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Fun with finances

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I have finally managed to have some Excel spreadsheet fun with the annual expenses claimed by Manitoba’s 14 elected MPs in 2007-08.

Every year the House of Commons produces a report listing what every MP spent on travel, office supplies, phone calls etc. There are limits to what they can spend on certain things and I find it interesting to see who spends what, on what and whose expenses change from year to year.

Hey Big Spender
Provencher MP Vic Toews (yes he is a cabinet minister but these are the expenses associated with his MP status and are separate and distinct from his cabinet minister bills and duties) is the winner here, spending $493,233.56. His expenses were up 12.54 per cent over the year before. It is worth noting here that Liberal Tina Keeper had the biggest increase in her expense bills, jumping 15.28 per cent. But more on that later. . .

Pat Martin, interestingly, fell from first place in 2006-07 to seventh in 2008-09. He was one of four MPs who overall expense claims went down, and with a drop of 3.47 per cent, Martin had the second biggest decrease in his bills. But more on that later too. . .

Counting every penny?
Perhaps the remaining Manitoba MPs will be happy to see the tail end of NDP MP Bill Blaikie, who was making them all look bad with his lean, green, non-spending habits. Blaikie came in with the lowest tally at $375,960 in 2007-08. He was the only MP to stay below $400,000 spending $31,950 less than Brian Pallister, who was the second lowest spender.

Have constituency. Will Travel.
Ah. Tina Keeper. No surprise that she spends the most here. ($38,068).The Churchill riding is the third largest geographically in Canada spanning 461,009 square kilometers. That’s about 87 times the size of the city of Winnipeg. And almost 159 times the size of Pat Martin’s riding, which at 29 square kilometers is the smallest of the Manitoba 14.

What is interesting to note is that Keeper’s constituency travel claims soared 249 per cent in 2007-08.

This should not be surprising considering one of the biggest criticisms I heard about Keeper was that she didn’t get out to her constituency that often, spent most of her time in Ottawa or Winnipeg and was leaving the people that voted for her, particularly aboriginals on northern reserves, feeling ignored. It was criticism supported by the figures, as she spent just $10,901 on constituency travel in 2006-07. The only MPs who spent less than that were those from Winnipeg, whose ridings are far more compact.

Perhaps Keeper heard and heeded the criticism as she certainly did seem to spend more to go around her riding, although these bills could have also been for her staff to go around the riding, not just Keeper herself. She also spent the most on advertising to her constituents, to let them know where she could be reached, what she had been up to, what she can help them do, and other constituency related messages. At $31,945, her ad budget also soared, this time 169 per cent. She spent just $11,857 the year before.

None of it was enough to help her cause however since she was defeated in the election in October by the NDP’s Niki Ashton. I’ll be interested to see how Ashton’s first expense claims compare.

MPs must go home
MPs are allowed up to 64 return trips from Ottawa to their constituency, or anywhere else in Canada, during the year. Up to four of those trips can be to Washington, D.C. The travel claims also include meals and accommodation up to $24,480.

Ray Simard racked up the most in this column, $129,966. But that was down almost 2.5 per cent from the year before. It is interesting that 11 of the 14 MPs spent less on travel in 2007-08 than in 2006-07. Pat Martin’s bills plummeted 19.92 per cent.

Could that be because Martin has for the last couple of years been called to defend the fact he was spending the most of his colleagues on travel, and was asked whether or not any of those trips were to get him to British Columbia where he owns a seasonal property on Salt Spring Island?

Entitled to their entitlements
I’ve always been annoyed by the category called "other" that seems to be included on any expense reports provided by

It’s really hard to figure out what the heck the MPs are spending money on when all it says is "other." And since we can’t get any more information on their expense claims unless each MP is willing to give it to us we’ll never know.

In 2006-07, James Bezan claimed $8 in the other category kind of reminding me of the pack of gum David Dingwall got blasted for expensing. . .Nobody had claims that low this year. Anita Neville was the closest, claiming $36.

The only claims here which are understandably in the "other" category are those made by Steven Fletcher. The House of Commons pays for some of the costs to aide Fletcher in his job as the only MP who is a quadriplegic. So he claimed $314,542 in the "other" category.

That brought Fletcher’s overall expenses technically higher than the other MPs but I don’t think it’s fair to use the costs to pay for aides to help him in the comparison to what other MPs are spending. So I took those costs out in the overall comparison charts. There are still ongoing debates about whether the House of Commons should be footing those bills or not. Fletcher himself wants Manitoba Public Insurance to pony up more and is awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada on whether they’ll hear his case.

If you are really interested to see the expense claims in full the report can be found here.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.


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