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.