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‘This is not the hill you want to die on, for God’s sake’


 

Jim Prentice says there’s no need to have the auditor general review MP expenses. Jack Layton’s spokesman says it doesn’t make sense to have the auditor general review expenses. Pat Martin says it is time to open the books. Rob Anders says it’s inevitable. Shawn Murphy says it’s time for MPs to talk it over with the AG and decide the parameters of an audit.


 

‘This is not the hill you want to die on, for God’s sake’

  1. Does anyone know if any MPs have their expenses listed online yet?

    If a few MPs were to post their expenses, and their constituents could see them, that would put pressure on other MPs to follow. Especially if constituents across Canada start to ask why they can see other MPs expenses but not their own MP's.

    • I listened to NDP MP Joe Comartin speak on the issue yesterday. He was a phone guest on CHCH TV's Live at 5:30 in Hamilton. He said that he does currently disclose his expenses on his Web site. The other guest was a Liberal MP (can't remember her name, but she's in favour of an AG audit) and I believe that she said that she discloses her expenses, too.

      However, two problems. One is that they should be itemized. Currently they aren't. Two is that they should all be listed in one central location so that people don't have to look all over the place to find them.

      Comartin raise a third issue, which is whether the electorate should act as judge and jury, or the unelected AG. Not sure if this is a legitimate issue, or a desperate deflection.

      Regardless, it's becoming pretty clear that MP's will have to do something that doesn't look like they're just throwing a bone at us.

      • Thanks Dennis_F.

        Sounds like cracks are starting to appear and MPs will have hard time resisting move to more open expenses. Sunlight is the best disinfectant when it comes to MPs and their secrecy and obfuscation.

  2. ',,,decide the parameters of an audit…'

    Sure, tell the AG what she can't audit,
    that will make it all better! lol

    our scandal luvin' media is going to eat that up "don't look behind the curtain".

    • "don't look behind the curtain" is already a scandal, just for being seriously put forward as a position.

  3. What a sorry, pathetic lot of people we've sent to Ottawa.

    I can't believe this is being discussed in a weirdly similar way to the Afghanistan documents. There's no national security at stake here. There's no process, no parameters – nothing to talk about.

    Release the f*cking details of how you spend our f*cking money!!!!

    Or quit and let us elect representatives who remember who they work for.

    kthx.

    • Hear, hear.

    • I must disagree with you (particularly on your intro. I'll agree with the rest if you amend that intro to read:

      ''What a sorry, pathetic lot of people we (Canadians/the voter) have become''.

      The other day, in a great show of condescension, Harper tells young adults ''It's the economy that counts and the rest is just noise'', and his numbers go up.

      Today, Harper (a minority Prime Minister) names another Senator, to make it 33 Senate appointments (out of 105) in one and a half year, all Conservatives. In his electoral platform, he vowed to never make a single Senate appointment… And his numbers go up.

      I suppose I could go on with examples of hypocrisy, mismanagement, extreme partisanship, entitlements, etc… There is just no point. Harper will get the votes he needs and, as the last few years have shown, he doesn't need all that many of them to act as if he's been given carte blanche.

      We, the people, are much more pathetic than the ones who have their way.

  4. Hey, where have all of the “Parliament is Supreme!” folks gone?

    Hello…Hello?

    • Still here. Well, I was over at http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/05/19/opposition-lea

      It's hypocrisy to go around sniffing in MP's drawers when what we really need access to in a timely transparent fashion is government spending and government decisions. If the auditor has time on her hands maybe she can accelerate the auditing of the infrastructure spending.

    • Can you run that argument by me a bit slower? Sounds interesting.

  5. I dunno, I've had my mind changed on this issue after listening to Adam Vaughan talk about it on the radio a few months back. His main argument was that at the end of the day a lot of ink and outrage is spilled over such a miniscule percentage of operating costs, at the expense of real, substantive issues.

    It seems to me that releasing expense reports seems to do little else but fuel sensationalist headlines. Remember when opponents of Adam Giambrone lost their collective minds when it came out that he expensed $2400 in cab rides for a year? It was front page news on all the dailies. What wasn't headline news was when it came out later that his expenses were actually on the lower end in comparison to other councillors. I mean sure it's all well and good that Rob Ford buys his own pencils…but does that alone make him a good politician?

    Basically I think releasing expense reports almost invariably leads to tempest in teapotism.

    • Two things.

      First, Giambrone was the commissioner of Toronto's transit system. That was the issue. Why is someone who's in charge of the people's transit spending so much time in private cabs?

      Second, I don't know how anyone can ultimately justify not disclosing expenses that taxpayers are paying for. That it might embarrass some politicians is just part of the job, isn't it? And a legitimate one, too, by my reckoning.

      • Well yes, he was the commissioner of the TTC, but my point still stands – the outrage was more about optics than anything substantive.

        I understand the argument your making, I really do – I just think that at the end of the day the only thing it fuels is mock outrage over what usually amounts to trifling amounts of money. The AG would be better served looking into government contracts and how absurdly over-inflated those costs are instead of personal expenses.

        In the abstract though, I absolutely agree…it's the practicality that I have the issue with.

        • I think it's a practical issue, too. If politicians can't even handle their own expenses properly, how can they be trusted on any aspect of public spending. And I also think there's a level of hypocrisy involved, too. Credibility as well. There's a lot of self-righteousness that comes from politicians on a lot of issues, including on what's supposed to be for the public good. They then turn around and use public funds to meet lavish private tastes.

          However, beyond that, just from the perspective of public disclosure, democratic accountability, and even basic decency, I don't know how one can argue to keep these expenses banned from public view.

          • I think you would find it very rare that a politician is actually mihandling their expenses – only that it would appear they are in the absence of context (i.e. "MP SPENDS $1000 ON COFFEE" is actually "MP buys $600 espresso machine (and cups, grounds, milk, sugar etc etc) for his office for use in meetings.)

            Like I said, I have a far bigger issue with how government contracts are handed out (one small example being the $1500 contract my girlfriend signed off on a few summers back for the City of Toronto to have 5 locks changed on the CNE grounds).

            I just have a hard time getting full of righteous indignation over this stuff I guess.

          • It's a minor convenience vs basic democratic accountability and decency. Again, not really sure what the big deal is, especially if there's nothing to hide, as you say.

          • Basically I think that at the end of the day, these kinds of expense releases are less about democratic accountability and more about cheap sensationalism.

            I personally see little wrong with having an independent auditor look at expense reports privately and only make them public if there was evidence of impropriety. (Am I right in assuming that this is the current arrangement?)

          • In other words, your position is that these expenses should be hidden from the public because it might cause some relatively minor embarrassment. Really?

          • No, that's not my position at all. My position is that what we end up with are countless stories about improper spending (and almost invariably out of context) at the expense of actual information.

          • First, I think you exaggerate the media impact. Most of these stories last for one day. It's the truly outrageous expenses that leave a lasting impression, as well they should. All kinds of stories get torqued by the media, does that mean we throw democratic accountability out the window, or freedom of the press?

          • "First, I think you exaggerate the media impact"

            see: Jaffer, Rahim.

          • and??

          • did that story last for one day?

            (and yes, I am implicitly agreeing that the whole l'affaire jaffer is/was also a teapotted tempest)

          • I already addressed that. The media ain't perfect, but I don't think that should be used as an excuse for a lack of democratic accountability and decency. Let the people decide.And you're also exaggerating the impact. Has Toronto ground to a halt because its councilors have to disclose their expenses? Hardly.

          • I get the impression that you'd be perfectly fine with countless headlines about politicians expensing breath mints taking up all the oxygen in the room.

            I wouldn't.

            I guess we'll just have to disagree then.

    • "It seems to me that releasing expense reports seems to do little else but fuel sensationalist headlines."

      Sure, there will be some unfair coverage of spending. But is that really a justification to keep the spending of public money private? It's not like politicians don't have to deal with public idiocy on many other fronts – it comes with the job.

      Reasonable people won't get their shorts in knot over discretionary use of well managed budget. The point of this isn't necessarily expose improper spending. It's our money, and it's our right to see how it's used, Full stop.

      • Fair enough, maybe I just have less faith in the general public's ability to remain reasonable than you do :)

        Like I said, I see the argument – but I also see that these kinds of expenditures are like crack to the media, and these kinds of stories will invariably focus on what is deemed improper, regardless of context. I don't necessarily agree that they should be kept private, but I also fail to see what is actually gained by making them public.

        • Fair enough, maybe I just have less faith in the general public's ability to remain reasonable than you do :)

          You mean democracy?

        • The average yearly expense tab is over $400,000 per MP. I don't know if that includes staff, but I'd sure be interested to learn where that money is going. I sure as heck hope these highly paid folks aren't abusing the expense system for items they should rightly be paying for themselves. We don't even know the terms and depth of audit these accounts are currently subject to – and making them public would help us know that.

          Also, there's something to be said for 'watching the watchmen'. We need to ensure the public service – from top to bottom – has a culture of sensible frugality. Making expenses public is part of establishing that culture.

          Finally, even if there were no probable benefits to releasing the information (obviously, I think there are), there's a principle at stake here. And it's an important one. To keep expenses secret is a violation of the whole 'represenative' nature of elected office. It's just wrong.

          • I would suspect that it would include staff as well. Like I said, I see your argument – I think it's the lack of context that I think invariably gets abused.

            I think a system where impropriety is made public would be an excellent idea.

          • I know releasing this kind of information invariably leads to a lot of pointless hysteria about breath mints or what have you. But even an incredibly stupid and ill educated public has the right to know how their money is being spent. If politicians don't like it, they can find another vocation. Heck, our parent council at school has to itemize every dime they spend – and I just can't see the difference for federal MPs.

            I also think our right to know extends beyond impropriety. There may be expenditures that are commonly considered to be proper – by MPs and their internal auditor – that could fairly become a matter of public debate. As a first step, I'd simply like to see the numbers reported anonymously (i.e., 308 reports without names attached). At least then we could get an idea of what passes for appropriate spending.

          • "As a first step, I'd simply like to see the numbers reported anonymously (i.e., 308 reports without names attached). At least then we could get an idea of what passes for appropriate spending."

            I agree.

          • I'm OK witholding the names, but the party affiliation HAS to be there. ;-)

          • That's exactly what we need. Though it needs to be verified independently.

          • Does it need to be verified independently because she has self -declared using summary documents to which you do not have access? In other words, if you had expenses at that level of detail that were from the House of Commons finance people, that were posted, rahter than her extraction, would that be enogh, or would you still require the AG? This is jsut for MP expenses, not the whole other category of audit she wants to do on how the administration runs its operations.

          • Why, exactly, is Ms. Simson charging the taxpayers of Canada for a Community Ice Skate Event?

          • While I generally find you to be predisposed towards antagonism, and I'm sure this is exactly the sort of thing Richard is afraid will happen if the numbers are released, I happen to think it's a fair and reasonable question. Appropriately spent monies can be easily explained.

          • yep, I was also gonna say "$4200 on Holiday cards?!? Has Simpson never heard of the Dollar Store!?!"

            cheers

    • Giambrone and the cab fares is an interesting example, in that, as you state, it later came out that his expenses were at the lower end. Although I am not familiar with the particular case, I take from your comments that the later relevation undecut the initial outrage. I would conclude from this that making all the councillors' expenses public initially would have prevented the initial reaction – or at least the ability of his opponents to use outrage against him.

      In other words, releasing all expenses at once may have prevented tempest in teapotism (nice phrase, btw).

      • thanks, I was quite pleased with that one myself :)

    • If you owned a company and your employees were spending thousands, millions or billions on expenses… would you want to know what they're spending it on? Even if you trust them, would you want the ability to check on them if you got curious?

      MPs are our employees. We own the company.

      It's easy for a politician like Vaughan to laugh about the "nickels and dimes" because it's not his nickels and dimes he's spending. It's my nickel and your dime. And I care about it.

      P.S. Vaughan's nickels and dimes added up to $52,798.03 in tax free expenses last year (none, by the way, for office operating costs — those are paid directly by City Hall). That's more than the average Canadian makes in salary.

  6. The Dippers seem dead set against it, and yet Rob Anders, of all people, is in favour of it. What kind of a topsy-turvy world do we live in people?

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