August 08, 2013 - 3:33 PM
In the various discussions and meetings I have had with many groups and individuals so far this summer, one trend I have noticed is that there often seems to be a lack of knowledge and awareness regarding government programs, legislation and spending decisions. Fortunately I am also becoming aware that more citizens are now starting to take the time to ask questions when they have concerns which, more often than not, are based on either a lack of information or speculation or sometimes a combination of both. In some instances where political interest groups are involved, I have even encountered intentional efforts to distort and manipulate in an effort to mislead for partisan gain. It is for these reasons that I greatly value the opportunity to hear directly from citizens and to clarify or provide further factual information on issues that are of importance.
Recently I was asked about the subject of transparency around MP expenses. The question I received was in response to a Liberal MP from Winnipeg who had sent a letter to a local newspaper in Okanagan-Coquihalla suggesting citizens should support proposed Liberal reforms on MP spending. As it turns out, this was actually a form letter, identical copies of which had been sent out by the Liberals to media in Government MP’s ridings across Canada. In other words, the Liberal MP made no effort to research what individual Government MPs would be targeted before firing off the form letter. I mention this as I have long been on the record as a strong believer in accountability and a supporter of increased transparency. In fact I was one of the first MPs in Ottawa to publicly call for the MP pension plan to be reformed in a manner that was more respectful to taxpayers. My first accountability report provided additional information over and above what is normally disclosed in annual reports from the Board of Internal Economy and because of the favorable response to last years report I will continue to release my annual accountability reports and write weekly MP reports for local citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla.
From my perspective, the ultimate objective of increased transparency and accountability is to ensure that tax-dollars are spent in a cost effective manner that is respectful to taxpayers. Surprisingly, one detail this Winnipeg Liberal MP left out of his letter to the editor is that currently there is information on annual MP spending already available and posted on-line. The dollar values of wages, travel, hospitality and events, printing, mail-outs, leases and office expenses including equipment rentals and purchases is currently available online in the Members Expenditure Report from the Board of Internal Economy. It seemed a curious omission for a Liberal MP to write a letter on this subject without letting the public know what information is already available online to allow taxpayers the opportunity to have more perspective on this topic. Also omitted by the Liberal MP was that in British Columbia, that same online information shows that the two highest spending MP’s in B.C. are in fact also Liberals MP’s.
This information on MP spending is not newly released and has been available online for over six months. I raise this point due to the fact that while I support increased transparency and accountability from my experience much of the information that is already available online is seldom used or raised publicly with very little mention in the media. Increased itemized reporting of the details of this information that is largely already posted in turn requires increased resources to provide, resources that also carry costs. As an example one Member of Parliament who currently provides more itemized information on office spending also has over twice the number of staff of any MP I have yet met to date. This may be something that citizens are supportive of regardless of costs while others have expressed the importance to keep spending down and are satisfied with the existing online reporting. This is a subject I welcome your views and comments on.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla. His blog is DaninOttawa.com and previous MP reports can be read at the www.danalbas.com website.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013