Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia MLA expenses inconsistent

Nova Scotia's MLAs continue to have inconsistent expenses, nearly three years after the province's auditor general report began a political firestorm known as the expense scandal.

Nearly three years since MLA expense scandal revealed

Nova Scotia MLAs are now required to submit expense reports every six months. (Mike Dembeck/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's MLAs continue to have inconsistent expenses, nearly three years after the province's auditor general report began a political firestorm known as the expense scandal.

In the past six months, the total amount of claims range from more than $50,000 for deputy premier Frank Corbett to just over $10,000 for Timberlea-Prospect MLA Bill Estabrooks.

Corbett, the New Democrat MLA for Cape Breton Centre, declined to comment on his expenses but the premier's office said cabinet ministers from Cape Breton have always had higher expenses because of geography.

"[Corbett] is required to be in Halifax regularly to attend to his responsibilities as deputy premier, chair of Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission and Communications Nova Scotia," wrote Shawn Fuller, the director of communications for Premier Darrell Dexter.

"Flights make up much of his expense claims. And unless CBC can figure out a way to move Cape Breton closer to Halifax, Minister Corbett will have higher expenses than MLAs who live near the legislature or who have fewer responsibilities."

Estabrooks, who billed taxpayers the least, was also the only MLA to submit a receipt to Dollarama in the last six months.

"I take some pride in the fact that some of the extravagances of the past will never be brought to my office," he told CBC News.

All 52 MLAs claimed expenses related to office costs, postage and travel, while 35 of them have also billed taxpayers for apartments in Halifax. MLAs are entitled to expense apartments in Halifax if they live more than 40 kilometres outside the city.

Four MLAs who are entitled to apartments — Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie, Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MLA Gary Burrill, Hants West MLA Chuck Porter and Hants East MLA John MacDonell — do not have them.

List posted every six months

Lenore Zann, the New Democrat MLA for Truro-Bible Hill, claimed the most out of any MLA for office costs at nearly $30,000. She said that's because so many people come to her for help.

"Some people barely need to be in their offices at all and some people barely have many cases at all come through their door," Zann told CBC News.

"We are constant."

When it comes to postage and travel within the constituency, Alfie MacLeod — the Progressive Conservative MLA for Cape Breton West — submitted the most claims.

He said that's no surprise, given the size of Cape Breton West.

"If you have an MLA whose not in touch with his constituency that's not a good thing," said MacLeod.

"I go to as many events in as many areas and meet with as many people as possible."

In 2010, Auditor General Jacques Lapointe released a 142-page report that concluded inappropriate claims were made by some politicians for personal items and others had filed "excessive and unreasonable" claims because of inadequate spending controls.

As a result of that audit, criminal charges were laid against four MLAs: current Independent MLA Trevor Zinck and former MLAs Richard HurlburtRussell MacKinnon and Dave Wilson.

Several months after Lapointe's report was released, the Nova Scotia government released regulations aimed at providing more accountability on the expenses claimed by members of the legislature.

Now, members of the house are personally liable for any overpayments and there is an improved documentation process requiring invoices and proof of payment before expenses are paid.

MLAs must also post a complete list of expenses every six months.