One item that the mainstream media covered briefly yesterday was the request by the Auditor-General General Sheila Fraser (my favourite civil servant along with Kevin Page). She had the unmitigated gall to ask our elected Members of Parliament and our Senators to audit their expenses. Needless to say, our MPs have such a sense of entitlement to our tax dollars that they told her to take a hike stating that this action would fall beyond the scope of her mandate. She is allowed to audit government departments and Crown corporations but not the legislative branch. Somehow, this just doesn't seem right to me.
For your information, it costs Canadians more than $500 million annually to run the legislative branch on Parliament Hill. With an expenditure of that size, certainly waste exists and there should be plenty of room for improvement exactly the same as there is in any large publicly traded corporation. As well, back in 2008, total office expenses for things like staff, travel, office rent etcetera claimed by Canada's 308 MPs reached $127 million, a jump of 42% since 2001. A jump of that size should have raised eyebrows. A separate group of expenses covers goods like telephone, printing office furniture and other improvements. This article in the Toronto Star from June 2009 is an interesting expose of how our MPs spend money
The Board of Internal Economy, a Parliamentary Committee that operates with absolutely no transparency, makes decisions in secret about MP and Senate office and other expenses. Canadian taxpayers know how much in total we are spending on these items, but we have no idea exactly what we're getting for our money. It is this same Board of Internal Economy that refused Ms. Fraser's request yesterday.
For your information, here are the members of the Board of Internal Economy and here's their mandate:
The Board claims that MPs expenses are audited externally, however, the last time the Auditor-General was "invited in" to perform an audit of expenses was 1991. I'd suggest that plenty has changed since that time; just look at the wasted tax dollars spent on "10 percenters". If MPs had to post their specific expenses for all Canadians to see, I'd suggest that the expenditure of $10 million annually on that program would have ended long ago.
In his budget of March 2010, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty projected that Canada would run a budget deficit of $49.2 billion for fiscal 2010 - 2011. By allowing the Auditor-General to examine expenses allowed for both MPs and Senators, savings could potentially be found.
After reading through the Globe and Mail article on this story, I did find one encouraging nugget. Scarborough Southwest MP Michele Simson (Liberal) has posted details of her expenses on her website for the sake of complete transparency. Congratulations to her! This should be the mandate, voluntary or otherwise, of all MPs and Senators. She does give Canadians an interesting snapshot of how our MPs are spending money. Her office budget was $129,000 annually back in 2008 - 2009 and she actually returned some of that money unspent. She spent a bit over $23,000 on travel and $5200 on printing. On the other hand, we have PEI's new Conservative Senator Mike Duffy who somehow managed to spend $100,848 on travel expenses alone during his first 3 months in office in 2009.
But I guess when you're entitled to spend someone else's money, you're not going to let a little thing like a threatened audit get in your way. I would suggest that if our MPs and Senators have nothing to hide, then they should let Ms. Fraser proceed with a thorough examination of their books but I suspect that's not the case.
The Globe and Mail kindly posted a copy of the 2008 - 2009 expenses for all MPs here. It makes for fascinating reading!