Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Not Negotiating with Sheila Fraser

The story of Auditor-General Sheila Fraser's requested audit of MPs expenses has morphed slowly over this past weekend. Back in early May, the all-party Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons rejected Ms. Fraser's request to audit the House of Commons, most specifically MP expenses which total over $500 million annually. The last time the expenses of the House of Commons and Senate were audited by the Auditor-General (Denis Desautels) was in 1991.

The NDP have decided (finally, after everyone else joined the party) that they will not stand in the way of further negotiations with Auditor-General Sheila Fraser regarding her request to audit MP expenses, following in the footsteps of the flip-flopping being done by both the Conservatives and Liberals. Earlier, the NDP had claimed that since Ms. Fraser was an officer of Parliament, an audit performed by her would be like "auditing her own bosses". Hardly. Like most Canadians, I don't believe that Ms. Fraser would be biased in performing an audit of Parliament since she appears to be quite independent of both the government and MPs. Most Canadians seem to trust Ms. Fraser's impartiality and integrity and, sadly, far more than we trust those we are forced to elect to public office election after election. In fact, I suspect she would hands-down win an electoral race should she chose to participate.

In the case of the Conservatives, Mr. Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas stated on Sunday that:

“The Prime Minister is keen to see discussions continue. He’s also keen to see this matter resolved with more transparency...”.

Perhaps, as usual, Mr. Harper is basing his new position on the results of the latest poll that shows that 88% of Canadians want to see an audit of MP expenses. Mr. Ignatieff also flip flopped stating that what he supported was:

"Sheila Fraser, the Auditor-General, coming to the Board of Internal Economy and talking about what she wants to do and then taking it from there..."

I find it most interesting (and more than a bit frustrating) that the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals are all forcing Ms. Fraser to "negotiate" and "discuss what she wants to do" with regard to an audit. There should be NO negotiation and NO discussion; this audit should be mandatory, non-negotiable and should be performed regularly (i.e. more frequently than every 10 to 15 years) to ensure both transparency and complete honesty.

Canada's Election Act should be changed before the next election requiring that all candidates from all Parties agree that their detailed expenses be posted on both their personal/MP websites and on the Parliamentary website. If the individual running for the office of MP is not willing to subscribe to complete transparency when it involves spending taxpayers' funds, then they should not be allowed to run. If potential MPs are not willing to tell us how they are spending our money, then they obviously have character deficiencies that make them poor candidates for political office. As I've posted previously, MP Michelle Simson (Liberal - Scarborough Southwest) posts her expenses on her website. Here is a screen cap of her disclosure (I hope she doesn't mind):

She sets a fine example to other MPs of all Parties; her expense statement is transparent, complete and detailed enough that it provides her constituents with an excellent view of the efficient manner in which she performs her duties. MP Marlene Jennings (Liberal - Notre-Dame-de-Grace-Lachine) also posts a "Proactive Disclosure" on her website. Both of these MPs set an exemplary precedent for the remainder of Canada's MPs.

In contrast, here's what we get from Board of Internal Economy through the Speaker of the House:

It is interesting to note that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty spent $18,266 on "Other" items when many of his fellow MPs had other expenses that were less than a few hundred dollars. This is where more detail is necessary.

Publicly traded Canadian corporations submit their financial statements to a full audit every year to assure shareholders that corporations are truthfully stating their financial health. While this doesn't always work (i.e. Nortel), it more or less ensures a level playing field for all Canadian corporations. In the case of Canada's Parliament, the Canadian public is the shareholder (i.e. owner) of the business and our elected officials are merely our employees. Without a regular audit, our employees can spend as they wish because they are not responsive or responsible to anyone but themselves. Under the present system, our MPs and Senators can increase spending without restriction. That has to change.

Go get 'em Ms. Fraser.


From a CBC report this evening, it now appears that the Conservative government is willing to invite Ms. Fraser to conduct a performance or "value for money" audit and will announce a series (yet another) of proposals to ensure greater transparency (one of the CPC talking points) for MP and parliamentary expenses. The proposals will be taken to the Board of Internal Economy next week.



  1. Not really defending anybody here because I think Fraser should have a go at the books, but what she wants to do is a "value for money" audit and not a straight audit that ensures expenses are properly backed up or whatever. The problem with a value for money audit from the MPs perspective is, how do you necessarily know? For example, I see the committee for status of women is sending some people and their staff on a little road trip to get on the ground information from different areas of the country on specific items. If they return with knowledge they had already assumed; that is the facts are as they were led to believe before the road trip, was the road trip of any value? But what if the facts turn out to be completely different than what was presumed? How can you determine before the road trip what you will discover from the road trip?

    So, as I understand it, the MPs are understandably concerned that their good faith decisions will be second-guessed with hindsight. Personally, I think that has some value in itself insofar as gaining experience on when to spend and when not to, but I do see the point that the media could have a field day with "wasteful" MPs.

  2. I agree with your points but I still think a deeper look at the books is in order whether value for money or straight audit looking for questionable or inappropriate expenses.

    Coming from a publicly traded company background, expenditures required results and they weren't always the results you expected, however, as an employee, we were expected to spend wisely. Your road trip analogy is a good one as long as the reason for the trip was valid in the first place. If it was for something foolish like checking out the bra styles Canadian women wore, then Canadians need to know that their government is not getting "value for money".