MLA Michel Samson has won a partial victory when it comes to housing allowance, but the auditor general has found a number of other problems during his review of Samson's claims.
Samson has won his fight to have his home in Arichat considered his primary residence. Auditor General Jacques Lapointe said that Samson should not have been paid a rental allowance for his home in Halifax that he rents from a friend because the rules state MLAs can only rent apartments
Lapointe said the problems stem from the vagueness around the rules that dictate what MLAs can claim.
In 2005 and 2006, when MLAs were billing taxpayers for big screen TVs, coffee makers, generators and other electronics, Lapointe had this to say about the rules: "It's hard to tell what's right and wrong."
Lapointe questioned why Samson is having taxpayers fund his 15-kilometre commute from his Arichat home to his constituency office.
According to Lapointe, other MLAs are also claiming their commutes.
"While this travel may be related to a member’s duties, it is no different from the daily commute of many Nova Scotians to perform their jobs," said Lapointe.
MLAs are entitled to 38 cents per kilometre for travel on business and $38 per day for meals.
But the auditor general said there's no clear rule on what qualifies as business.
"If it's uncertain what can be claimed and what cannot, then it's unfair to the members who are trying to make those decisions. All of the ones that I deal with in this report need to be examined and need to be clarified pretty quickly," he said.
New Democrat Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald spoke to the media about expense claims.
"The rules say that you rent an apartment. It’s a temporary accommodation, it’s not intended to be a long-term accommodation and it’s not intended to have any benefit for you, your family or your friends," she said.
"Mr. Samson has been collecting a benefit that goes beyond the existing rules. The rules do not allow for the renting of a house, for example."
Samson calls move an attack on his family
Samson said the decision last April by the speaker of the legislature to cut off his rental allowance and the NDP's reaction Friday is an attack on his family.
"Back in Cape Breton, we call that dirty politics," said Samson.
"As elected members, you always expect that you’re going to be open to public scrutiny, but when you see such an attack taking place on a family — I think every Nova Scotian would be disgusted to see what happened."
The government controls the committee that makes the rules. Government House Leader Frank Corbett said he supports Lapointe's call for clearer rules.
"If he feels there's areas where expense reporting has to be tightened up we will do that as fast as we can," he said.
Tighter rules and more scrutiny have already led to savings. Last year, elected representatives in the province spent $1.6 million less than expected.
Even tighter rules may mean even bigger savings next year.