OTTAWA — Senators will soon be asked to give their blessing to a plan to have an arm's-length body oversee their spending practices, the Speaker of the Senate says.

Leo Housakos said a proposal to create the independent oversight body will be put before Conservative, Liberal and Independent senators when Parliament returns.

As part of that proposal, the Senate plans to hire a chief financial officer who would be required to give expert guidance to the powerful internal economy committee as one part of the job.

If senators agree to the plan, it would go along with a recommendation from the auditor general that ensures senators no longer have the final say about whether an expense claim falls inside or outside Senate rules.

Housakos wouldn't say who would be on the oversight body, how it would work or how it would report to the Senate.

"You're going to see there will be more oversight, there will be more transparency, there will be more accountability than ever before," Housakos said in the Senate foyer Friday.

"My objective and that of the vast majority of my colleagues is to make this place the most accountable legislature in Canada."

Auditor general Michael Ferguson's June audit of Senate spending said an independent oversight body — coupled with regular, outside audits — would promote "diligence and discipline" in the Senate and prevent problems from snowballing into those that engulfed Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau.

That report also saw the Senate send the spending files of seven past and two sitting senators to the RCMP for criminal review. They, along with 21 others named in the report, were ordered to repay the Senate a total of $992,663.

The most recent figures posted show the Senate has recouped $140,656 of the flagged spending. There remains $852,006 outstanding from 21 senators, 14 of whom have opted to challenge the findings as part of an arbitration process chaired by former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie.

Four senators whose files were sent to the RCMP for review recently told the Senate they were opting out of the arbitration process. Former Liberal senators Sharon Carstairs, Bill Rompkey, Rose-Marie Losier-Cool and former Conservative Gerry St. Germain can still opt back in to the process.

Those retired senators who don't pay their bill could end up in court.

Housakos also said he has yet to speak with prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau about the future of the Senate, including whether he would remain Speaker, who would be government leader in the Senate to usher through government legislation and when any of the 22 vacant seats in the upper chamber will be filled.

Housakos said the Senate is working fine with the 83 sitting senators and there are no hurdles in the upper chamber to making sure legislation is reviewed and passed.

"We're continue to be transparent and accountable and move the place forward," Housakos said. "The prime minister in due time will give his vision and guidance of how he sees this institution working."

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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