IN THE HOUSE ~ Debate ~ NDP Motion on MPs' expenses and independent oversight

This was posted more than 12 months ago. The information may be outdated.

    I will give a bit of history because I think that is important. The history starts back in the halcyon days of June 18, 2013. On June 18, the NDP presented a motion. We said that, given the importance of having that full disclosure and that transparency, we would move to have the procedure and House affairs committee do away with the secretive Board of Internal Economy, which right now regulates the expenses of MPs.

    Members will recall that on June 18, which is an historic date, the other parties agreed. The Conservatives said that maybe it was good to do away with that secretive Board of Internal Economy and that no longer would the expenses and difficulties of MPs be treated in a back room but rather would be policed by MPs themselves. Who would expect MPs to police their own expenses? That is something that is not rocket science to the average Canadian. They all feel it is important to have a system with checks and balances. When we have MPs policing themselves, it does not seem to make a lot of sense.

    On June 18 we offered that motion. It was adopted unanimously. Then we took it to the procedure and House affairs committee and members will unfortunately recall the results. We had a lot of important testimony.

    I will contradict the member for Vancouver Island North, who said something a few minutes ago about the Auditor General somehow supporting the idea that the Auditor General not have jurisdiction over the expenses of MPs. I would like to be clear that it is completely false. I quote Sheila Fraser, the former Auditor General, who said, “I think Parliament's auditor should audit Parliamentâ€�. The current Auditor General came before the procedure and House affairs committee and also reiterated what Sheila Fraser had said, that the Auditor General needs to have jurisdiction over the expenses of MPs.

    Like most Canadians, members might question what that means. Does the Auditor General not have jurisdiction now? That is true. It is a surprise to so many Canadians. We have a secretive Board of Internal Economy maintained by the current government. It does not want to see that changed. The Conservatives steadfastly refuse to give the Auditor General that control and oversight over the expenses of MPs. What is wrong with this picture? Even Conservative voters would say, “You're kidding me. The Conservatives want to keep all this in the back room and the Conservatives want to keep the Auditor General away. That doesn't make any senseâ€�. That indeed is the position of the Conservatives. They have a partial expense scheme that, when we take out all their senators and the dozens of MPs that do not even get involved—for folks who want to check that out they can go online and see how many Conservatives are missing from the partial expense scheme—they, at the same time, do not want to see the Auditor General involved and do not want to do away with the secretive self-policing of the Board of Internal Economy.

    The current Auditor General thought differently when he said, “Independent oversight of MPs' expenses would strengthen member's accountability and enhance public confidence in the governance mechanisms of the House of Commons.â€�

    We have had both past and current auditors general saying very clearly that they want jurisdiction over the expenses of MPs. We have also had the current Auditor General say that we need to have independent oversight.

    The procedure and House affairs committee were called upon to look into that study. As a result of the NDP motion that, at the time, on June 18, was supported unanimously I recall, the procedure and House affairs committee heard from a number of witnesses who provided a little more testimony around what type of independent body could replace this secretive Board of Internal Economy. That secretive self-policing could be replaced by something like what we have in the United Kingdom, an independent parliamentary standards authority, which has that independent oversight over the expenses of MPs. It is not self-policing in the United Kingdom. There is independent oversight.

     That is a key difference and a key policy difference between the NDP and the Conservatives. The Conservatives want self-policing of MPs and the NDP wants to see independent oversight.

Context : Point of Order

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, I think if you consult the table, you will find that that is in order. What may not be in order is the fact that there has been another motion put on the floor. In that case, it would be unanimous consent that would be required.

Context : Point of Order

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, what I am saying is, you are saying it is not in order because it is out of the scope of the motion. I believe that is incorrect. It is not because it is out of the scope, but because there is another amendment on the floor.

    Could you clarify that for me, please?

Context : Point of Order

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, with unanimous consent, that can be considered in order.

Context : Point of Order

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, in this case, what I will do then is again propose, seconded by my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville, for unanimous consent, that the motion be amended by adding after the words “ministerial expensesâ€� the following “and call on the Bureau of Internal Economy to invite the Auditor General to audit this disclosureâ€�.

    I am hoping for unanimous consent for this motion, which would be in order.

Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier in my speech, for the last eight years my expenses have been put online every year, so my constituents can actually look at my expenses. In a very proactive way, that is what the NDP has been doing.

    Until very recently, other parties were not doing that. Now we are starting to see other parties starting to put their verified expenses online. That is welcome. It is something we all support.

    As of April 1, that will be happening every three months. Every three months, my constituents will be able to go online and see, with the improved disclosure as of April 1, exactly what I have been spending as an MP.

    Again, that is something that most MPs do not do. Every single NDP MP does this. That is the distinction.

    People do not have to take my word for it. Members can take a few minutes and actually check MPs' websites. They will see who actually has their disclosure of expenses, and who does not.

    Some may say that it may be found in a party website somewhere. We just do not think that is acceptable. What our constituents need to be able to do is go on our website. That is the website address they get through all of our mailings.

    For every single NDP MP, people can see the verified expenses from the House of Commons. That is what Canadians deserve. I hope other parties do the same.

Context : Debate

    There could not be a clearer division between those who want to see real accountability and those who do not.

    I will be speaking to it in a moment and offering an amendment that I believe my colleague from the Liberal Party would accept, but we also believe the Auditor General the ability to look into MPs' expenses, not on an invitational basis, because that is where the Conservatives assertively stand their ground. They say that they can invite them in if we are all agreed. That amounts to self-policing again. We are saying that the Auditor General should have the resources and the ability to go in and check.

    I just got an update from our fabulous lobby team. It is always very interesting to see what is happening on the floor of the House of Commons.

    We also looked into, and our report coming out of the procedure and House affairs committee very clearly spoke to, having the ability for access to information to also cover MPs' expenses.

    The Information Commissioner has called for this. The Information Commissioner does believe that access to information should also cover Parliament Hill and MPs' offices with a system of checks and balances that has to be in place to preserve confidentiality. We are talking about expenditures. We are talking about something that is part of the public domain.

    We brought forward, after the unanimous support in the House of Commons on June 18, a plan to make MPs' expenses much more accountable and to have that full disclosure. We had already pushed for the April 1 date that all parties have agreed to, and we are very happy that we will see enhanced disclosure as of April 1. We will start to see it released on a three-month basis, and that is very important too.

    What is most important in that overall framework is that we are talking about uniform and complete and verified expenses, not partial expenses, not schemes, where MPs who self-police where there is no oversight from the Auditor General, but rather MPs can release whatever it is they choose to release and not release what they do not want to release. It has to be complete, it has to be verified and it has to be uniform so that we can compare one member of Parliament to another.

    Members of Parliament for the most part work hard and they certainly make sure they are justifying their expenses, but the reality is, if we do not have apples compared to apples, it is difficult for the public to then compare and make sure they know what their MP is spending compared to other members of Parliament.

    The fact that every single NDP MP puts it right up on their website, the website that is part of the information they send out to their constituents, is very important. It is not for show. It is a very practical tool that my constituents have been using for eight years.

    For eight years, with my annual disclosures, I get questions: Why did I spend this amount on this. I can answer those questions. They come in from my constituents, because for eight years my constituents have been able to go online directly to my website, find my expenses and find out how much I spent.

    This would be happening on a three month basis, and that is good. That means every three months we will be responding to the questions that quite legitimately come from my constituents who pay my salary. That is extremely important.

    The enhanced disclosure on April 1 will also add to increasing disclosure and transparency, but I do not believe, and the NDP caucus does not believe, that is enough.

    Those three other elements have to be part of the package. I know Conservatives have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into more disclosure, but we are saying, and we will continue to say, the Auditor General needs to, as he has requested and as previous Auditors General have requested, have the ability to go in and examine MPs' expenses.

    It has to be done in a very clear way, not in a way where the Office of Auditor General then has to stop other expense studies it is currently engaged in because of a lack of resources. We have seen, under the Conservative government, the Auditor General's department being cut back severely. That makes it more difficult for that good institution to do an effective job on behalf of taxpayers.

Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, I like the member for Labrador, although the reality is that most Canadians believe oversight comes from some body other than MPs themselves. The Board of Internal Economy is secretive and it is MPs policing themselves.

    We put forward a motion on June 18 and Liberals and Conservatives voted for it. It passed unanimously. Obviously, Liberals and Conservatives at that time agreed with us and the vast majority of Canadians that we cannot have a self-policing system and have the same legitimacy no matter how good people are.

    I mentioned earlier in my speech that MPs are generally very good at managing their own budgets, but the reality is that self-policing is not a go. That is why the Liberals and the Conservatives voted for the NDP motion. We are just asking them to follow through and keep their commitment of June 18. We are asking them to vote for NDP motions. Let us do away with self-policing and bring in the Auditor General.

Context : Debate

    We say that the Auditor General needs to be examining the expenses of MPs, and the Auditor General needs to have adequate resources to that.

    We are also saying that access to information should apply on Parliament Hill. We think that because the Information Commissioner has requested this, it is an extremely important element to include as part of an overall transparency package.

    Also, something we are not going to give up on, is the secretive and unaccountable Board of Internal Economy which should be removed from overseeing MP expenses.

    I mentioned the United Kingdom. It has an independent standards authority, which is working very well. Another example of independent oversight in Canada is the government of Manitoba, an NDP government, which has put in place a commissioner to oversee those expenses.

    I think it would be fair to say that if we asked 100 Canadians if MPs should be policing themselves, we would have 99 out of 100 saying “Gosh no, there needs to be some kind of independent oversight. We should not have MPs policing themselves on expenses. There has to be independent oversightâ€�. That is what 99 out of 100 people would say. The 100th person would probably ask that the question be repeated, and would then probably agree that there should not be self-policing but an independent oversight of MPs' expenses.

    This is the package that we put forward, which was supported by testimony from the Information Commissioner. It was also supported by testimony from not only the current Auditor General but previous auditors general. They have said very clearly that they need that jurisdiction, which they currently do not have, over MPs' expenses. It was also reinforced by many other witnesses.

    Tragically, as members know, we ran into a brick wall after the public support received on June 18, and it was met by a great deal of support from across the country. I personally had a number of calls and emails from coast to coast to coast from Canadians saying “good on the NDP for presenting the motion. Good on all parties for accepting itâ€�. However, in a very real way, I guess the Conservatives were following-up on that adage of forming a committee that is a dead-end road where a good idea is taken down into the back streets and quietly strangled. Indeed, that is what happened in this case. Those very good ideas, clearly met with the support of the vast majority of Canadians, were strangled in committee.

    We presented a dissenting report that has been circulated widely across the country in which we called upon the government to look at this issue of the Auditor General. We are not going to give up on the issue of having the Auditor General look over MPs' expenses. We believe strongly and firmly that we need to have that independent, credible body looking and making sure that MPs' expenses have been properly analyzed.

    Rather than this self-policing, which currently seems to be the vogue from the government side, we honestly believe that the Board of Internal Economy having MPs self-policing MPs' expenses is something that should be ended. This is something we obviously would receive from the public a great deal of support on.

    Those are the ideas that we continue to put forward. We know the government does not support these ideas, but we think Canadians do. Therefore, I will propose the following motion.

    Je propose, appuyé par ma collègue de Terrebonne—Blainville que la motion soit modifiée par adjonction après les mots « dépenses ministérielles Â» de ce qui suit: qu'elle demande au Bureau de régie interne d'inviter le Bureau du vérificateur général à vérifier cette divulgation.

Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, I have to admit that I find this really funny. The Conservatives said something that actually was not accurate. Now they are being caught up on it. There are dozens of Conservatives who did not even participate in their partial disclosure scheme, let alone actually have a direct link from their website to their annual House of Commons expenses. Now that they have been caught out on this, they are saying, “My goodness. We are going to try to blame somebody else for the problems that we as Conservative MPs have in refusing disclosure.â€�.

    As I mentioned earlier, and I will say this again, and I know the Conservatives do not like this, every single NDP MP has a direct link from his or her annual expenses that are verified through the House of Commons. As of April 1, it will be every three months, and that is wonderful.

    However, more important, every single NDP MP actually believes that the Auditor General should be allowed to have jurisdiction over MPs' expenses. We actually believe we should be doing away with that secretive Board of Internal Economy that the Conservatives want to hang on to, to have MPs policing their own expenses.

    Every single NDP MP believes in transparency, and we hope someday the Conservatives will join us in that.

Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian: Yes, Mr. Speaker, the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek is absolutely right. This is the problem. After a motion was adopted by all parties at the procedure and House affairs committee, the Conservatives said, “We are going to do away with the self-policingâ€�. Once the d cameras were shut down and the lights were turned off, they decided to take a completely different stand.

    Today, members saw my amendment. We had a bit of a dialogue about. All that we moved was that the Auditor General be invited to audit the disclosure. Is there nothing more motherhood and apple pie than that: bring in the Auditor General just for this disclosure? The Conservatives spoke strongly against it. They rejected that.

     I can just say, shame on them. Shame on them for refusing to have the Auditor General come in and monitor MPs' expenses. Shame on them to have to answer to their constituents.