The MPs' expense report released on Monday afternoon is, quite frankly, pretty useless.
Sure, the annual disclosure tells us which MP spent the most and it illustrates that, cumulatively, office expenditures are rising while travel costs are falling.
But it's all in generalities and there's no context; we're only given top line expense figures such as 'member travel' and 'hospitality and events.' There is little detail, no explanations and absolutely no receipts.
According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Gregory Thomas, it's a stark reminder that in Canada, taxpayers are left in the dark with regard to parliamentary budgets.
"It’s difficult to make much of the MP expense reports, given that there is no supporting documentation, no receipts and no contracts to examine," Thomas told Yahoo Canada News.
"MPs have placed themselves above the law when it comes to reporting their own expenses. They are not subject to the Access to Information act, so we can’t see how any of this money’s been spent, except in the vaguest of terms. They aren't subject to the oversight of the Auditor General – the AG can only conduct an audit with the permission of MPs, and only on their terms. The last audit was essentially a whitewash – it failed to uncover any of the phony expense claims by Senators.
"The RCMP have charged former London Ontario MP Joe Fontana (now mayor of London) with expensing his son’s wedding reception in 2005, under essentially the same rules that apply to MP expenses now. If documents hadn't been leaked to the media, taxpayers would have never learned about that sketchy MP expense claim."
[ Related: MPs spend over $123.6M in office and other expenses ]
Things are hopefully changing for the better.
The Liberal Party has promised to post more detailed expenses online this fall.
According to the Canadian Press, the public will be able to see where Liberal MPs traveled and descriptions relating to expenses of hospitality, meals and gifts.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May has already started posting her expenses online here.
And the CTF has launched a petition trying to oblige both MPs and Senators to follow the disclosure rules in the Province of Alberta whereby all expenses are published online and receipts are scanned and posted.
You can sign that petition here.
[ More Political Points: Four ways the U.S. shutdown could affect Canadians ]
For what it's worth, here are some of the 'highlights' of the MP expense report.
- According to the Globe and Mail, total spending for all MP offices between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2013, was $123-million, up from $121-million the year before.
- Federal leader expenses:
Thomas Mulcair: $550,831
Elizabeth May: $407,403
Justin Trudeau: $386,714
Stephen Harper: $284,682
- Top spending MPs:
Steven Fletcher (CPC): $612,259
Thomas Mulcair (NDP): $550,831
Blake Richards (CPC): $547,510
Niki Ashton (NDP): $528,638
Hedy Fry (LPC): $516,430
(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)
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