Inside Politics

House committee scraps NDP bid to reform MP expense regime

An NDP proposal to replace the secretive all-party board of internal economy with an independent body has been scotched by a House committee.

Last June, MPs unanimously passed an NDP motion to have the procedure and house affairs committee "conduct open and public hearings with a view to replace the Board of Internal Economy with an independent oversight body."

The committee even took the rare step of convening a special Sunday afternoon meeting before the House was slated to come back last September, just to make sure that the motion would be reinstated in the event of prorogation -- which it was. 

But judging from the modest tweaks reported back to the House earlier today, however, it's not clear why they went through the trouble, given that at the end of the day, supporters of the status quo won the day. 

The full list of official recommendations in today's report

    • That the Board of Internal Economy further consider how it could enhance the Members' Expenditures Report by providing additional information.
    • That the Auditor be invited by the Board of Internal Economy to conduct audits with greater frequency; and That the Board of Internal Economy, in consultation with the Auditor General, develop publicly-available guidelines with respect to audits of House of Commons' spending
    • The Board of Internal Economy continue its practice to make available publicly and in a timely manner the Minutes of its Meetings

The report also notes that the committee "does not believe that it is appropriate at this time to recommend that Parliament be subject to the Access to Information Act."

Not surprisingly, the New Democrats filed a formal dissent, which makes it clear that the Official Opposition "does not agree with the committee's conclusion that the status quo is adequate."

Instead, they want to see the Auditor General given a "clear legislative mandate" to look into House spending and MPs expenses, and would make Commons administration, at least, subject to the Access to Information Act.

Meanwhile, a "supplementary opinion" from the Liberals makes no reference to access to information, which suggests that they concur with the committee majority on that front, but does call for more detailed expense reports that would be closer in style to ministerial proactive disclosure, as well as an "independent commissioner" to "manage matters related to MP salaries, allowances and retirement benefits." 

They also want to the board itself to be more transparent, and suggest that this could be achieved by meeting in public whenever possible. 

Finally, a "dissident report" from Bloc Quebecois, Green and Independent MPs that calls for 'uniform' disclosure of information -- with an exception for the identities of groups and individuals with whom a member may meet, in order to protect whistle blowers and those "who do not share the ruling government's vision" from reprisal.

Read the full submission, including the minority reports, and an extensive explanation of why the majority rejected the New Democrat pitch here: 

Report on the Board of Internal Economy 

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