IN THE NEWS - Conservatives to publicly disclose expense claims by party's MPs, senators

OTTAWA - Federal Conservative MPs and senators have started keeping track of their expense claims, as they stand poised to become the latest party to provide more detail to the public on how they are spending taxpayer dollars.

That could leave the NDP as the odd-man out when it comes to providing additional information about their parliamentarians' expenses, as the Liberals started posting information about their MPs' and senators' travel and meal claims earlier this week.

Yet the NDP says the other two parties are actually muddying the waters by appearing to provide more transparency but keeping most things secret. They say this reiterates their calls to take the expense system out of Parliament's hands completely, and hand it to a third party.

Government House Leader John Duncan told the House of Commons on Thursday that the Conservatives are willing to work with the other federal parties to develop a system for ensuring better oversight of parliamentarians' spending.

However, he said that until such a system is in place, "Conservative parliamentarians will do it themselves."

A government official confirmed Conservatives are planning to disclose the travel and meal expenses to the public, and started tracking those claims on Wednesday. The information is expected to be published online at the end of November.

That would follow in the footsteps of the Liberals, who started disclosing similar details about how they were spending taxpayers' money on travel and meals earlier this week after promising to do so in the spring.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau welcomed the government's decision, saying: "Any moves towards openness and transparency and rebuilding the trust that has been broken between Canadians and parliamentarians is a good thing."

Yet while Trudeau sought to take credit for having ushered in a new era of parliamentary transparency, his own party's disclosures have been the subject of criticism as they provide few details and only go back a few weeks.

Trudeau acknowledged room for improvement and welcomed a "competition" with the other parties to see who could disclose the most.

"I think the winners in that competition ultimately will be Canadians," he said.

Trudeau would not say why his party didn't go all-in by posting specific details and expanding the expense disclosures to include office spending and other things.

Instead, he said the Liberal disclosure summaries are based on those posted under law by cabinet ministers, which he described as "effective."

However, unlike cabinet ministers, the detailed receipts for Liberal MPs and senators are not available under the access-to-information law, meaning individual details are not revealed.

NDP MP Peter Julian said the Liberals aren't providing more transparency around their spending, but are actually confusing Canadians as their disclosures lack detail, and there's no way to make sure they are even reporting all meals and travel.

"What we're getting now is a dog's breakfast of proactive disclosure which is intended on not informing the public, but confusing the public," he said. "What the Liberals did this week isn't providing transparency but complete confusion."

The NDP has opposed following in the other parties' footsteps, and instead argued that the monitoring and reporting of parliamentarians' expenses should be taken out of Parliament's hands and given to an independent third-party.

Julian said the NDP will continue pushing this plan, which has so far received support from the other parties, through the fall.

"We don't need a partial system," he said. "There needs to be complete transparency."

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