Canadian members of Parliament should not be afraid to have their expenses audited, if it's true that the rules and regulations in place are as good as the MPs say they are, says Auditor General Sheila Fraser.
"Well, I don't think MPs have anything to fear. They've certainly indicated that they have strong systems and practices in place. If that's the case, I would be very happy to report that."
Fraser said the public and some MPs have clearly "misunderstood" what her intentions were when she asked to do a performance audit of the administration of the House of Commons. Fraser said a performance audit is not as detailed as a forensic audit.
While she could discover inappropriate spending — as happened in Britain with members of Parliament — the performance audit she is recommending is more focused on looking at what spending rules are in place and if they are being followed.
"I've heard people talking about a $4 cup of coffee. I've got, quite frankly, better things to do than look for $4 cups of coffee," Fraser said.
She said she would welcome the chance to clarify her position at the Board of Internal Economy, which initially turned down her audit request.
MP expenses: Should the auditor general have access?
Speaker Peter Milliken, who chairs the board, said it's not up to him whether or not Fraser gets that chance; he says it's up to the board as a whole.
When asked if he understands that the public is looking for accountability, Milliken said: "All Canadians have that interest. It's not a matter of what you're hiding. It's a matter of what the auditor general's report is going to reveal. It may reveal nothing. It may say everything is fine."
Milliken was also asked why he believes the auditor general does not have the authority to do such an audit when previous auditors general have done them. Milliken said those auditors general were invited to do the audits. He repeated that it is not up to him to invite Fraser to do an audit.
Parties sound more open to talks
Meanwhile all the parties — after hearing from constituents in their ridings over this past break week — have now indicated they are willing to have further discussions with Fraser about what she would like to look at.
'It has been a very long time since an audit has been done of the House.'—Sheila Fraser
Liberal MP Marcel Proulx, who is one of two designated spokespeople for the Board of Internal Economy, said the invitation for Fraser to come back and speak to the board was already made in the letter it sent to her declining the audit request. But it is not clear when or if Fraser will appear before the board.
Fraser said it's clear Canadians want "accountability for their monies spent."
"I don't think anyone likes to be audited, but it is an important part of our accountability and governance framework. It has been a very long time since an audit has been done of the House, I mean close to 20 years, and that is why we suggested it," Fraser said, adding that she already audits all departments and agencies on a regular basis.