Nova Scotia

All MLAs named for excessive expense claims

The Nova Scotia Speaker's Office released the names Monday of all politicians with expense claims deemed excessive or inappropriate by the auditor general.

Premier ordered list to be made public

The Nova Scotia Speaker's Office released the names Monday of all politicians with expense claims deemed excessive or inappropriate by the auditor general.

The list was made public after Premier Darrell Dexter asked the Speaker's Office to do so.

The only politician not to come clean last week was former Tory MLA Ronnie Chisholm who bought a $750 GPS unit. He also charged $1,200 for internet service that should not have been allowed. Chisholm represented the riding of Guysborough-Sheet Harbour from 1999 to 2009.

And Yarmouth Tory MLA Richard Hurlburt is also being tagged with another pricey item — a 40-inch television set.

Last week he admitted to having spent nearly $8,000 for the generator that he said he bought for local groups, but kept at home. He repaid the money last Thursday, after first defending the purchase.

On his first day back to work after a two-week vacation in Arizona, Dexter said he regrets his claims for $2,100 for a digital camera and $5,500 for two high-end laptops.

He said he simply paid top price to make sure he'd get quality equipment that would last.

"We all make mistakes and I believe that was an error," he told reporters Monday.   "The real question in people's minds is, you know, after you make a mistake, what do you do about it? Well, what I'm doing about it is accepting that and refunding the entire cost."

He has repaid the $7,600 along with three meal claims that he said were submitted accidentally while he was also receiving a $84 per diem to pay for meals.

Change system

Dexter said he wants the system changed and has asked the Speaker of the House to start making those changes.

The premier said he wants to disband the internal economy board — the secretive all-party committee that set up the failed system in the first place.

His solution is to create a new all-party committee to come up with new spending rules that would be debated and adopted in full public view. The existing committee works behind closed doors.

Dexter said all MLAs share in the blame that the rules in place now are vague and inadequate.   "Much of the disservice here to the people of Nova Scotia was the fact that we failed to put in place a clearly identifiable system that dealt with expenses," he said. "Had we done that, then we wouldn't be here today."

Not only does the process allow the dubious MLA expense claims exposed by the auditor general, but gives each MLA up to $48,000 a year more in allowances that require no receipts at all.

Dexter plans to talk to the opposition leaders to draft new legislation this spring to create the new committee and have that committee go to work to create tighter spending rules and will set out clear rules on what is a legitimate expense.

An independent commission will standardize purchasing, leasing and staffing.

"I'm very apologetic about this. But, it's not just about apologizing; it's about what does the apology mean. It means you have to move forward with something," Dexter said.

He has also asked for an immediate change in regulations to prevent double dipping.

After the premier asked the Speaker's Office to release a list of MLAs whose expenses were deemed excessive, the Tories issued a news release calling for the same thing.