Break Open Those Books!

June 7, 2010

Well it has been a few weeks since the intial uproar surrounding Canadian MP’s refusals to open the books to the auditor general of Canada’s.  Sheila Fraser recently proposed a performance audit of MP expense accounts in light of the controversy arising at home in Nova Scotia and across the pond in England.  Unsurprisingly Canadians seem to have quickly forgotten all about the discouraging behaviour demonstrated by the MP’s nearly unanimous refusal to allow the audit to go forward.  Seemingly this is just another case of the people’s general apathy towards our venerable political institutions.  What had begun as surprised outrage has devolved into quizzical anger and now, finally, abject cynicism.

Why, as a concerned public, are we so ready to let this go?  As Roy Green, of the Roy Green Show fame, congenially put it if the Canada revenue agency disputes your income tax the onus is on you to demonstrate the accuracy of your tax return and you do so at your own cost.  Seemingly this is a case of being guilty till you’ve proved your own innocence.  For the MP’s to say no to an audit of public funds to which they are entrusted is tantamount to saying that the government has no right to challenge you on your tax return.  We can all guess as to how well that line of argument would go over with the tax-man…

More importantly than that though is the fact that the MP’s somehow view their expense accounts as private and not subject to any scrutiny.  Yet even in the private sector such accounts of executives are highly audited and ultimately will be subjected to the scrutiny of shareholders.  Well, the voting public are the shareholders of the Canadian government and the MP’s must remember that they are accountable to us. 

Recent scandals in the Nova Scotia Legislature and the British Parliament highlight the need for such accountability.  In Nova Scotia MlA’s where discovered to have made large numbers of inappropriate expenditures on personal and household expenses with former MlA Richard Hurlburt being caught claiming $8,000 for a generator that was installed into his house (see CBC news).  In Great Brittan members of the legislature where caught with such expenses as $3,000 flat screen t.v.’s for their homes and $3,000 expenses on such fanciful services as cleaning the family moat (see Los Angeles Times).

It appears that perhaps such expenses may be justified for their personal necessity (a dirty moat is sure to anger the neighbours…) but should not such expenses be funded exclusively from the same source that everyone else is expected to, our salaries. Members of parliament in Canada already receive generous compensation for the work that they do that also includes one of the strongest and most secure pension plans in the country with each MP making at least $157,731 a year in salary, regardless of attendance or performance, and after six years in parliament a guaranteed $27,213 or $45,355 if the member manages to sit for 10 years (See Yahoo Finance / Canadian Business Online).  Given these numbers it would seem that an MP has no reason to be supplementing their personal lifestyles with a taxpayer funded expense account.

When we put all this in perspective it demonstrates the need for oversight on MP spending practices, or at the very least a review.  If MP’s have done nothing illegitimate than they should have nothing to fear about opening the books, however their stiff necked and defensive response to Sheila Fraser’s request for a simple performance audit (an audit originally intended to review the rules and regulations surrounding the use of MP expense accounts rather than the content of the accounts themselves) is highly suspicious. 

Granted the expense account scandals seen recently throughout various houses of government at all levels it behoves us as tax payers to stay on top of this issue.  Rather than let our cynicism succeed in allowing our apathy to get the better of us we need to demand a true accounting of MP expenses.  Until parliament opens up its books to the auditor general my advice is to treat them like just like we would be in the face of a Canada Revenue Agency audit:  Guilty until Proven Innocent.

Your Fro in the Know

Tim

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One Response to “Break Open Those Books!”

  1. Jacqui South said

    Canadians seem to have forgotten about all the money the government has stolen from the Employment Insurance fund as well. I believe it is something like 50 billion. It will be interesting to see what happens when unemployed workers need the insurance they have paid into and its not there.

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