Don't need Liberal 'stunts' on MP expenses, NDP says
The NDP is defending its decision to nix a series of LIberal motions designed to shed light on MPs' expenses.
Tuesday, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau introduced four separate motions fashioned to allow the public to scrutinize how MPs spend taxpayers' money.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday outside the NDP's caucus room, NDP house leader Nathan Cullen accused the Liberals of "making it up as they go along." He said Trudeau had not consulted the NDP about his motions, and is "making it up on the fly."
"Let's not do stunts, let's work together," Cullen told reporters later after the party's caucus meeting. He added, "Because asking somebody to agree with something that they haven't heard about, on the fly, especially something important, is more of a stunt than it is serious work."
However, Trudeau's motions were on the order paper for the day, belying the notion that the NDP was taken completely by surprise.
The Liberals are enaged in transparency only now that Liberal senators are in trouble, Cullen added.
"Mr. Trudeau is trying to take credit" after the NDP has been working on these issues behind closed doors for a year, Cullen said.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Trudeau's motions would not distract the party from the real issue, which is Liberal and Conservative senators, adding, "The problem is with Liberal and Conservative senators who have been stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Canadian taxpayers, Conservatives and Liberals don't want to talk about that."
But Trudeau said he was disappointed by the NDP's own tactics and said he'd support "whatever motion on transparency they introduce."
"I'm still hopeful the NDP will change its mind and demonstrate a level of transparency which they have so far not been prepared to do," Trudeau told reporters after his own caucus meeting.
Each of Trudeau's motions would have required unanimous consent in order to pass. Although it seemed as if resounding nays knocked down every one of them, and the Speaker Andrew Scheer had no trouble determining there was not consent, the Conservatives say they supported the motions, along with the Liberals, leading to the conclusion that the NDP was the only major party to vote against them.
On Tuesday, Treasury Board President Tony Clement told reporters his government and the Conservative caucus supported Trudeau's motions, although at least one reporter listening in the gallery heard nays coming from the Tory side.
Clement said, "Our position is going to be one, that we should in fact as members of parliament have the same proactive disclosure on travel and meals and those kinds of things as cabinet ministers have. And our position is also that the board should be open to the public and to scrutiny."
Trudeau motions shouted down
Trudeau read four motions, and as each one failed, he introduced the next one:
- That travel and hospitality expenses of MPs be posted on a quarterly basis similar to the way cabinet ministers and their staff now list costs of travel to events and any money spent on hospitality.
- That MPs' expenditure reports be posted in a form accessible to the public.
- That the auditor general do a performance audit of the House of Commons administration every three years.
- That a parliamentary committee develop guidelines for the auditor general to perform more detailed audits of parliamentary spending.
Once all four of Trudeau's motions were defeated, Cullen introduced another motion that seemed to be aimed at Trudeau. It asked for an investigation into the "potential" use of members' travel points to see if the points have been used improperly for travel to paid speaking engagements.
Trudeau has been under fire in the past for accepting hefty speaking fees from charities and educational institutions while he was sitting as an MP. He has said that he pre-cleared his speaking jobs with the federal ethics commissioner.
Cullen's motion passed with unanimous consent, meaning that the Liberals voted for it alongside the Conservatives and the NDP.
Cullen told reporters Wednesday he knows lots of MPs who travel and charge speaking fees, and it's important to ensure no MP is using travel points and charging taxpayers for earning money speaking to groups.
Asked about the matter after his party's caucus meeting on Wednesday, Mulcair said he's been asked to do "hundreds" of speeches in the six years he's been an MP.
"I've never accepted to be paid a cent," he said.
"It wouldn't occur to me, it's often public money," Mulcair said, in reference to speaking engagements with public school boards for example. "There are two questions here, of what's appropriate and what's allowed."
Trudeau defended his income from speaking engagements in his scrum with reporters.
"Like many, many MPs, I have a secondary source of income. About 150 people in Parliament have other jobs, they are lawyers or are in business," he said, adding that when he ran for Liberal leader, he dropped his public speaking business.
"I absolutely have never used House or Parliament resources in any speaking engagements," he added.
Online expense reports
The Liberals have committed to posting their MPs' expenses online by the fall, in the same detailed manner that cabinet ministers currently disclose their spending. The Conservatives say they support the idea and will adopt that position at the House of Commons' all-party board of internal economy, the body that monitors MPs' expenses. The NDP told CBC News Wednesday that ministerial level disclosure of MPs' expenses is "definitely on the table."
One thing most MPs have stayed away from so far is making the workings of the MPs' board of internal economy public. This was the body that denied a request in 2009 by former auditor general Sheila Fraser to audit members' expense files, although she was eventually allowed to do an examination that did not single out MPs by name.
The report on the administration of the House of Commons, released in 2012 under the name of the new auditor general MIchael Ferguson, said there was general compliance by MPs with the rules, but did note, "We found about seven per cent of items tested did not contain sufficient documentation or information to demonstrate proper authorization, and about five per cent did not demonstrate sufficient support for the transaction. All expense claims should have adequate supporting documentation."
On Wednesday, Cullen, a member of the MPs' board of internal economy, after pointing out reporters tend to describe it as "highly secretive," defended the need for secrecy. He said, "The vast majority [of work] is around security, security of the House, the prime minister ... I will stand here and defend that secrecy." He continued that many issues discussed by the board are legal in nature, "You're having to dismiss somebody, or there's a legal case going on. You can't talk about them in public, you legally can't do it."
Cullen said he is receptive to opening up some aspects of the board's inner workings, but warned, "I'm going to tell you now, it's not going to be as thrilling as you'd hoped. There's not a lot of nail biting conversations, but a lot of important ones."