OTTAWA – The nakedly political conversation around Parliament Hill lately sounds like the chatter before a Cher concert or a Chippendale’s show.
Just how much skin are they willing to show? Who will wind up revealing the most?
The see-through look is suddenly in vogue with the public in the midst of a Senate spending scandal that has revolved around the central theme of transparency. It wasn’t long after the controversy over improper travel and housing claims broke in the upper chamber that questions were lobbed at the Commons too.
Why was there so little information shared on their expenses? What were they going to do about it?
The Liberals, for now, appear prepared to peel off the most layers as a group.
As of this week, Grit MPs will be submitting more detailed information on their travel and hospitality expenses. The format will mimic the quarterly “proactive disclosure” reports used by ministers and senior staff when on departmental business, a system introduced by a former Liberal government.
The public will be able to see online where the Liberal MPs travelled and an associated cost for each trip. Hospitality, meals and gifts will also be listed, with general descriptions including the date.
Currently, the only thing made public is a summary account of how much an MP spends annually on such items as “advertising” and “equipment rentals,” without any specifics. Commons finance officials review their claims, and if something is amiss a closed-door Commons committee reviews problems.
The Liberal plan for MPs is different than the ministerial disclosure in one important way — MPs are not subject to the Access to Information Act, and so the receipts and documents attached to their quarterly reports are not accessible. Hence, if someone purchased a $16 glass of orange juice, as former cabinet minister Bev Oda once did, nobody is likely to find out.
Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc said more information could be divulged in the future — depending on how far the other political parties were willing to go.
“I think it’s a very good start. It’s something that leads our political opponents in terms of transparency and openness,” LeBlanc told reporters Thursday.
“We hope as (Leader) Mr. (Justin) Trudeau said it’s the cascading effect of people trying to outdo themselves in transparency, that would more than anything else restore public confidence in public institutions.”
The NDP, meanwhile, have been scoffing at the Liberal move, calling it a political stunt.
After refusing to lend consent to a set of Liberal motions on posting expenses, the NDP put forward its own motion at the end of the last sitting of Parliament aimed at creating a new independent body to oversee MP spending. The idea is to have discussions throughout the fall on the concept.
“They will see our expenses, the question is whether we’re at the point in the process that we know how to do it properly,” NDP democratic reform critic Craig Scott said this week on CBC’s Power and Politics.
“If the Liberals have pushed a public button in a way that basically means that nobody has a choice but to put it up in the way they’ve done it, and they haven’t done a good job, we’ll all have to live with that.”
The Conservatives supported both the Liberal and NDP motions, and former government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton publicly called for more transparency in the expenses claimed by senators, but nothing formal has been discussed yet.
But there are two parliamentarians that have set the bar the highest for transparency — Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Conservative Senator Doug Black.
May published this spring her personal expenses to date for 2012-13, including copies of receipts and claims.
Black’s personal website includes a detailed chart of all his office expenses, including per diems claimed and the $74.98 he spent on a pair of coaster sets from the parliamentary boutique.
Fellow Conservative Senator Bob Runciman announced earlier this month he will soon follow Black’s lead.