Everyday it seems there's another example of a boondoggle of a government program or a politician inappropriately accepting a financial benefit at taxpayers' expense (see Canada's Senate).
But what about the practice of spouses and family members flying to and from Ottawa on the taxpayers' dime?
According to Postmedia News, taxpayers were forced to disburse $2.75 million last year, to fly MPs children and spouses around the country.
The rules, set by an all-party committee of MPs, allow each member of Parliament to designate one person — usually, but not always, a spouse — with whom they can share their “travel points,” which allow them to take free flights around the country.
The report doesn’t break down individual trips, so it’s not possible to know in each case where individual MPs went with their designated travellers, but most of the money was spent flying MPs and their spouses back and forth between Ottawa and their ridings.
Postmedia listed all the MPs travel expenses here.
Former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae tops the list: he spent $56,920. Rounding up the top five were Conservative MP Richard Harris ($51,774), NDP MP Libby Davies ($49,618) and Tory MPs John Duncan ($46,549) and Gerry Ritz ($46,351).
Bob Rae defended the expense in an email to Postmedia.
"Being leader of the third party is tough enough without having to do it alone!" he wrote.
"The purpose of the designated traveller allotment is to show Parliament is a family-friendly place, and a political life is not necessarily a recipe for travelling far and wide alone. End of story."
Are these expenses just? Should taxpayers be footing the bill to fly spouses and children around the country? We asked our political panel that very question. Here are their responses:
Gerry Nicholls, political consultant:
"This is clearly a perk too far. Taxpayers are already overly generous to MPs, who are well paid and who enjoy a fantastic pension. They should not also have to pay for MP spouses and kids to fly around the country, especially when the country is awash in red ink."
Stephen Taylor, of the National Citizens Coalition:
"First and foremost, transparency is needed. Canadians should be able to render judgement on whether or not it is appropriate for the level of spousal travel that MPs enjoy as part of their office expenses. However, we taxpayers are in the dark when it comes how this money is spent.
The issue is transparency. If more transparency is offered, this has a significant effect on self-policing of expenses. If expenses are still abused, voters have the opportunity of punishing their MP at the ballot box."
Matthew Coutts, Yahoo Canada News' National Affairs Columnist
"I have no doubt that the life of an MP is a hectic and exhausting business, and some leeway should be afforded to allow them some company on trips away from their families. But let’s be honest, they knew what they were signing up for and they are paid well enough to cover the cost of a guest’s air flight.
Considering every party seems to be equally responsible for taking advantage of this loophole, I doubt this will change any time soon. That said, if a political party wanted to make some hay, they could run two relatives, a brother and sister perhaps, in neighbouring ridings and promise to cut travel expenses in half. They could be the Sedin brothers of the Canadian political world."
Gregory Thomas, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation:
"There are a couple of problems with these tax-free giveaways to MPs. Before the housing allowance was introduced, MPs would find modest accommodations close to Parliament Hill, and you would often see 2, 3, or more MPs splitting the cost of a house or an apartment to save money. These days, most people rent an expensive apartment and it sits vacant when they’re in their constituencies, or they let friends and connections use it when these people visit Ottawa. The politicians absolutely don’t manage the housing allowance like it was their own money.
The same goes for the free flights. If you look at the published reports of how many flights these people have taken, and what they have cost, it’s clear that MPs don’t apply the same level of scrutiny to what they spend on flights paid for by the taxpayer as they would if they were booking the flights with their own money.
Most people accept that MPs have a job to do, that they need to travel frequently from their riding to Ottawa and back. And it sometimes makes sense to have the flexibility for a spouse or a child to travel to be with the MP, rather than restricting the travel to just the MP alone.
[But] with MPs, everything is a big secret, and it’s obvious from the spending totals that these politicians are sometimes paying double or triple to fly their families around the country than what they would pay with their own after-tax money - because the taxpayers are picking up the tab, and the politicians simply don’t care."
What do you think? Should MPs be allowed to fly their spouses, partners and children to around the country at taxpayers' expense? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)
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