MLA makes unprecedented request for own expense review
Michel Samson, MLA for Richmond, made request after CBC investigation
A Nova Scotia MLA has taken the unprecedented step of asking for a formal review of his MLA living expenses.
Michel Samson, the Liberal MLA for Richmond, made the request after a CBC investigation raised questions about the house he rents in Halifax.
MLA's from outside Halifax are given an allowance to rent accommodation in the city.
Under the rules it can't be a principle residence and the rental arrangement can't benefit the member or any associated persons.
For the past six years Samson and his wife have rented a house in south end Halifax. His wife lives and works in Halifax. Samson also owns a house in Richmond County.
"I represent Richmond, l live in Richmond and I have to commute to Halifax and stay in Halifax as part of my responsibilities here in the city," he said.
The house that Samson rents is owned by Edgar Samson, a well-known businessman in Arichat who is not related to MLA Samson. Samson describes Edgar Samson as a "close friend" who has donated to both, his election campaigns in 2006 and 2009 and to the Liberal party of Nova Scotia.
Edgar Samson has also made smaller donations in those same elections to the Progressive Conservative Candidate John Greene who ran against Samson in those elections.
Samson said just after the election in 2006 he and his wife decided they wanted to move out of the Halifax apartment. He said Edgar Samson told him he was interested in buying an investment property in the city.
Edgar Samson set up a company, Metro Harbour Link Realty, purchased the home in Halifax and rented it to Samson and his wife.
"When Mr. Samson indicated he was interested in purchasing an investment property would we be interested in renting if it was an appropriate venue. We entered into an agreement as tenants with a landlord. It just happens that in this case the landlord is from Cape Breton rather than renting from a landlord in Halifax which I've done since 1998," he said.
Edgar Samson owns several properties in Cape Breton but the south end home is the only property he owns in Halifax.
The MLA bills taxpayers the maximum allowable rental allowance, $1,470 dollars per month. That money goes directly to his friend's company.
Samson argues that's the same living expense claim he has always made since he was first elected as an MLA.
"That is the same amount that I would have been claiming since 1998 as a rural member living here in Halifax, it's something that was paid to landlords in Halifax when I was renting at other places, so that is the reality of what we're able to claim," he said.
Samson said the $1,470 living allowance doesn't even cover his full rent. He said he and his wife pay Edgar Samson about $2,500 per month plus utilities, fair market value for a house in south end Halifax.
Samson says he hasn't broken rules
Samson said this is not a special deal to benefit a friend and campaign donor. He said doesn't believe he's broken any rules.
"I've been very blessed at having many supporters who have been generous in my campaigns. Mr. Samson is just one of them and at the end of the day he made an investment decision that brings risk with it and we made a decision to enter into a rental agreement which will continue as long as we see fit to remain there,' he said.
At the time of the CBC interview, he said he had not disclosed to the Speaker's Office the rental agreement.
"No I haven't because I have never had to disclose with the Speaker's Office when I have entered into a rental agreement at any other property. I've never inquired who owns the property, I've rented from companies and I really have no idea who owned those companies," said Samson.
Following the interview with the CBC, Samson met with his party's leader Stephen McNeil. After meeting with McNeil, Samson had a meeting with senior staff in the Speaker's Office, the office responsible for overseeing MLA expenses.
Samson then sent letters to both Conflict of Interest Commissioner Merlin Nunn, a retired Supreme Court Justice, and Speaker of the House Gordie Gosse asking for formal review of his own expenses.
"I want to ensure transparency and the integrity of our legislative system. I am requesting that you review this matter and render a decision as to whether there has been any violation of the Conflict of Interest Act as applies to Members of the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly," Samson stated in a letter to Nunn.
Gosse said he hopes to complete that review as soon as possible.