MP ex­penses need light too

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT -

Once is a chance. Twice is a co­in­ci­dence. Three times is a pat­tern. And folks, we have a pat­tern. Right now, in Nova Sco­tia, pro­vin­cial politi­cians are un­der the gun. Turns out they have an ex­pense scan­dal that many peo­ple in New­found­land and Labrador might rec­og­nize.

It’s a case of politi­cians tak­ing ad­van­tage of lax ex­pense rules – rules they set them­selves – to claim video games, com­puter sys­tems (as many as 12 per politi­cian over a hand­ful of years), home fire­places, MP3 play­ers, al­lowances of $48,000 apiece for which no re­ceipts were re­quired. And guess what. Just like in New­found­land, the lax rules were set up by a se­cre­tive in­ter­nal econ­omy board of pro­vin­cial politi­cians, and politi­cians are al­ready blam­ing the process rather than their own sticky fin­gers for the ex­cesses.

Here’s Premier Dar­rell Dex­ter: “Much of the dis­ser­vice here to the peo­ple of Nova Sco­tia was the fact that we failed to put in place a clearly iden­ti­fi­able sys­tem that dealt with ex­penses.... Had we done that, then we wouldn’t be here to­day.” Blah, blah, blah. When in doubt, point fin­gers at the sys­tem and ig­nore ethics.

There’s a cor­re­spond­ing scan­dal, on a much larger scale, in Bri­tain.

Mean­while, in Que­bec, the pro­vin­cial op­po­si­tion is ask­ing why the prov­ince’s lieu­tenant-gov­er­nor, Pierre Duch­esne, is spending $800,000 – some of it for new medals struck with his own im­age. They’ve asked him to ex­plain; he said he an­swers only to the Queen, and wouldn’t talk to the Que­bec Na­tional As­sem­bly.

Duch­esne re­placed Lise Thibault, who was tagged for over­spend­ing by au­di­tors who pointed out she failed to sup­ply re­ceipts for some claims, dou­ble-billed for oth­ers, and spent gov­ern­ment cash on golf games and fam­ily par­ties. In the end, $700,000 was un­ac­counted for, and Thibault has been charged with fraud, forgery and breach of trust.

It’s be­come clear that the urge to help your­self from the pub­lic trough crosses all party lines – and, ap­par­ently, all po­lit­i­cal con­sciences. ...What seems to be a con­stant ... is that politi­cians and other gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, given the op­tion, will make the most of what they can get.

That’s why it’s im­por­tant that they have the full-time fi­nan­cial over­sight they ap­par­ently need to stay hon­est.

As leg­is­la­tures across the land re­veal a clear pat­tern of scarf­ing down en­ti­tle­ments, there’s one shoe that still has not dropped – and there’s no sign it will just yet.

Fed­eral politi­cians still op­er­ate within a se­cret ex­pense scheme that the fed­eral au­di­tor gen­eral is not al­lowed to re­view. As was the case in Nova Sco­tia, New­found­land and Labrador, Bri­tain, Canada’s par­lia­men­tary ex­pense funds have been ripe for the pick­ing. We’ve seen what the other ex­per­i­ments in self-polic­ing have brought – crim­i­nal charges and pat­terns of self-serv­ing spending.

Who wants to bet that Canada’s par­lia­men­tar­i­ans are any dif­fer­ent?

– The Tele­gram, St. John’s

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