Federal Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau says Liberal MPs will proactively disclose travel and hospitality expenses incurred by themselves and their staff.

Although Parliament already puts the expenses of members of Parliament online, using broad categories such as travel, staff salaries, training and office equipment, Trudeau said he is suggesting a more detailed method of disclosure.

"Taxpayers have a right and an expectation now in the 21st century to know how their dollars are being spent by members and senators, and there has been movement in this direction but nothing that has gone nearly as far as the bar raising that the Liberal Party is doing right now with this openness and transparency initiative," Trudeau said, speaking to reporters at a news conference he held on the lawn of Parliament Hill.

Trudeau went on to explain what he called a four-point plan:

  • Posting MPs' and senators' expenses online.
  • Introducing legislation in the fall that would mandate that the MPs' board of internal economy, an all-party and generally secretive expense-monitoring committee, hold its meetings in public, except in exceptional circumstances.
  • Reporting on MPs' expenses will be done quarterly and on spreadsheets so that the data can be searched and run though software programs.
  • The House and Senate boards of internal economy should work with the auditor general to develop mandatory performance audits of the House of Commons and Senate administration every three years, and public guidelines under which the auditor general is called in to perform more detailed audits of parliamentary spending.

On the last point, Trudeau's proposal for the auditor general's involvement doesn't go as far as a motion put forward by government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton, one the Liberal Senate leader James Cowan said he would support: that every senator be comprehensively audited. On Wednesday, however, the Senate voted to adjourn debate on that motion for a day after several senators expressed concern about the motion.

A performance audit, which is what Trudeau is suggesting, is an "independent, objective and systematic assessment of how well government is managing its activities, responsibilities and resources," according to the auditor general's website.

After the Senate rose for the day, Conservative Senator Elizabeth Marshall, a former auditor general in Newfoundland and Labrador, told reporters she and other senators plan to meet with Auditor General Michael Ferguson. 

"I’m sure the auditor general himself has views on what he would like to do, and I’m quite confident that we’re not going to be telling the auditor general what he can and can’t do," she said. 

Late Wednesday, a spokesperson for the auditor general said in an email the office has received no formal correspondence from the Senate, and it would be premature to comment on the motion on auditing senators' expenses.

Protesters surround Trudeau

As Trudeau spoke, a group of young people chanted behind him, holding up placards saying, "Justin in over his head" and "Justin loves the Senate," with the word "loves" represented by a crude drawing of a heart.

Trudeau told the crowd, "One can see why Conservatives are so worried about openness and transparency."

After a few minutes, some RCMP officers asked the demonstrators if they had permits, which are required if anyone wants to stage a protest on the Hill. The placard-holders quickly left, refusing to answer questions from reporters.

Fred DeLorey, a spokesman for the Conservative Party, told CBC News in an email, "Justin Trudeau continues defending the status quo in the Senate. It's no surprise young Canadians photobombed one of his events."

'A shift from how we've done things in the past'

Asked by reporters about the fact that two Liberal MPs — former MP John Cannis and current MP Judy Sgro — were ordered to repay improperly claimed housing expenses, as well as the fact that Liberal Senator Mac Harb has been ordered to repay thousands of dollars in living expenses, Trudeau said, "I'm extremely proud of my caucus. This is a shift from how we've done things in the past."

Asked if his proposals would have prevented the current uproar over Senator Mike Duffy's expenses and the fact they were repaid  by the prime minister's top aide, Nigel Wright, Trudeau replied, "Nothing that I put forward today would have avoided the fact that the chief of staff to the prime minister wrote a personal cheque to Mr. Duffy. There are already rules in place that say a senator cannot receive a gift of over $500. Nothing in this would have fixed the tremendous ethical lapses of the prime minister, so this is not aimed at that."

Wright has since resigned from his job with the prime minister and Duffy resigned from the Conservative caucus last month to sit as an Independent.

Speaking to reporters outside the NDP caucus room on Wednesday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair questioned why Liberal senators suggested Tuesday that MPs also be audited. The Liberal senators were responding to  the motion LeBreton introduced in the Senate to have the auditor general examine senators' expenses.

The suggestion was a "bit galling" Mulcair said, adding, "Our side was looked at by the auditor general. A few recommendations, overall a clean bill of health. You've got systems in place, you're checking ... they've got very tough and thorough procedures in place. Believe me, they're thorough. So that was the case in the House."

Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu told reporters Wednesday that MPs should be audited as well as senators.

"I think the taxpayers or citizens want that kind of transparency in both chambers. Even if you're nominated or elected. For myself, it's not a matter of where you are, it's a matter of your expenses come from taxpayers and taxpayers should know what they do with their money," he said.

$90,000 cheque dominates QP

In question period Wednesday, the matter of Nigel Wright's cheque to Duffy continued to dominate the first half of the 45-minute session, as it has for more than a week.

Once again, Mulcair shot brief lawyer-like questions at Harper without any preamble or partisan rhetoric. Mulcair asked crisply about what Harper knew about the current audit of Senator Pamela Wallin by the accounting firm Deloitte. A former Conservative, Wallin now sits as an Independent.

Harper responded that there are "considerable issues" with the audit, which is more information than he has given before.

Mulcair continued and asked if Harper knew of any offer, similar to the $90,000 cheque given to Duffy, made to Wallin by Wright.

Harper replied he had asked Wright if any other similar offers were made to other senators. "The answer was no," Harper said.

Mulcair observed, "That wasn't so hard was it, answering a question?" prompting laughter from the opposition benches.