Can The Senate Recover Its Expenses From Senator Zimmer?

According to early reports, the late Senator Zimmer may owe the Canadian Senate roughly $176,000.00. Auditor General Michael Ferguson determined in 2015 that Senator Zimmer had inappropriately claimed $176,012 in expenses.1 If one thing is clear from the trial of Senator Mike Duffy, it is that it isn’t clear whether an expense is inappropriate. Therefore, it is hard to say just yet whether the expenses in question qualify as a debt of the estate of the late Senator Zimmer, because a court of law could determine that the expenses were not inappropriate. But if Senator Zimmer’s expenses are deemed to be a debt by a court of law, then the question becomes: Can the Senate recover its expenses from the estate of the late Senator Zimmer?

Now it is worth pausing here for a moment to note that the attention-grabbing headline and story of at least one of these reports is regrettable, because it seems to suggest that the Senate may not get its fair share from the estate because of a $100,000.00 gift in the late Senator’s will to his former spouse, Ms. Sesenberger.2 What is more, the late Senator’s former spouse is portrayed in a rather negative light. Given the importance of mental health awareness today, it is regrettable that the account in question does not contain any discernable sympathetic tones about possible mental health issues. Further, no details on the relevant laws are presented, but then again, that might have doused the flames of hot emotion with cold water. What does this kind of reporting do to the memory of a deceased person and the family and friends who mourn their loss?

But let us return to our question: Can the Senate recover its expenses from the estate of the late Senator Zimmer? Without having read the will of the late Senator, if there is enough money to pay the Senate back, and the Senate expenses qualify as a debt in a court of law, the answer is “yes”. According to the early reports, the estate of the late Senator is worth approximately $1.3 million. Assuming that the estate is solvent, i.e. has more assets than debts, then the Senate could recover its expenses from the late Senator Zimmer’s estate. And to address the question which early reports seem to suggest: is there a chance that Ms. Sesenberger will get paid first, leaving insufficient money for the Senate expenses to be repaid in full? Based on applicable laws, including s. 5 of the Estate Administration Act and s. 32 of the Succession Law Reform Act, the answer is “no”. In the Province of Ontario, creditors stand in line ahead of the beneficiaries of cash gifts that are written into people’s wills. Therefore, should it be found that the Senate expenses in question qualify as a debt of the estate, the Senate will be paid first, along with all other creditors, and what is left after all other expenses, including taxes, are paid will be paid to Ms. Sesenberger and other estate beneficiaries.