Summerside shows by example; federal Liberals issue challenge
What does Summerside City Council have in common with the federal Liberal caucus? Well, not much really, except that both groups are posting their business and entertainment expenses online for full public scrutiny.
Federal Liberals, trying hard to look busy in Ottawa the past several weeks despite prorogation, will be publicly disclosing their expenses online. Party leaders in the House and Senate say this increases openness and transparency in Parliament.
That was a pledge of new leader Justin Trudeau and it’s an encouraging sign the party is moving forward on that promise. Trudeau repeated that mantra while attending the party’s recent annual meeting in Brudenell.
The Liberal plan would require all MPs and senators to disclose their expenses, and mandate the auditor general to conduct regular performance audits of both the House of Commons and Senate administrations.
While the Liberals wait for the other parties to follow suit, it is moving ahead alone. It was odd the NDP did not support the Liberal initiative, with the party calling it political opportunism. It’s a safe bet the Conservatives and NDP will soon follow suit because it’s an issue that will resonate with voters. Anything that results in more transparency in Ottawa is a good thing.
The mystery and intrigue of Senate financial dealings have left many Canadians cynical of federal politicians, some of whom appear more concerned with expense claims rather than looking out for the needs of the average Canadian taxpayer.
Earlier this year, Summerside 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.
Summerside council made the correct decision but quickly learned there is a lesson to be learned. The recent excursion to the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Vancouver is a good example. The expenses were posted and someone actually took a look at them. It caused quite a ruckus when people saw that $24,500 was spent sending a delegation of five people to the west coast.
Like the Summerside example, Liberals had better be prepared for close scrutiny when this month’s expenses are made public later this fall. You can be sure that other parties and the press will be scouring those expenses looking for things to criticize. Let’s hope there are no claims for $17 glasses of orange juice filed while the Liberal caucus was on P.E.I. last month. Mr. Trudeau’s decision could come back to haunt him while the Tories and NDP can sit on the sidelines and jeer.
Posting expenses online is now being considered by Charlottetown council, which is looking at following Summerside’s lead. That issue is being brought to a committee meeting to start the process of getting those expenses posted on Charlottetown’s website. From there it will require a council vote in October. Charlottetown councillors’ expenses are nowhere to be found and taxpayers don’t have access to how they are spending money. A city councillor said there’s not that much travel that actually occurs so it’s not something that will be overly taxing to ensure that it gets online. Well, what about the Vancouver trip, while not as sensational as Summerside, still cost Charlottetown taxpayers $25,300 for seven delegates?
In this day of Internet access, how taxpayers’ money is spent should be easily and readily available for public scrutiny. This is all part of how a democracy works.