Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MPs' spending

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Nova Scotia's auditor general this week called in the RCMP to investigate one current and four former members of the provincial legislature after he had conducted not just one, but two audits of the MLAs' claims for personal expenses.

The audits raised questions about compensation claims for such things as custom-made furniture, big-screen TVs, an espresso machine, one video game and various computers and digital cameras. Even with the transparency that Nova Scotia allowed in these audits, the cases are expected to take up to two years to complete.

Meanwhile, back in Ottawa, the RCMP watched helplessly as members of Parliament from all four parties fled the city for what is called summer recess. Before they fled, however, a House of Commons committee called the Board of Internal Economy stymied an investigation -- similar to what had taken place in Nova Scotia -- requested by federal auditor general Sheila Fraser to audit MPs' spending.

The spending involved is not insignificant. In 2009, it cost $503.5 million to run the House of Commons. Personal expenses claimed by individual MPs totalled $133 million. Ms. Fraser, as she should, thinks there must be public accountability for all this money, but the Board of Internal Economy -- despite its name, this is not a committee imagined by George Orwell -- disagrees. MPs, it says, are perfectly capable of investigating themselves, as is shown, presumably, by the fact they rarely, if ever, find anything wrong with themselves. The board is the most secretive of all Commons committees, meeting in-camera and publishing no minutes of those meetings.

Ms. Fraser wants to know how that money is being spent. So do most Canadians, and making that possible should be a priority of the Harper government and Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 20, 2010 A14

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