IN THE NEWS ~ MP expense disclosure good, but not great



MPs broke with tradition recently, voting unanimously in favour of a Liberal motion (271-0) to post detailed transactions from their travel and hospitality expense accounts on the Internet. This step is undoubtedly in the right direction, but stops short of being considered "enough." And the debate in the Commons showed that while the vote was unanimous, party opinions on expenses are far from the same. On the issue of MP expense accountability, the NDP took the most principled stand.

MPs and senators each control hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds for salaries, contracts, advertising, hospitality, travel and housing allowances.

In years past, taxpayers were only provided with the yearly total spending by each MP or senator. More recently, the number was broken down into three categories. Then more categories were added as additional incidents of sketchy spending came to light.

The most egregious example was Gilles Duceppe's decision, as leader of the Bloc Québécois, to put his party's executive director on the parliamentary payroll, with that person based exclusively in Montreal.

Duceppe also used the Bloc's parliamentary budget to pay an author to write a history of the Bloc - the book was published, you can still pick up a used copy. Astonishingly, net proceeds were never forwarded to the taxpayers of Canada.

Sadly, the Liberal motion that passed the Commons did not go far enough.

The Conservatives and Liberals blocked an NDP amendment that would have called on the Auditor General to review MPs' expenses. Peter Julian, an NDP MP from British Columbia, needed unanimous consent to allow the amendment, but the Liberals and Conservatives refused.

As well, there is no provision in the new motion that would compel politicians to show the public the receipts and contracts - the actual documentation - submitted in exchange for the expense money they receive.

In progressive jurisdictions, such as the province of Alberta and the City of Toronto, receipts and contracts submitted by politicians, political staffers, and senior officials are posted online - anyone can inspect the documents with the click of a mouse. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says she will soon introduce legislation that will meet the same high standard of disclosure.

Gregory Thomas is federal director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

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