Mlas need to get se­ri­ous on ex­penses

Calgary Sun - - COMMENT -

Let’s give credit to the mem­bers’ ser­vices com­mit­tee of the Al­berta leg­is­la­ture.

At their first meet­ing since this sum­mer’s Airbnb scan­dal, com­mit­tee mem­bers banned the prac­tice of MLAs rent­ing out their tax­payer-sub­si­dized apart­ments on third-party va­ca­tion rental sites and pock­et­ing the cash.

The need for the rule change was clear after it was re­vealed in Au­gust that for­mer UCP MLA Derek Filde­brandt had col­lected more than $2,000 in Airbnb fees for his down­town Ed­mon­ton apart­ment dur­ing times when he was out of the cap­i­tal, even though his rent on the unit was sub­si­dized by work­ing Al­ber­tans.

Or­di­nary Al­ber­tans might not think this is much of an ac­com­plish­ment for MLAs. It’s merely do­ing the right thing. Why pat them on the back for what they should al­ways have been do­ing in the first place?

But re­mem­ber, MPs in Ot­tawa got caught in con­tro­ver­sies over their ex­penses in 2010 and again in 2012. They too promised fixes at the time. Yet nearly eight years later tax­pay­ers are still wait­ing for so­lu­tions.

Must MLAs do more? Of course. But even be­fore the Filde­brandt con­tro­versy, Al­berta’s mem­bers’ ser­vices com­mit­tee was con­duct­ing a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of how all their ex­penses are han­dled.

So let’s give them credit for their first step for­ward and en­cour­age them to fin­ish and re­lease their over­all ex­pense re­view ASAP.

But let’s also give them some ad­vice about the kinds of re­forms their ex­penses need.

The over­all guid­ing phi­los­o­phy for any pub­lic of­fi­cial’s ex­penses – es­pe­cially elected of­fi­cials – should be: Would or­di­nary, work­ing Al­ber­tans be able to claim the same kinds of ex­penses? If the an­swer is ‘no,’ don’t do it.

Never make your­selves more im­por­tant than the people who voted you into of­fice. If you are go­ing to be the ser­vant of the people who sent you to par­lia­ment, the leg­is­la­ture or city hall, then act like it.

Don’t vote your­selves richer, eas­ier ben­e­fits and ex­pense re­im­burse­ment than your con­stituents are able to re­ceive at their work­places.

And an­other piece of ad­vice: Re­ceipts, re­ceipts, re­ceipts.

Even in­clud­ing Filde­brandt’s dou­ble-dip­ping on rent, the sums Al­berta MLA’s have re­ceived in un­war­ranted re­im­burse­ment is com­par­a­tively tiny. Nonethe­less, they should not be re­ceiv­ing blan­ket ex­pense per diems – daily ex­pense cheques for set amounts whether they come close to spend­ing that amount on meals, taxes and other ex­penses, or not.

If MLAs want tax­pay­ers to pay them back for the costs they le­git­i­mately in­cur, they should have to sub­mit re­ceipts for ev­ery­thing.

Yes, of course. They’re busy people and fil­ing de­tailed ex­pense claims takes time.

But MLAs aren’t spend­ing their own money, or even share­hold­ers’ money. They are spend­ing tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars.

And since tax­pay­ers’ have no choice but to give up their money to gov­ern­ment, then elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives have a dou­ble duty to show they are spend­ing tax dol­lars le­git­i­mately.

It’s a mind­set thing, too. If MLAs have to ac­count for ev­ery dol­lar of their own ex­pense claims, per­haps they’ll learn to be a lit­tle more re­spect­ful of all the other bil­lions of tax dol­lars they spend.

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