Guest shot

Expense submissions of MPs and senators should be public

Senator Mike Duffy certainly isn’t the first Ottawa politician to get some unwanted scrutiny from RCMP investigators.

But unless politicians of all political stripes get serious about accountability soon, he likely won’t be the last either.

It’s disturbing to witness the speed with which Duffy and fellow senators Patrick Brazeau, Mac Harb, and Pamela Wallin have been thrown under the bus, while senators and MPs move to sweep the broader question of accountability under the carpet.

Under enormous pressure, the Senate board of internal economy met in public, for the first time ever, and tightened up its rules relating to expense claims.

But the 10 rule changes only served to reveal how ridiculously loose the old rules had been. Senators will now need to submit a receipt if they want to be reimbursed for a taxi ride – previously, they didn’t need to do that.

Unbelievably, the Senate continues to withhold basic documentation on expenses from the public, including the actual claims signed by senators, and supporting receipts. And the Senate still refuses to bring in the Auditor General to inspect the claims of every senator.

Senator Duffy claimed Ottawa living expenses on 49 days when he wasn’t in Ottawa. We know this because somebody leaked the story to the media.

Canadians still have no right to see Duffy’s expenses; he’s exempt from the Access to Information Act, and he’s exempt from the scrutiny of the Auditor General, just like every other senator.

It’s the same with MPs. Our most important anti-corruption legislation simply doesn’t apply to them, unless they’re cabinet ministers.

MPs and senators don’t want the Access to Information Act to apply to their expenses and their office budgets.

Even NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the Auditor General “gave the systems in place a clean bill of health for being able to determine if the expenses were valid and if there was a proper tracking system.”

Did Mulcair read the same 2012 Auditor General’s report? The AG didn’t audit MPs or the work performed by their employees or consultants in their Ottawa offices or constituency offices, nor did he audit professional services contracts awarded by individual MPs.

In fact the AG examined only 264 transactions – less than one for each of Canada’s 308 MPs – out of the 85,000 transactions processed in that entire fiscal year.

Canadians have no proof that MPs and senators are clean when it comes to their expenses. We rely on leaks to the media to find out how our tax dollars are being spent.

Until MPs and Senators are subject to the Access to Information Act and the Auditor General has unfettered access to their secret financial records, more will cheat and more will be caught and quickly thrown under the bus.

And it’s getting a tad crowded under that bus.

Gregory Thomas is the federal director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.




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