B.C. MLAs haven’t been in a rush to talk about the embarrassment of Auditor General John Doyle’s report (discussed here on the weekend) on legislature bookkeeping, and no wonder.
“If the Legislative Assembly were a public company, it would be delisted,” Doyle wrote in his 17-page report.
And now it’s become an issue not simply of a committee with poor accounting habits in operating the legislature, but one of transparency in the expenses of individual politicians.
Damage control efforts have been minimal thus far, and the pain could spread beyond those who are running the shop in Victoria.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has weighed in. “That’s our money Doyle is talking about — taxes paid by British Columbians in good faith that they would be used efficiently, effectively and accountably,” the federation says in a media release.
“MLAs have no one to blame but themselves for this public spanking,” says the CTF, calling for release of detailed expense records.
The CTF then raises the spectre of past spending scandals involving the use of tax money to dredge castle moats in the U.K. and to buy video games in Nova Scotia. “Is this happening in B.C.?” demands the federation. “Who knows?”
That seems a bit much, since there’s no evidence of it happening here, but there’s plenty of evidence of shoddy bookkeeping. And, the level of disclosure by our politicians is wanting.
The requirements at both the federal and provincial levels are pretty scant. Some MLAs and MPs voluntarily give up more information about their expenses than they’re technically required to, but even then it often doesn’t amount to much.
Of the three levels of government, municipal politicians are the most transparent. The CTF points out that, in Toronto, the mayor and council post every receipt of every expense they charge to taxpayers.
“One can see, for example, that Mayor Rob Ford’s office spent $80.88 on three black ink cartridges on Aug. 9, 2011.”
It’s true civic politicians are subject to high standards of disclosure. Mind you, being too detailed can get you in trouble, too. I once submitted a receipt for a chocolate-chip muffin I bought at the Calgary Airport during a connection to Ottawa on City business.
In my mind, shelling out a couple of dollars for a muffin instead of 20 or 30 bucks for a steak-sandwich lunch demonstrated pretty good value for the taxpayer. Back home, however, some in the media wondered whether I was a cheapskate, turning in a receipt for a muffin instead of just paying for it myself. They probably made a good point.
The only party to come out swinging is the B.C. Conservatives, demanding Monday that Speaker Bill Barisoff, who also chairs the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, resign.
“Especially troubling is the disclosure that Speaker Barisoff specifically requested the auditor general to not examine the $119,000 annual constituency office allowance provided to each MLA,” said Conservative leader John Cummins.
As I mentioned in Saturday’s column, Doyle has pledged to do that audit later this year.
Given the fact the Conservatives don’t have any MLAs — with the exception of John Van Dongen who used to be a Liberal — to be embarrassed by the matter, it’s easy for them to be morally outraged.
Barisoff’s committee is scheduled to meet today to talk about Doyle’s report. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that meeting.