Analysis

Tightwads! MPs' expenses reveal party leaders don't party

We are led by a bunch of cheapskates. That's if the newly disclosed list of MPs' expenses is anything to go by. Not one of the main party leaders could spring for more than a fraction of their allowance for hospitality — even when it's on the taxpayers' bill and not their own.

But backbenchers run up bills in the thousands for booze, food and gifts for guests

Stephen Harper: cheapskate. The prime minister spent only $29 on hospitality in 2012-2013 according to expenses released by the House of Commons Monday, a fraction of his allowance for entertaining guests on his MP account. (Canadian Press)

Sigh. We are led by a bunch of cheapskates. That's if the newly disclosed list of MPs' expenses is anything to go by.

Have you seen the listings for "Hospitality?" Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair, Bob Rae, Justin Trudeau ... not one of these tightwads could spring for more than a fraction of their allowance for hospitality — even when it's on the taxpayers' bill, not their own.

What's the matter with these people? Plenty of mere backbenchers had no trouble running up bills of $8,000, $9,000, even $10,000 for booze, food and gifts for their hopeful guests.

And Harper was the worst. Seriously: $29? Twenty-nine dollars was all the prime minister of this great land could find to spread a little cheer?

Yes, yes, he didn't run the PMO's expenses through his MP's account, so it doesn't mean much. But, still ... twenty-nine dollars?

Of course, any list which has Bev Oda among the most flinty-eyed guardians of the taxpayers' purse seems of doubtful utility. And she was only in Parliament for four months of the year, so her total of $782 doesn't really get her into the Cheapskates Club.

Plus, by design, there's no detail in the list of MPs' expenses, published Monday, and likely won't be as long as they are overseen by the MPs' own Board of Internal Economy. As Oda discovered, $16 for one glass of orange juice tells a whole story. But $782 for what? We don't know, so, no story there. Besides, we don't know if some of the tightwads were just better than other MPs at sticking someone else with the bill — like their department, their party or whoever.

But with all these provisos, herewith, the Roll of Honour for the most generous spenders, and the Hall of Shame for the cheapest MPs. Remember, this isn't about their overall spending on travel and offices, etc. It's just hospitality. So, here goes.

Hey, big spender

First, the exclusive Big Spenders $10,000 Club. And how much more exclusive can you get, with only three members?

Top of the Big Spenders is Romeo Saganash of the NDP, with $10,633 in hospitality spending for the year that ended March 31. Close behind are two Conservatives: Paul Calandra and Chris Warkentin, with $10,197 and $10,138.

Well done, all!

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But spare a thought for those who did not make it into the $10,000 Club, but came close. Plenty of MPs managed to spend more than $9,000 – including Conservatives Jim Flaherty, Lisa Raitt, Michelle Rempel, Bernard Valcourt, Jeff Watson, Alice Wong, Wai Young, Rick Dykstra, Parm Gill, Darryl Kramp, Mike Lake, Denis Lebel, Ryan Leef, Pierre Lemieux, Chungsen Leung, Eve Adams, Rob Anders, Lois Brown, Brad Butt, Bruce Stanton and Devinder Shory.

Well, it's a big caucus.

Also in the $9,000-Plus Club are NDPers Pierre Dionne Labelle, Matthew Dubé, Pierre-Luc Dussault, Manon Perrault, Anne Minh-Thu Quach and Francine Raynault. So are Liberals Hedy Fry, Scott Andrews, David McGuinty, Francis Scarpaleggia and Carolyn Bennett. Good effort!

The Hall of Shame

But what about the Cheapskates' Club? Here, as we have sadly noted, we find the party leaders. But even Stephen Harper can't hold a candle to the supreme leader of the Tightwads.

It's Scott Reid! The gregarious Conservative member for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington spent nothing. Zero. Nada. Unless it's a typo, Mr. Reid didn't expense one lousy drink for one thirsty constituent.

Resign!

Still, Reid is not a party grandee, like Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who spent just $193 on hospitality. In a whole year! Or Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, who only managed to spend $466. Or Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who spent $560. Or Science and Technology Minister Gary Goodyear, who seems friendly enough but only spent $820.

Even Treasury Board president Tony Clement, who famously found $50 million in border-infrastructure funds for his borderless riding, spent only $1,020 on hospitality, not far behind the NDP's sociable Charlie Angus, who spent $1,706. What, they don't get thirsty in Northern Ontario?

In fact, the Tightwads are spread across party lines, just like the Big Spenders. Stéphane Dion barely managed to get his total up over $2,100. Some Liberal! But NDPers like Jean Crowder, Megan Leslie, Irene Mathyssen and Carol Hughes could not find even two grand in their budgets to ease the parched throats of their fellow Canadians. Nor could Conservatives Gordon Brown, John Carmichael, Corneliu Chisu and Roxanne James.

$443.92, Ms. James? Is that the best you can do?
 
Of course, none of them is the same league as Scrooge Scott Reid, but still. Don't they know they're allowed to spend up to three per cent of their office budget on hospitality? That ranges from about $8,500 to $10,700 — and, really, is that so hard to spend?

For some, apparently, it is. So step forward, Canada's parsimonious party leaders:

Stephen Harper: $29. Tom Mulcair: $1,448. Bob Rae: $1,727. Justin Trudeau: $4,433.

You call this hospitality? We can do better.

About the Author

Terry Milewski

Terry Milewski worked in 50 countries during 38 years with the CBC. He was the CBC's first Middle East Bureau Chief, spent eight years in Washington during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations and was based in Vancouver for 14 years before returning to Ottawa as senior correspondent.

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