The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) is applauding the City of Charlottetown for making the rare move of disclosing the travel expenses by its mayor and council.
Kevin Lacey, the CTF's director in Atlantic Canada, said it is highly unusual for a municipality in this region to publicize what its politicians are spending taxpayers' money on.
It has cost taxpayers in Charlottetown more than $61,000 so far this year to have its mayor and councillors represent the municipality at various events on P.E.I. and across North America. The city released the information on Thursday morning.
"This is quite unique to the region,'' Lacey said. "The City of Halifax does not disclose all politician expenses (although) some politicians do it on their own and there's a couple in Halifax who do. You look at Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, there are no disclosures there.''
Earlier this year, Summerside city council decided to start posting its travel and entertainment expenses online, retroactive to January. Those expenses outline claims ranging from a few dollars to thousands spent on government business and trips around the country.
Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee said the city saw no reason why it shouldn't do the same.
"We know over the last week to 10 days there's been interest in the media about elected officials' travel expenses. If you didn't release it there would be a whole bunch of questions as to why (we) didn't release it,'' Lee said, noting that the information is available on the city's website.
Lacey said this kind of disclosure is very positive for taxpayers and is a step in the right direction but he did raise one specific concern about Charlottetown's figures.
Lacey questioned why Charlottetown sent Lee and six councillors to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Vancouver earlier this year.
"The one that stands out is why half of council, including the mayor, had to attend a very expensive FCM conference in Vancouver. You add together the expenses (and) we're talking over $20,000 that taxpayers paid to have them attend that. Why they needed all those people, I think, is a real open question,'' Lacey said.
Lee said it's important to have a presence at the FCM meetings.
The mayor said at one recent FCM meeting the larger municipalities tried to have the federal gas tax program formula based on population.
"If that had been the (final) decision the city of Charlottetown would be receiving about $30,000 a year as opposed to the $3 million that we are receiving this year,'' Lee explained, adding that the smaller municipalities had enough representatives there to make sure the vote went the other way.
"It sure is a lot of money being spent but there's a lot of money coming back to Charlottetown,'' Lee said.
Lacey also noted that provincial politicians and Toronto's city council disclose detailed travel expenses, where every dollar spent is revealed and why it is being expensed.
"I think as much disclosure as possible would be better. (Charlottetown's) is a really good disclosure but, in some cases, you don't get a full view of what the expense is all about . . . so it leads to inaccurate conclusions about what they're about,'' Lacey said.