P.E.I. auditor general considers audit of MLA expense fund

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 15, 2016

Auditor General Jane MacAdam

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

P.E.I.’s auditor general says she is considering looking into spending by the government backbench and Opposition offices, which includes a so-called slush fund available for MLA expenses.

Jane MacAdam says an audit of the Liberal and Progressive Conservative caucus offices is not currently on her planned audit schedule, but she is aware of the public discussions on the issue and this could change her plans.

“I will consider it,” MacAdam said.

A Guardian investigation revealed last week that P.E.I. taxpayers paid a former Opposition chief of staff more than $18,000 seven months after he had been laid off from the Opposition office in 2013 and after he had collected four months of severance pay.

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The money came from a so-called slush fund money granted to the Liberal, Tory and Green party backbench offices to help run their daily affairs.

Money from this fund is also used by MLAs for expenses, such as mileage, donations to charities and fundraising tickets.

PC MLAs can access $200 a month while Liberal backbenchers get $300 per month for expenses. They are not required to submit receipts.

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This year, the government and Opposition offices were each given $120,400 in operating grants, not including salaries for office staff, which come from a separate salary account.

Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker has begun posting a full breakdown of money spent from his office’s operating grant of $20,000, listing everything from bank fees to postage stamps.

But unless they voluntarily choose to release this information, as Bevan-Baker has done, spending within the caucus offices is out of reach from the public eye.

Records from all offices of the legislative assembly are exempt from release under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

An accounting of this money must be presented to the province’s legislative management committee every year.

But the caucus operating grants are not audited.

MacAdam says some of the information that has come to light about spending in these offices was new to her.

“Up until this point I didn’t have a lot of information on how the system worked, so it’s new information to me… in terms of the reports that are prepared,” she said.

“I’m not familiar with that because we’ve never done any stand-alone work on the legislative assembly.”

Currently, MacAdam and her staff have their hands full preparing the 2016 annual report as well as continuing to work on a special audit into the controversial e-gaming file, requested last year by the premier.

But once that work is complete, MacAdam says she would consider delving into MLA expenses and office spending.

“I would make a decision in the coming months,” she said.