It’s time for senators to show us their receipts

BC Conservative MLA candidate Tom Birch smartphone appThe Canadian Taxpayers Federation has an idea to put an end to all the Senate expense controversies: require senators — and MPs for that matter — to scan their expense receipts and post them on the Internet for all to see.

In a blog post published on the CTF website last week, Federal Director Gregory Thomas wrote that Ottawa should follow the lead of other jurisdictions in Canada.

"Anybody can go on the internet and examine expense receipts for any Alberta MLA or any Toronto city councillor, including Alberta’s premier and Toronto’s mayor. But MPs and Senators have placed themselves above the auditor general, and outside the federal Access to Information Act, and refused to release their expense receipts to the public," he wrote.

"So long as Senators and MPs can access public money, tax free, with no accountability and no disclosure, we will keep having these expense scandals."

[ Related: Senators choose costly plane trips over free train rides ]

As it stands now, senators are expected to provide data on their total expenditures but they're not required to publicly disclose information about specific expenses on their websites. In other words, we can see that Senator Pamela Wallin spent $163,217 on 'other travel' expenses but we don't  know what the 'other travel' is all about.

If we had regular access to her receipts, we could scrutinize expenses and that might make her — and her senate colleagues — more accountable out of fear of being publicly shamed.

[ Related: Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin among the Senate's big spenders ]

A politician in British Columbia has taken the idea of full disclosure a step further and into the 21st century.

Tom Birch, an MLA candidate for the upcoming provincial election, has developed a smartphone app by which he can share timely information with constituents about his monthly expenses (with scanned receipts), his voting record and his voting intent for upcoming bills.

"A 2012 survey of Canadians found that more than three quarters of us believe that politicians in general are untruthful. It is no wonder that more and more of us are disengaging from the political life of our country," Birch recently wrote in a blog post for Samara Canada.

"I believe that all parties need to explore the current capabilities and connect with the people in new ways. This tool will not make a politician truthful, but it can be used to demonstrate if they are."

Birch should offer his idea to our senators in Ottawa who have clearly lost our collective trust.

It's time we keep tabs on how they're spending our money.

(Photo: Screenshot of Tom Birch app)

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