British Columbia

B.C. Liberal wants Victoria MLAs (none of whom are B.C. Liberals) to stop claiming for meals

To B.C. Liberal MLA Peter Milobar, it's a question of fairness and free lunches for politicians. To Andrew Weaver, it's cynical politics at its worst.

The premier and finance minister would be affected by Peter Milobar's bill, but he says it's not political

MLAs who live in the Victoria area are allowed to claim per diems when they are working in the legislature, but the amount they claim varies greatly. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

To B.C. Liberal MLA Peter Milobar, it's a question of fairness and free lunches for politicians.

To Andrew Weaver, it's cynical politics. 

But a private member's bill introduced by MIlobar on Wednesday, which would take away the ability of Victoria-area MLAs to claim a food allowance while the B.C. Legislature is sitting, produced predictable reactions on both sides of the house.

"They're absolutely busy people, but they do live close to the legislature. That's why they don't qualify for the housing allowance, and there are tens of thousands of civil servants that are also very busy people who don't charge per diems," said Milobar.

The seven MLAs that represent ridings in Greater Victoria are currently allowed to claim $61 a day for food, or smaller amounts for specific meals, on days the legislature is sitting. The 81 MLAs who live outside the capital region can do the same, but also claim a housing allowance.

All can claim their per diems on top of the basic MLA salary of $105,881.83 per year. 

The B.C. Liberals provided figures showing Premier John Horgan (MLA for Juan de Fuca) had claimed $1,684.50 in per diems on days the legislature had been sitting between forming government and March 15, with Finance Minister Carole James (MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill) at $1,587.00.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham (MLA for Saanich South) had not claimed any per diems on those days, which Milobar said was proof the switch could be done.  

'Smaller on the dollar scale'

Private member bills are rarely moved forward by the government for debate and none of the affected MLAs are B.C. Liberals. 

But Milobar, who emphasized that Victoria MLAs were operating fully within the law, said political gamesmanship had nothing to do with his motion. 

"Admittedly, it's something smaller on the dollar scale, but I think it's something that's relatable to very many British Columbians when they take their lunch to work."

Milobar said there was no hypocrisy in bringing it forward with the Liberals out of power for the first time in 16 years, because, as a first-term MLA, he has never served in government.

"I'm a new MLA. I've always brought forward things in my previous life as a municipal politician," he said. "If we're now saying MLAs shouldn't bring forward areas of things they'd like to see changed, there'd be no reason to have private member bills of any sort."

Weaver: 'Shame on you' 

Education Minister and MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake Rob Fleming, who claimed $1,462.50 in per diems on the days the legislature sat in the period measured by the Liberals, said he didn't have a strong position on the matter.

"I don't really have a hard and fast opinion about it," he said, suggesting Milobar should bring the idea to the all-party legislative management committee if he wanted it to be seriously looked at. 

But Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver (MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head), who claimed $1,221.00 in per diems from September to December of 2017) was more critical of the matter, pointing out that many Liberal MLAs  lived in Victoria properties purchased partly with their housing allowance, while still claiming per diems.

"Why can B.C. Liberal MLAs claim $61 a day as a per diem, but it's not OK for the local person every now and again to claim a lunch or dinner, because they have to work late when the legislature is sitting?" he said. 

Weaver suggested that if any bill went forward, it should target any MLA who stayed in a place with a kitchen while staying in Victoria. 

"All this does is feed that narrative of why people don't like politics," he said. 

"I say shame on Peter Milobar." 

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.