In de­fence of ex­penses to MLAs

Premier says monthly pay­ments to MLAs cover costs re­lated to work

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - HOT ONLINE - BY TERESA WRIGHT twright­the­ Twit­

Monthly cheques pro­vided to back­bench MLAs for ex­penses are le­git­i­mate re­im­burse­ments and will likely soon be dis­closed to the pub­lic, says P.E.I. Premier W a de MacLauch­lan.

MacLauch­lan sat down for an in­ter­view with The Guardian Fri­day to dis­cuss back­bench MLA ex­penses fol­low­ing a meet­ing of his Lib­eral cau­cus on Fri­day.

He de­fended the $300 monthly al­lot­ment pro­vided to pri­vate mem­bers on the govern­ment side of the leg­is­la­ture for ex­penses.

“All of us are con­cerned that peo­ple rec­og­nize in the pub­lic that this is for the re­im­burse­ment of ex­penses that mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture have in­curred in the course of their work as MLAs,” MacLauch­lan said.

“It’s not a sup­ple­ment to any­one’s salary, it’s ac­tu­ally for ex­penses that leave them out of pocket, and that’s very much how we view it and how it has been viewed in the past and should be viewed go­ing for­ward.”

The amounts each back­bench MLA re­ceives for ex­penses, what kinds of ac­tiv­i­ties and items are ex­pensed and the fact no re­ceipts are re­quired were re­vealed ear­lier this month as part of a Guardian in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The money comes from an op­er­at­ing grant pro­vided to the Lib­eral, Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive and Green party back­bench of­fices to help run their daily affairs.

Un­til de­tails re­ported in The Guardian, al­most noth­ing was known of how the cau­cus op­er­at­ing grants are man­aged.

That’s be­cause they are not cur­rently dis­closed to the pub­lic. Also, spend­ing de­tails and records from all of­fices of the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly are ex­empt from re­lease un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion and Pro­tec­tion of Pri­vacy Act.

MacLauch­lan says the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Leg­isla­tive Man­age­ment, which over­sees the work of the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly, will dis­cuss the mat­ter at an up­com­ing meet­ing and de­cide whether MLA ex­penses should be dis­closed to the pub­lic.

He noted his pre­vi­ous com­mit­ments to greater dis­clo­sure of ex­pense spend­ing, in­clud­ing post­ing ex­penses of deputy min­is­ters and se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cials on­line in the spring.

At that time, he re­quested the leg­isla­tive man­age­ment com­mit­tee to fol­low suit, but so far this has not hap­pened.

“The most im­por­tant thing is that we have com­mit­ted all along, and I ex­pect that view will be re­flected as our mem­bers take part in that dis­cus­sion, a pref­er­ence for greater open­ness and trans­parency and that will be, I be­lieve, re­flected as things go for­ward.”

MacLauch­lan stressed his view that MLA ex­penses are le­git­i­mate and that neg­a­tive in­fer­ences about how this money is spent are un­war­ranted.

The op­er­at­ing grant of the cau­cus of­fices has been re­ferred to in pre­vi­ous Guardian sto­ries as a slush fund, a term used by re­tired Lib­eral cab­i­net min­is­ter Ron MacKin­ley.

“I think we all have to… be sure that we’re not cast­ing too many shad­ows over the work of the leg­is­la­ture over the MLAs,” MacLauch­lan said.

“We have a com­mon po­si­tion on this as­far as our cau­cus is con­cerned. We be­lieve the MLAs are do­ing a good job and that it’s rea­son­able for them to be re­im­bursed — and not an un­rea­son­able amount of money that’s in­volved — for ex­penses re­lated to their work.”

He would not share his per­sonal views on whether back­bench MLA ex­penses should be sub­ject to the same dis­clo­sure rules as cab­i­net min­is­ters and se­nior staffers.

He be­lieves it could be in­ter­preted as the premier telling the leg­is­la­ture what to do.

But he did re­it­er­ate one of his cam­paign pledges.

“I’m in favour of open­ness and trans­parency.”

Mean­while, Green Leader Peter Be­van-Baker has al­ready be­gun vol­un­tar­ily post­ing ex­penses from his of­fice, in­clud­ing hos­pi­tal­ity ex­penses, do­na­tions and of­fice sup­plies.

Speaker Buck Watts, who chairs the leg­isla­tive man­age­ment com­mit­tee, did not re­turn The Guardian’s re­quests for com­ment on this story.


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