P.E.I. MLAs have expense funds not open to public scrutiny

Teresa Wright
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Expenses filed by Liberal backbench and Opposition Tory MLAs in P.E.I. have long remained private, but new details have emerged about a slush fund available to non-cabinet MLAs, allowing them $200 to $300 per month for expenses on top of their salaries.

Details of any spending by non-cabinet politicians are not available for the public to scrutinize, nor are they accessible through access to information legislation.

That’s because the Opposition and government private members’ budgets are managed through the legislative assembly of P.E.I. and records from all three offices are exempt from release under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

But a Guardian investigation has learned how the Liberal backbencher’s office and the Progressive Conservative Opposition have been managing their funds.

Each office is provided with an operating grant and a separate salary account to allow each office to effectively carry out its duties.

The money comes from the budget of the legislative assembly of P.E.I.

This year, the government and Opposition offices were each given $120,400 in operating grants, not including salaries for administrative and research staff.

It is these operating grants that provide MLAs with reimbursements for a wide variety of expenses.

RELATED: P.E.I. MLA expenses now available to view online

Retired Liberal MLA Ron MacKinley, who served 29 and a half years in office, says he once called this a ‘slush fund.’

“I used to call it the slush fund, and they’d get mad at me,” he said.

Back when he was on the backbench and in Opposition, this money would be used to pay for dinners for caucus during meetings, but MacKinley says he could not recall other expenses.

Currently in the Opposition Progressive Conservative office, MLAs can expenses a maximum of $200 a month on top of their salaries.

Base salary for a P.E.I. MLA will rise to $70,095 April 1.

Receipts are not required for mileage, but MLAs are required to provide their travel details.

Receipts are required for other expenses claimed, including for donations or tickets purchased to support local charities or benefits, says Opposition Leader Jamie Fox.

He denied any suggestion this fund has been used to reimburse MLAs for political work or fundraisers.

“If they’re asked to go and support the Boys and Girls Club or the QEH or the IWK and they have to buy tickets for that for government business, then yes they can expense that because it is government-related,” Fox said.

“But if it’s party-related, they cannot expense it.”

Downstairs in the Liberal backbenchers' office, MLAs have access to up to $300 a month for expenses on top of their salaries.

That amount has increased, up from $200 under the Ghiz administration.

Receipts are not required for expenses claimed in the government members’ office, an inside source told The Guardian on an agreement of anonymity.

Mileage for constituency work and fundraising tickets are expensed by government backbench MLAs, but The Guardian’s source also denied any political activities are expensed.

I used to call it the slush fund, and they’d get mad at me Fromer MLA Ron MacKinley

The Guardian spoke with a number of current and former members of all government offices, and every one of them said politicians, regardless of party or position, are hit up for donations virtually everywhere they go.

But not everyone agrees taxpayers should be on the hook for this spending.

“I pay for that out of my own pocket,” says Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker.

“There are a lot, whether it’s tickets for fundraising events, 50/50 draw tickets or meals, fundraisers for churches or things like that… but that comes out of my own pocket. I don’t feel it’s appropriate for taxpayers to be doing that.”

And when it comes to disclosure, Bevan-Baker has upped the ante.

He has created a blog and is posting every penny spent from his office’s operating grant of $20,000, listing everything from bank fees to postage stamps.

He says he did this out of a sense of accountability to P.E.I. taxpayers.

“The bottom line is, it’s taxpayers’ money, it’s not our money and we felt Island taxpayers deserved to know what we were spending their money on in order to support our activities.”

Kevin Lacey, Atlantic Canada director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says all money expensed by politicians should be disclosed to the public.

“Politicians are stewards of our money and, as a result, they have a responsibility to disclose all of their expenses to the public who is paying for them,” Lacey said.

“It’s an issue of leadership. Politicians should set the example for accountability in government, and they’re not when they’re refusing to disclose all of their expenses.”

Fox says as of Jan. 1, Opposition MLAs will only be reimbursed for “legitimate office expenses,” subject to approval by the leader, but seemed to backpedal from a previous statement to The Guardian in December saying he would voluntarily release a full accounting of all Tory MLA expenses.

“We’re going to release our year-end statement of our budget to the speaker’s office. That’s what I’m required to do.”

No one from government was made available to speak to The Guardian on the record, but a statement sent from government house leader and Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Alan McIsaac’s office indicated changes to Liberal backbench MLA disclosures could be coming soon.

“Government caucus is committed to openness and transparency, and will be looking at posting additional expenses in the new year.”

Last year, Premier Wade MacLauchlan extended disclosures currently required for cabinet ministers’ expenses to include deputy ministers, CEOs and senior advisors within government.



Organizations: The Guardian, Boys and Girls Club

Geographic location: P.E.I., Iceland, Atlantic Canada

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Recent comments

  • chris
    January 05, 2016 - 20:40

    Funny how when MacKinley was there for those 29 years he NEVER offered to make the fund public. Plus I imagine he sued it quite freely also for chicken and many many meals when he was the lone MLA. Now he wants to criticize it and comment on it. There is word which describes people like that and it starts H maybe he should have his wife use the dictionary and look it up. There is nothing worse then retired politicians who find fault with things that they could have fixed when they were there and chose not to but now complain and comment on those things.

  • outraged
    January 05, 2016 - 16:15

    So these guys run around buying tickets and showing off how big and generous they are, -- and it is all on the taxpayers back. This is a disgrace, - and false representation, - they don't say; I am buying this on behalf of the taxpayers of PEI. AND they are getting a raise, - what a load of horse manure. Wade discontinue this immediately, the taxpayers have been defrauded, - so put a stop to it. If the b.....s buy tickets , then pay for themselves, as well as when they fill your guts at charity events. What slime--

    January 05, 2016 - 16:08

    Just because these funds come from the Legislative assembly doesn't mean that they don't have to be accountable and provide receipts. There is no such thing as legislative funds, it's taxpayers dollars.if the MLAs have legitimate expenses, then they should be reimbursed, but have to provide receipts and make it available to the public. That shoudn't provide a hardship. Enough with this BS about where the money comes from, it's all taxpayers money. Peter Bevan Baker doesn't seem to have a problem with this concept, then again his party was never elected before so there are no old boys network at play here.

  • AL
    January 05, 2016 - 09:35

    Well crap; Another feeding trough that has been compromised. We must find another source real soon.

  • James Macgoo Lakeside
    January 05, 2016 - 08:16

    Have we learned nothing about transparency? On the surface, the amounts may appear insignificant. However, that depends on if you are the taxpayer or managing the overall Budget for PEI. The activities for the funds appear to be legitimate. Let's not tempt ourselves by keeping the veil in place. Disclose semiannually or at least annually users name and amounts spent by 4 or 5 major categories determined by the leadership. For example; mileage, meals, tickets, etc.

  • This Is Why
    January 05, 2016 - 07:33

    This is why the people of PEI has less respect for politicians than they have for used car salesmen . The corruption & theft of taxpayers money on this small province is totally out of hand . I can't understand why the people allow these few crooks to continue to rob us . Isn't the $70,000 + they receive in basic pay enough . It's more than a lot of them have ever made in private life & they still want more . Sicking No wonder we are so far in the RED in this province . Kudos to Bevan - Baker , him being elected should make the rest hang their heads in shame if they had any integrity .

  • Islander
    January 05, 2016 - 07:22

    This is all BS....Every red cent should be known to Islanders as its our money they are spending. All parties are the same when it comes to non transparency. Wake up. You people seem to think we are all asleep. Disgraceful, you should all go and hide. Better yet hire a comedian like Summerside did at budget talks and pay out $14000

  • Taxpayer
    January 05, 2016 - 06:32

    Have heard MLAs state that they need higher salaries because of all the community fundraisers they have to support. It seems there is a slush fund that covers these costs. They are well paid for what is a part time job for some.