Spare the tax­pay­ers ex- GGs’ vice-re­gal bills

The Delhi News-Record - - OPINION - AARON WUDRICK Aaron Wudrick is fed­eral spokesper­son for the Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers Fed­er­a­tion.

Have you ever had a job that comes with a gen­er­ous ex­pense ac­count? How about one where you get to keep your ex­pense ac­count even af­ter you leave the job?

If this sounds too good to be true, you haven’t heard about the great deal Canada’s gov­er­nors gen­eral have been get­ting for the last 40 years.

As the Queen’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Canada, serv­ing as gov­er­nor gen­eral is ar­guably the most pres­ti­gious ap­point­ment in pol­i­tics, with most serv­ing for be­tween five and seven years. While of­ten de­scribed as a “fig­ure­head,” there is no deny­ing that, con­sti­tu­tion­ally, the gov­er­nor gen­eral plays an im­por­tant cer­e­mo­nial role in our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment.

As you might ex­pect for such a po­si­tion, the role comes with a lot of perks, in­clud­ing a salary of $288,000, a large staff, and an of­fi­cial res­i­dence (Rideau Hall) with 175 rooms.

But per­haps the most sur­pris­ing perks of all come af­ter a gov­er­nor gen­eral has left of­fice.

First, there is an in­fla­tion-ad­justed pen­sion of $143,000 per year. Not a bad re­turn for five years of work.

Then, there’s the “start-up grant” for ex-gov­er­nors gen­eral who want to es­tab­lish a char­ity. For­mer gov­er­nor gen­eral Adri­enne Clark­son re­ceived $3 mil­lion to cre­ate the In­sti­tute for Cana­dian Ci­ti­zen­ship.

But the real kicker is that on top of all this, ex-gov­er­nors gen­eral can still bill tax­pay­ers for “ex­penses” for years af­ter they’ve left of­fice. And tax­pay­ers don’t even get to know what it’s for. Cur­rent ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion laws don’t cover the gov­er­nor gen­eral (or Par­lia­ment it­self, sep­a­rate from ac­tual gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, for that mat­ter), so we don’t even get to know what we’re pay­ing for.

This shock­ing pol­icy first came to light in 2011 when it was re­ported that Clark­son had billed tax­pay­ers for more than $500,000 for “tem­po­rary” sec­re­tar­ial help since leav­ing of­fice in 2005. Clark­son de­fended the ex­penses as nec­es­sary for her to deal with cor­re­spon­dence and re­quests for speak­ing en­gage­ments that con­tin­ued to come in af­ter her term as gov­er­nor gen­eral ended.

Fast for­ward to 2018 and ap­par­ently Clark­son’s “tem­po­rary” needs have be­come per­ma­nent: her bill to tax­pay­ers for ex­penses now stands at more than $1.1 mil­lion.

In­ter­est­ingly, the ex­penses for a for­mer gov­er­nor gen­eral only ap­pear in the pub­lic ac­counts as a sep­a­rate line item if they ex­ceed $100,000 — and since 1995, only two for­mer gov­er­nors gen­eral have gone over that thresh­old — Romeo LeBlanc twice (2008 and 2009) and Clark­son, who billed tax­pay­ers for six fig­ures a stag­ger­ing nine of the 12 years since she left of­fice.

Be­ing flip­pant with tax­pay­ers money is noth­ing new for Clark­son, who served from 1999 to 2005, and while in of­fice was crit­i­cized for nearly dou­bling her pre­de­ces­sor’s spend­ing and over­shoot­ing her bud­get for a trip to north­ern Canada by $4 mil­lion.

But as with most gen­er­ous gov­ern­ment poli­cies it’s hard to blame the peo­ple with ac­cess to them for tak­ing ad­van­tage of them. We can, how­ever blame gov­ern­ments for not fix­ing them. It’s hard to be­lieve that in 40 years, no gov­ern­ment both­ered to fix this pol­icy — es­pe­cially once it be­came pub­lic in 2011.

Right­ing this wrong can’t come too soon. The Trudeau gov­ern­ment should act, and they have good rea­son to since they’re al­ready run­ning deficits twice the size they promised.

To get back to a bal­anced bud­get, they’re go­ing to need to find sav­ings any­where they can.

Elim­i­nat­ing this un­lim­ited, se­cre­tive ex­pense ac­count for for­mer gov­er­nors gen­eral would be a great place to start.

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