Tom Harris is a British Labour Party member of parliament. On air with me he offered this advice to Canada’s members of parliament and senate on the growing issue of expense account spending. If any MP or senator has submitted inappropriate claims, come clean before you’re exposed. And exposed you will be, warned Harris. In an age of cyber information exchange, keeping fraudulent misspending of taxpayer dollars hidden when there is a public hunger for a full and transparent audit of all MP/senator expensing is impossible.
The information will leak. Better to be confessing ahead of the anger curve than attempting a feeble defense later. Harris knows of what he speaks. He watched from the inside how beginning in 2008 and really developing in 2009, Britain’s parliament was rocked with a spending scandal Harris told me caused “hundreds of careers to end in ignominy.” Imprisonment awaited the worst scofflaws. How could so many nationally elected representatives of the people of the U.K. engage in a systematic and enthusiastic abuse of parliamentary expense accounts? The practice, over time, had been green-lighted by national party leaders. The message to MPs, Harris said, was ‘we can’t give you the pay raise we know you deserve, so use your expense account as a substitute. Keep it quiet and since there’s no specific public accounting of MP expense spending, all will go unnoticed.’ It did. For years. Until it stopped. The scamming of Britain’s taxpayers came to jolting halt when a media request was made for expense spending information. A disc prepared for this purpose included heavily redacted information. However, the wheels fell off the expense account party bus when a disc with the redacted information on MP expensing intact came into the possession of the London Telegraph. Scandal ensued as Britons became aware of how willingly members of parliament had climbed aboard that party bus and taken party bosses at their word. The expense account had indeed become a salary component.
How badly was taxpayer confidence betrayed? Mr. Harris points to what he considered the most egregious claim. One MP expensed a duck house for the pond at his estate. That one was not paid, but the member of parliament considered his duck house claim well within his rights. Other MPs, having paid off their London condos, nevertheless continued to claim mortgage payments for long periods of time. Hiring family to perform little or no work of value was another repeated scam. The list of fraudulent claims is lengthy and cursory online digging will detail what British taxpayers were to discover. Are Canadians on the cusp of a revelation of Britain-like expense spending abuse by their federal representatives? What I hear from listeners across Canada is “we demand to know.” Will questions surrounding appointed but now without party caucus membership senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau’s deeply questioned expense claims make answering Canadians questions on this issue unavoidable? Federal political parties are challenging each other to come clean on expense spending issues.
Opposition parties are demanding a fully independent inquiry into Senate expense claims. That though won’t be nearly good enough for Canadians. A fully independent public audit of all current and past MPs and senators is what is necessary. There have been occasions when parliament’s own spending overseers have requested repayment of claimed expenses. One of Duffy’s critics, Liberal MP Wayne Easter who represents the PEI riding in which Duffy’s primary housing expense claimed cottage is located, was, according to media reports, himself asked to repay $8,050.16 for claimed secondary residence expenses from August 2007 to July 2010. Easter claimed expenses for a property he didn’t own.
It was the parliamentary Board of Internal Economy which requested the repayment from the Liberal MP. Federal Heritage Minister James Moore blasted another Liberal, Judy Sgro over a request by the BOIE to repay $60,332.38. Additional media reports indicate this was for claiming rental expenses on an Ottawa condo Sgro had had owned, sold to her children, then claimed the rent she paid to her children as an expense. Then there’s Michelle Simson. A former Liberal MP, Ms. Simson decided to post all her expense spending on her website. For that she was first warned, then punished. Ms. Simson has told me on several occasions that she was denied speaking privileges in parliament by Liberal whip and shunned by other MPs from all parties. One thing we do know is that at the provincial level, former members of the Newfoundland and Labrador assembly, as well a Nova Scotia counterpart have already been jailed for fraudulent spending of expense monies. Canadians want and deserve answers.
Article by Roy Green
Roy Green is the host of Corus Radio Network’s national show – The Roy Green Show, heard locally on weekends on AM900 CHML