FILE PHOTO: Premier Wade MacLauchlan
Says monthly payments to backbenchers cover costs related to their work
Monthly cheques provided to backbench MLAs for expenses are legitimate reimbursements and will likely soon be disclosed to the public, says P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan.
MacLauchlan sat down for an interview with The Guardian Friday to discuss backbench MLA expenses following a meeting of his Liberal caucus Friday.
He defended the $300 monthly allotment provided to private members on the government side of the legislature for expenses.
“All of us are concerned that people recognize in the public that this is for the reimbursement of expenses that members of the legislature have incurred in the course as their work as MLAs,” MacLauchlan said.
“It’s not a supplement to anyone’s salary, it’s actually for expenses that leave them out of pocket and that’s very much how we view it and how it has been viewed in the past and should be viewed going forward.”
The amounts each backbench MLA receives for expenses, what kinds of activities and items are expensed and the fact no receipts are required was revealed earlier this month as part of a Guardian investigation.
The money comes from an operating grant provided to the Liberal, Progressive Conservative and Green party backbench offices to help run their daily affairs.
Until details reported in The Guardian, almost nothing was known of how the caucus operating grants are managed.
That’s because they are not currently disclosed to the public. Also, spending details and records from all offices of the legislative assembly are exempt from release under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
MacLauchlan says the Standing Committee on Legislative Management, which oversees the work of the legislative assembly, will discuss the matter at an upcoming meeting and decide whether MLA expenses should be disclosed to the public.
He noted his previous commitments to greater disclosure of expense spending, including posting expenses of deputy ministers and senior government officials online in the spring.
At that time, he requested the legislative management committee to follow suit, but so far this has not happened.
“The most important thing is that we have committed all along, and I expect that view will be reflected as our members take part in that discussion, a preference for greater openness and transparency and that will be, I believe, reflected as things go forward.”
MacLauchlan stressed his view that MLA expenses are legitimate and that negative inferences about how this money is spent are unwarranted.
The operating grant of the caucus offices has been referred to in previous Guardian stories as a slush fund, a term used by retried Liberal cabinet minister Ron MacKinley.
“I think we all have to… be sure that we’re not casting too many shadows over the work of the legislature over the MLAs,” MacLauchlan said.
“We have a common position on this as far as our caucus is concerned. We believe the MLAs are doing a good job and that it’s reasonable for them to be reimbursed, and not an unreasonable amount of money that’s involved, for expenses related to their work.”
He would not share his personal views on whether backbench MLA expenses should be subject to the same disclosure rules as cabinet ministers and senior staffers. He believes it could be interpreted as the premier telling the legislature what to do.
But he did reiterate one of his campaign pledges.
“I’m in favour of openness and transparency.”
Meanwhile, Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker has already begun voluntarily posting expenses from his office, including hospitality expenses, donations and office supplies.
Speaker Buck Watts, who chairs the legislative management committee, did not return The Guardian’s requests for comment on this story.