MPs unanimously back Liberal bid for full MP expense disclosure
NDP blocked from putting forward amendment to open House door to auditor general review
MPs have voted unanimously in favour of a Liberal-backed motion instructing the House of Commons to publicly disclose all taxpayer-funded travel and hospitality expenses.
But a New Democrat amendment that would have called on the government to give the auditor general the power to monitor and review all House spending — including MPs' expenses — was blocked from consideration by the House.
The Conservatives preempted the NDP move by bringing forward an amendment of their own to set the date for the new disclosure regime at April 1, 2014.
Under the standing orders, only one amendment can be on the floor at once.
NDP MP Peter Julian attempted to seek unanimous consent to allow the motion to go forward, but was rebuffed, leaving both he and his party fuming over what they saw as a deliberate attempt by the other two parties to sidestep a vote on the NDP amendment.
Voluntary disclosure to be replaced with House-wide system
Last spring, the Liberals attempted to garner all-party support for a similar proposal. Despite having the backing of the government, however, the gambit was thwarted after failing to secure the necessary unanimous consent.
Since then, both the Liberals and the Conservatives have implemented voluntary disclosure systems within their respective caucuses, leaving the New Democrats as the only recognized caucus that hasn't yet adopted a similar practice.
(In fact, the Liberal-drafted proposal takes pains to point that out in a preamble that notes "the majority of parties have already begun disclosing the travel and hospitality expenses of their members.")
After the passage of today's motion, however, those enhanced disclosure measures will soon no longer be optional.
Auditor general amendment
The New Democrats had intended to put forward a proposal that would "strengthen" the motion with an amendment that would have called on the government to give the auditor general a "clear mandate to oversee and audit" House spending, "including Members' expenses."
The party has previously pushed for the secretive Board of Internal Economy to be scrapped entirely in favour of an independent, arms-length body, and even succeeded in getting all-party support to study the idea at the procedure and House affairs committee.
Ultimately, however, the Conservative and Liberal majority on the committee recommended against pulling the plug on the current system, much to the displeasure of the New Democrats, who filed a minority report reiterating their original position.
By coincidence, concurrence of that same report was put to a vote on Wednesday as well. Both the New Democrats and the Liberals voted against it.
Liberals get a bonus day
Meanwhile, the very fact that the Liberals are in charge of setting the House agenda today marks a minor procedural victory for the sharp-eyed number-crunchers in House Leader Dominic LeBlanc's office, who recently convinced their Commons colleagues to give them an additional opposition day, based on the two seats added to the Liberal roster since the 2011 election and the three seats shed by the New Democrats.
Like the number of seats on committee and speaking slots in question period, the 22 supply days allotted to the opposition under the financial cycle are divvied up according to seat percentages.
In 2012, then-New Democrat Lise St-Denis crossed the floor to the Liberals, which boosted their caucus from 34 to 35 MPs, with a 36th MP joining the roster in 2013 after Yvonne Jones snagged the Labrador seat previously held by Conservative MP Peter Penashue.
Over the same period of time, the New Democrats lost two other MPs: Bruce Hyer, who left caucus to to sit as an independent in 2012, ultimately switching his allegiance to the Green Party late last year; and Claude Patry, who somewhat unexpectedly decided to throw his parliamentary lot in with the Bloc Québécois in 2013.
Under the rejigged formula, the Liberals will now get to take temporary control of the House agenda for 6 of the 22 days allotted under the supply cycle, with the remaining 16 days reserved for the New Democrats.
- This story has been edited from an earlier version that said the NDP has 17 opposition days. In fact, they have 16 days.Mar 05, 2014 1:31 PM ET