The member of parliament for my riding Mike Wallace responded to my recent e-mail asking that he take a leadership position on the issue of the Auditor General being allowed to audit, among other things, members’ expenses.
Mike’s one of the good guys so I don’t want to give him too hard a time, but an excuse for not having the audit like the one following is really an insult to my intelligence. Mike wrote:
“The problem with a value for dollar audit is the difficulty in finding a basis to judge each office. Some Members represent well over 100,000 people, some under 50,000. Some Members represent a small area within an urban centre and some represent a vast area of a province or territory.”
Could Mike possibly believe that a person who has risen to the position of Auditor General would not understand that not all ridings are of similar size and know how to assess such disparities? I doubt it.
Mike wrote, “Personally, it doesn’t matter to me and I am always willing to discuss the details of my budget.” I commend him for his openness, of course, but he seems to be missing the point. Disclosure of expenses and audit of same are quite different things.
Apparently, MPs individually have nothing to hide (except Liberal MP Paul Szabo), but the House of Commons’ Board of Internal Economy has, because it refuses permission for an audit by Auditor General Sheila Fraser.
There is over $0.5-billion in annual expenses at issue here, of which $133-million is for individual members of Parliament, including spending on travel, telephone bills, meals, hospitality and other claims. This is not chicken feed, folks, this is the equivalent of the total amount of tax collected from thousands of taxpayers.
Two reactions I have found stunningly stupid:
The first is Senator Elizabeth Marshall who, as auditor-general of Newfoundland, broke that province’s own expenses scandal and now sits silently as a Senate representative on the parliamentary committee that’s refusing to open the books on senatorial spending. Shameful.
The other is New Democrat MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont.) who said last week that he didn’t believe the board should overturn its decision. “We’re MPs, we’re elected, and what she wanted to do was a performance audit. She was very clear in that. That performance audit is not her responsibility. It’s not within her mandate for the MPs. That performance audit is done every time we have an election, it’s the electorate that makes that decision, not her.”
Yet here’s how Comartin puts it on his Web site:
“Transparency is the lifeblood of democracy. Only when taxpayers are aware of how their money is used by elected officials can they truly hold them to account. Recent controversies at home and abroad have made clear citizens demand a high degree of accountability and transparency from Members of Parliament.”
I agree: voters have every right to know what MPs are up to in Ottawa. If we don’t know what they are up to, how can we make an informed decision at election time? But, to be sure we are being told the truth, we taxpayers-voters demand the “transparency” Comartin believes is so vital to democracy be independently confirmed and verified by a audit by the Attorney General.
Sniff, sniff… is that the stink of scandal in Ottawa? Let’s find out.