Premier MacLauchlan fails to address problems of backbencher expense funds

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Premier Wade MacLauchlan

Premier Wade MacLauchlan glossed over several key points last week during his spirited and lengthy defence of monthly payments to government backbenchers — payments related to their work as MLAs. He vigorously defended the $300 monthly allotment paid to private members on the government side of the legislature, describing them as “legitimate reimbursements.”

After meeting with his caucus Friday, the premier gave an interview to discuss those backbench expenses, obviously feeling confident there was nothing improper done by Liberal members.

It’s likely the premier grilled his caucus about any possible skeletons and feeling reasonably reassured, declared the payments legitimate.

The premier expressed his hope that Islanders recognize these payments as legitimate reimbursements for expenses. Well, Mr. Premier, until several weeks ago, there was almost no knowledge in the public arena these monthly payments even existed.

It was a former Liberal cabinet heavyweight who said the expenses were jokingly referred to as a “slush fund.” The term makes the premier cringe but that is a perception among members of the public.

Naturally, taxpayers are scratching their heads about this secretive budget item — amounting to over $200,000 a year.

That’s because it is not currently disclosed to the public and is exempt from release under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Those payments are made without the requirement of receipts. An MLA need only declare in the broadest of terms the expenses were incurred for travel, meals or other work expenses and the bill is paid.

No one else gets away with this kind of loose accounting. MLAs are supposed to lead by example and this is going in the opposite direction.

Premier MacLauchlan has to tighten up the rules on this fund. MLAs must provide receipts and in instances where none are issued, he or she must detail the expenses — i.e. cost of a ticket or a donation made to a local fundraiser.

There was an egregious case where the Opposition expense fund was raided by several party officials to make payments to a former chief of staff. Most caucus members were unaware of the payments and suddenly the PC caucus office was left with a bare cupboard.

So, not only is there the potential for abuse because of weak accounting protocols, it has actually happened. Maybe not on the government side, but the premier just can’t say his team didn’t mess up so all is well.

Details about the fund were so alarming that Auditor General Jane MacAdam says she is considering investigating. It seems the premier, who should be encouraging an audit for the sake of transparency and accountability, is trying to deter the auditor general by defending these extra payments. The premier has even suggested the auditor general may not have the legal right to investigate the monthly fund.

All MLAs should take a lesson from Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker who is voluntarily posting all expenses from his office, including hospitality, donations and office supplies.

It’s taxpayers’ money and they have every right to see how it is spent. Obviously, in most cases, the claims are legitimate.

But that should be up to Islanders to decide. The expenses should be open for scrutiny but all we have from the premier is that his side didn’t screw up.

The premier is deferring the matter to the Standing Committee on Legislative Management, which oversees the work of the legislative assembly.

The committee will discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting and decide whether MLA expenses should be disclosed to the public.

The premier has requested the committee to follow suit on full disclosure, which now already applies to cabinet ministers and senior government officials.

Liberals hold a majority on the committee so the result should be a foregone conclusion. But so far, this has not happened.

The premier could also simply order his backbench MLAs to post expenses online — much like Mr. Bevan-Baker has already done — which would then force all MLAs to follow suit. But that hasn’t happened either.

Premier MacLauchlan’s position on this matter is surprising and disappointing.

Organizations: Green Party, Standing Committee on Legislative Management

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Recent comments

  • Jimmy Buffet
    January 29, 2016 - 13:44

    Not as bad as the good ole days when Binns cabinet ministers were using government credit cards to party it up at the bars in Charlottetown . Wine tasting trips to California ... what heady times !

  • Serious Reader
    January 29, 2016 - 08:16

    If they (the MLAs) can't live on their paycheques then they shouldn't be there. An extra $300. a month would go a long way to helping senior's/families put food on the table/oil in the tank/pay for medications or just live better. They should be donating it..or helping someone who needs help, and there are plenty.

  • Cromwell
    January 29, 2016 - 05:47

    A simpler, and yet much more effective headline, would have been 'Premier MacLauchlan fails' Didn't think it could happen, but he's actually making Ghiz look good.

  • What Do You Expect
    January 28, 2016 - 15:50

    Just what do you people expect ?????? Hell , they only get $70,000 . That's hardly enough to live on . Ask any seniors in this Province . Take the $70,000 which part of it is tax free , add $300 X 12 = $3,600 + the extra they get paid to be on committee - gas mileage & meals . Hey , being a MLA is better in this province than any trained trades man that I have known in my working life . I sure missed my calling

    • Rural PEI
      January 28, 2016 - 20:45

      You think 70,000 dollars and have 3000 bosses that can throw you out of a job in 4 years is a dream job. They can have it, I wouldn't do it. I think we should pay them more then we would get smarter people to run for public office. The 300 dollar expense is not a great perk considering the amount of fundraisers and community events they have to attend. Unless you are guaranteed a cabinet post, for many people it is not worth running for office.

    • Cromwell
      January 29, 2016 - 06:23

      Rural PEI Of the 27 elected MLA's on PEI, only 5 get the minimum annual salary, and all of these MLAs are members of Opposition parties. It is to be recognised that in addition to the salary, there is also a very generous benefits package and retirement package that kicks in fully after the MLA attends 10 Parliamentary sessions. Given that (a) PEI has the lowest minimum wage in Canada, and (b) the highest number of elected members on a per capital basis (there are some 90,000 eligible voters on PEI), I would suggest that we are seriously 'over-governed' with too many MLAs, and that the available talent pool for our elected members is growing decidedly weak, as evidenced by Wade MacLauchlan being Premier.

  • Islander
    January 28, 2016 - 15:07

    Hold on a bit longer we will all see what this guy is made of. H e should stop thinking we are all stupid and he is so educated

  • Alfonse
    January 28, 2016 - 13:14

    The Premier stands on the slush fund is an abomination. It is absolutely unacceptable that MLAs can go around and support charities on the taxpayers money. I want to decide what charities my money6 is going to support. It is totally out of line that taxpayers should submit to pay taxes so politicians can give it away to whomever they choose. I implore you, Mr. Premier, to do away with this slush fund, - or at least put restrictions on what it can be used for, - and that should exclude charity. It is absurd to think that I pay taxes out of my meager income, but then need charity to be able to live, - which is then coming from an MLA with my own money. Don't anybody see how crazy that is?? The Premier, supposedly smarter than the average Islander, of all people should see that.

    January 28, 2016 - 11:54

    Waiting every day as all Islanders are, for the truth in all the corruptions and scams that our Politicians have going on. Loan write offs,E gaming, PNP etc,etc, etc,......Red and Blue. Starting to think we would not have enough room in the Jails. Harper might have seen this coming as to why he wanted to build more Correction Centers. Hopefully some day they will see Red and Blue,but from the top of Police cars.