We who pay the piper should call the tune

The Compass - - OPINION -

Yank­ing flyers, orig­i­nat­ing from MPs and other politi­cians, out of the mail­box is be­com­ing a fre­quent ac­tiv­ity in post of­fices na­tion­wide. Most of the flyers would like re­cip­i­ents to in­di­cate which party or politician is do­ing the best job in spe­cific ar­eas, be­fore re­turn­ing the brochures to their point of ori­gin.

How many con­stituents ac­tu­ally take the time to re­spond to such mail­ings?

Based on the garbage, which ends up in some post of­fice lob­bies, most of the flyers are im­me­di­ately con­signed to File 13, never to be seen or re­mem­bered any­more. Good rid­dance! Un­so­licited flyers clut­ter mail­boxes and garbage boxes. But that’s a lit­ter­ing is­sue for an­other day.

Once in a long while, though, a flyer gets the at­ten­tion it de­serves.

One such flyer ar­rived with the mail two weeks ago. It asks on one side, “ Who’s Ac­count­able?” The ques­tion is breath­lessly an­swered on the re­verse: “M.P. Scott An­drews Is!” The next words read, “M.P. Scott (An­drews) Re­leases All MP Ex­penses to the Pub­lic.”

An­drews ex­plains: “As your Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, I be­lieve it is nec­es­sary to be open and ac­count­able to you. For this rea­son, I have taken the op­por­tu­nity to make all my ex­pen­di­tures avail­able on my web­site.” Ku­dos to the MP for that. Tact must be em­ployed here, for fear of mis­un­der­stand­ing. The de­sire to know ex­actly how MPs spend our tax money may be per­ceived as an at­tempt to get a cheap, vi­car­i­ous thrill.

You may hear some­one say some­thing like, “it’s shockin’, b’y, how much money he spent on his Mis­sis trav­el­lin’ with him ... over five thou­sand dol­lars in one year.” But noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. Few among the body politic would want to know how much money An­drews spends on box­ers as op­posed to Bryl­cream. But know­ing the MP’s spend­ing habits in more ger­mane ar­eas should be a priv­i­lege ac­corded con­stituents.

A re­cent sur­vey found that 88 per cent of Cana­dian tax­pay­ers be­lieve that de­tailed ex­pense ac­counts of elected of­fi­cials should be open for pub­lic scru­tiny.

Tax­pay­ers have ev­ery right to know how their hard-earned dol­lars are be­ing spent by their mem­bers in the hal­lowed halls of the House of Com­mons. The priv­i­lege of pub­lic spend­ing de­mands pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity. Great re­spon­si­bil­ity and great ac­count­abil­ity are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. Pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity could even guard against mis­man­age­ment and mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of pub­lic funds.

Truth be known, the in­for­ma­tion is al­ready avail­able. While in­di­vid­ual MPs elect whether or not to add it to their web­sites, the spend­ing is pro­vided in the House of Com­mons In­di­vid­ual Mem­ber’s Ex­pen­di­tures. So it isn’t like some great se­cret. Check out the de­tails at http://www.parl.gc.ca/in­for­ma­tion/ about/ process/ house/ Gen­er­aLIn­for­ma­tion/ Mem­ber­sEx­penses-2008-2009-e.pdf.

How­ever, not ev­ery­one is able - or will­ing - to fol­low the cir­cuitous route to lo­cate that doc­u­ment. If it was posted on MP web­sites, across the board with­out ex­cep­tion, it would be con­ve­niently avail­able for pub­lic pe­rusal.

In the big­ger pic­ture, it does mat­ter to con­stituents how much their MPs spend on, for ex­am­ple, staff and other ex­penses, travel, ad­ver­tis­ing, of­fice lease and con­stituency of­fice fur­ni­ture and equip­ment im­prove­ment.

Scott An­drews has stepped up to the plate and cho­sen to make his ex­pen­di­tures pub­lic.

There is anec­do­tal ev­i­dence that other MPs will be fol­low­ing his ex­am­ple by in­clud­ing their Bud­get on their web­sites.

Now, when will we see such open ac­cess among mem­bers of the pro­vin­cial House of Assem­bly?

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