Mlas need to get serious on expenses
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.