LCBO. According to the document, the $54 purchase was for a reception.

Conservative Senator Tobias Enverga Jr. spent just over $1,000 to mark the 4th Annual Philippine Independence Day. The event involved a flag-raising ceremony on Parliament Hill and a luncheon with nearly 280 guests.

“The average cost per guest was therefore $3.75,” said Lars Andersen, a policy advisor for Enverga.

“I think that many can learn austerity from senators and their creative staff,” Andersen added.

As part of the Senate’s administrative rules, senators are each allowed to spend up to $3,000 a year on hospitality.

The purchase of alcohol is also within the rules, but “only when the purchase is in the context of a specific parliamentary function and is of reasonable quantity.”

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Senators defend expense claims for art rentals, hospitality

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