The Harper Con­ser­va­tives, the Op­po­si­tion are keep­ing us in the dark


The Christ­mas break in­ter­rupted the abysmal work of the Com­mons com­mit­tee on pro­ce­dure, tasked with find­ing a way for MPs to ac­count pub­licly for the mil­lions of tax­payer dol­lars they spend on travel, con­tracts, and staff.

Re­call that tax­pay­ers only found out about the ex­pense shenani­gans in the Se­nate through a se­ries of leaks to the me­dia. The ex­pense claims and re­ceipts of se­na­tors are top se­cret doc­u­ments, not avail­able to the pub­lic who pay them. Se­na­tors, like MPs, are not sub­ject to the fed­eral Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act. The Au­di­tor Gen­eral of Canada, who au­dits the army, the RCMP, and the Cana­dian Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, is not al­lowed to au­dit MPs and Se­na­tors with­out their per­mis­sion.

The ex­e­crable Com­mons com­mit­tee on pro­ce­dure lis­tened to the tes­ti­mony of the Au­di­tor Gen­eral, who told them he should au­dit them and make the au­dits pub­lic. They lis­tened to the In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner of Canada, who told them that they should make their travel and of­fice ex­penses, re­ceipts, and con­tracts pub­lic, and sub­ject to the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act. They even lis­tened to the Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers Fed­er­a­tion, who told them to al­low au­dits and put their ex­penses and re­ceipts online.

In­stead, the com­mit­tee voted to stick with the sta­tus quo, add a few more col­umns to the sum­mary spend­ing ta­bles they pub­lish for each MP, and pub­lish the ta­bles more of­ten.

NDP MPs dis­sented from the laugh­able com­mit­tee re­port, yet they con­tinue to refuse to pro­vide so much as a word of ex­pla­na­tion for their travel and of­fice ex­penses. Lib­eral MPs post travel ex­pense in­for­ma­tion on the Lib­eral Party web­site, which is scant of de­tails, if you’re lucky enough to find a page that ac­tu­ally works.

Con­ser­va­tive MPs keep spend­ing de­tails se­cret: of­fice ex­penses, con­tracts, salaries, hos­pi­tal­ity. But they proac­tively post de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about some of the trips they take.

One trip that was dis­closed was by On­tario Con­ser­va­tive MP Pa­trick Brown, a marathon run­ner. Brown wanted to en­ter the New York marathon in 2012 to raise money for di­a­betes re­search, but a hur­ri­cane in­ter­rupted his plans.

MPs are en­ti­tled to two trips to New York City each year to par­tic­i­pate in the work of the United Na­tions. Brown had never gone. But in 2013, Brown ar­ranged a trip to the UN for Novem­ber 3rd, the Mon­day af­ter the New York marathon, paid his own tab for the ho­tel on Satur­day, ran the marathon, headed to the UN the next day, du­ti­fully at­tended his meet­ings, and went home. Then Brown posted all the ex­pense de­tails on his web­site, mi­nus the re­ceipts, and he re­ported his char­ity fundrais­ing suc­cess on his web site, Face­book and Twit­ter ac­counts.

All hell broke loose. Af­ter a day or two of bad pub­lic­ity, Brown de­cided to pick up the tab for the New York trip, where he ran 26 miles, raised $8,520 for di­a­betes re­search and vis­ited the UN.

Mean­while, over the win­ter break, MPs from all par­ties were fly­ing all over the planet, to ex­otic warm des­ti­na­tions, us­ing pub­lic funds, for in­ter­na­tional par­lia­men­tary con­fer­ences, par­lia­men­tary friend­ship groups and good­will tours. None of this is dis­closed proac­tively on any MP’s web­site.

Some MPs book dozens of trips, run­ning up six fig­ure travel bud­gets. Some take their spouses and fam­i­lies. Some take dozens of trips not be­tween Ottawa and the com­mu­ni­ties they rep­re­sent, not to the UN, not to Wash­ing­ton, just some­where. And they refuse to say where.

In agree­ing to per­son­ally cover his $1,416.06 travel tab for the trip to New York, Brown de­fended the time he spent at the UN. His meet­ings he said, dealt with hu­man rights, with the treat­ment of the Tamil pop­u­la­tion in war torn Sri Lanka. Brown has many con­stituents in his rid­ing who come from Sri Lanka.

He said he had raised the is­sue a year ear­lier, at a UN con­fer­ence in Geneva. Wait a minute! Geneva? Who knew about that jun­ket? Where is that one listed? What did that one cost? It’s any­body’s guess. MPs and Se­na­tors are still op­er­at­ing in the dark ages when it comes to ac­count­abil­ity. They like it in the dark just fine.

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