en·ti·tle·ment : the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges)

 

 

Recently, several BC NDP MLA’s were busy posting photos of themselves taking public transit to and from the legislature. Well done! And I mean that, although I do wonder if this is an ongoing thing or simply a one-off for Twitter.( how politicians used to promote themselves doing selfless acts prior to the advent of smartphones and selfies I don’t know. )

Forgive the sting to my words. but for all the efforts the BC NDP are making to appeal to the average working man and woman in the province, to the working poor and the truly poor, Surrey MLA and NDP House Leader Bruce Ralston missed a big opportunity to show that the NDP really do understand the mindset of voters yesterday.

From  the Times Colonist:

“The public will soon be able to see a detailed accounting of how their MLAs spend taxpayers’ money on travel, meals, hotels and constituency offices. Liberal and NDP members of a legislative management committee have agreed, somewhat grudgingly, to follow Alberta’s lead and begin posting their expenses online, complete with receipts.”

~snip~

“The motion passed unanimously, but with some grumbling. NDP house leader Bruce Ralston questioned the need for the public to see MLAs’ receipts, which are vetted by the comptroller’s office. “What’s the magic in going to all the trouble of actually producing a receipt?” he said. “Do people believe that these claims are being submitted fraudulently and that there are no receipts supporting them?” Ralston said the process of posting and redacting the receipts will take time and money. “And once that process starts, no one is going to look at the receipts.”

Actually Bruce, yes, people will look at those receipts and this is long past due in the growing call for transparent and accountable spending at every level of government.

But before we move on, that wasn’t Ralston’s only questionable commentary yesterday. Read on, courtesy of the Vancouver Sun:

“Politicians also debated whether the spouses, children and grandchildren of MLAs should continue to be allowed $61 a day for food when they travel to Victoria to visit. MLAs get 12 taxpayer-paid “accompanying person” flights a year for spouses and staff to Victoria.

“The taxpayers sure as heck shouldn’t be paying for their meals,” said de Jong.

The NDP disagreed. “I mean, it’s hard to imagine that one wouldn’t feed one’s child when they’re here,” said Ralston, adding it seems “hard to understand the rationale” for change.

De Jong shot back that MLAs aren’t paupers and are paid a good wage — a base of $101,859 a year — and can afford food for their families”

I thought it would be a cold day in Hell when I agreed with anything a BC Liberal would say – and well, it was kind of chilly in the shade yesterday around here – but for the life of me, I can’t understand what Ralston was thinking.

Did he miss the spending scandal of  Liberal MLA Linda Reid, who still refuses to provide a breakdown or spending details of many of her outrageous expenses? The Senate spending scandal? Maybe he was reading a book the day former Alberta Premier Alison Redfords spending spree’s came to light? No company pays for a child or family member to accompany an employee on business, why should the government? MLA’s do make a pretty penny in comparison to many people’s wages! No sympathy here!

He might take note: as a reader said to me today, so very eloquently composed: “Sometimes getting the small things right allows conversation about the big things, which is what we need. Tone deaf.”

As out of touch Ralstons statements are, both sides of the house come out more than a bit tarnished for not being able to get on board with another bit of sticky spending that’s long gone unaccounted for, again from the Vancouver Sun story linked to above:

“Tuesday’s meeting of MLAs wrestled with other thorny issues, with limited success.

MLAs did not decide upon the future of a controversial housing allowance. It provides $1,000 a month for non-Victoria MLAs to pay for a second home in Victoria but does not require any receipts or proof of how it’s spent.

Some politicians have creatively spent the housing money on motorhomes and boats.”

Sadly, legislative expenses and spending are something our MLA’s haven’t been great at,and both the Liberals and the NDP were already taken to task by the former Auditor General in a scathing report issued in 2012 that left no MLA un-touched. At that time, some of the issues the Auditor reported on included:

– lack of bank reconciliations ( pretty standard even for a mom and pop corner store) and those obtained were not done in a standard fashion. The Legislative Assembly did not even start preparing bank reconciliations until right before the 2009 audit and then failed to report millions in expenses for a prior year. Bank reconciliations are the easiest way to track cash, and cash expenditures and catch fraud or unusual cash transactions.

– expenses for one year, intentionally reclassified into another fiscal year to meet budget.

  a repeated and consistent lack of supporting documents and receipts for MLA’s credit card travel expenses, a requirement in the Members handbook.

-lack of disclosure of MLA’s payments. There were approximately $2 million in transitional payments made to former MLA’s that were ‘misclassified’ and not included in the public disclosure of compensation, for MLA’s that had either chosen not to run in 2009, or were defeated in 2009.

– lack of inventory records for Legislative dining room or gift shop.

-No recording of appropriations and transfers between accounts for ministry of finance and the Legislative Assembly accounts. Accounting records showed one bank account had an overdraft of $133 million, another had a positive balance of $5.5 million.  In reality, bank statements showed both bank accounts had a ZERO balance.

You can read my full commentary which includes an embedded link to the full report here: https://lailayuile.com/2012/07/27/politics-without-principle-makes-hypocrisy-a-governing-force-in-the-legislative-assembly/

How many of these serious issues that plagued the legislature for years have been fully dealt with?

We know the spending hasn’t been monitored appropriately thanks to MLA Linda Reid. We know that the NDP did not get overly outraged at her spending, in fact then House Leader (now party leader) John Horgan was asked about it he stated:

“Are these legitimate concerns? Absolutely,” Horgan told reporters.

“Is the staff issue a legitimate concern? Yes, it is. But I believe that Linda needs to be given some slack here because she’s the first Speaker in 125 years to say, ‘This is what I’m doing.’

In a day and age where more politicians than ever are learning the hard way that entitlement can lead to un-employment, where governments claim they are tightening their own belts while cutting vital public programs and services, it’s unacceptable to allow anything but full spending transparency and accountability.

For example, the MLA housing allowances for non-Victoria MLA’s are meant for housing, not boats or vacations homes. It’s not an unreasonable expectation for MLA’s to prove they’ve spent the housing allotment on housing! MLA’s who oppose the disclosure should be put under the microscope – these are public funds!

If the government can’t get the small things right, and has a hard time understanding why people are yearning for all politicians- municipal, provincial or federal- to come clean with spending, they’ve long forgotten that being a politician is public service.

And with public service, comes not only the expectation of accountability and transparency, but the inherent responsibility to not only ensure it happens, but to proactively demand it of themselves first and foremost.

 

 

35 thoughts on “en·ti·tle·ment : the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges)

  1. JPF

    It would be interesting to know how many MLA’s who took the $1,000 a month and used it to apply against a mortgage on a second home in Victoria. And of course if the second home was to be sold – the profit / gain would go to the MLA and/or his family.

    When MLA’s retire and settle down do they return to their home constituency or do they remain behind in a home in Victoria which has been funded by the taxpayer out of their monthly housing allowance.

    Like

  2. Hear hear Laila.
    Preach it!!

    But you realize that you have again identified the problems which are rampant and without cure.
    The MLAs and the whole legislature is out to lunch. And by that I mean an unreceiptable lunch.
    Out of touch in all and there only is one cure.
    The rolled up newspaper of DIRECT DEMOCRACY with which the VOTERS can give all politicians a sound swat on their collective noses.
    They need to be on a short short leash.

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    1. Laila

      Agreed all politicians should be on a short leash. Very short when it comes to public dollars, at every level of government.

      Interestingly enough, I found the answer to my question above about whether or not all the issues found by the Auditor General in 2012 had yet to be rectified, in the same Hansard transcript I link to in another comment response —

      ” This will be the first year that the Legislative Assembly’s financial statements have been prepared and audited. The targeted release date for the Auditor’s report is October 2014. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

      The financial statements will form an integral part of the Legislative Assembly’s first annual accountability report, a report designed to highlight the financial and operational activities for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

      Third, the Clerk is also leading a review of assembly support programs for all departments under his direction. He will speak to this review within the Clerk’s update portion of the meeting. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

      I am confident that these three separate reviews will result in beneficial recommendations for consideration by LAMC in the coming months on Legislative Assembly operational effectiveness and efficiency. I look forward to our discussions on how we can continue to enhance our financial processes, strengthen accountability and improve transparency. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY] ”

      http://www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/40thparl/lamc/hansard/20140506pm-LAMC-Blues.htm

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  3. Mike

    When the honorable Mr. Ralston goes on record bemoaning his right to expect taxpayers to pay for his every whim, he speaks to the incredible level of entitlement all politicians feel they are entitled to.
    This is way past optics and may well become a certified mental illness.
    Let be clear Bruce, you are an elected official. You work for the taxpayer, we don’t work for you.
    Doing anything because you can is never a good defense for doing it.

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  4. Laila

    It was questioned whether or not Brice was misquoted or just out of touch.

    This is the excerpt from Hansard where the portion of discussion took place about per diems. http://www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/40thparl/lamc/hansard/20140506pm-LAMC-Blues.htm

    On page 4 of attachment A…. Only because we’re going through this now and I’d like to do this once and not have to do this again, I’m going to pose the question. I clearly have a view on it. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

    We have these 12 trips. We specified with great particularity who is entitled to have the taxpayers pay for their travel. Whilst I don’t question in any way the entitlement for someone who is working — a constituency assistant or a legislative assistant who is coming to Victoria — to receive the per diem entitlement that would flow from performing your duties here, I actually don’t think that if you bring your child to Victoria, they should get a per diem. I don’t know of another way to say that that isn’t…. But I don’t think that’s the intention here. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

    So respect to the per diems, I would suggest that that should apply to the staff that are travelling. I don’t actually think it should apply to family members. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

    Madame Speaker: What is the will of the group? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

    B. Ralston: I mean, it’s hard to imagine that one wouldn’t feed one’s child when they’re here. I guess the suggestion is that the per diem for the adult is sufficient to include the child? I don’t know. I mean, maybe a lower per diem for a child. If the goal is family friendliness, if the goal is to keep families together, if the goal is families first, then, surely there should be some consideration to the fact that you’re going to, obviously, want to feed your child when you’re here. It may be a lower rate, but it just seems hard to understand the rationale for that. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

    E. Foster: I don’t know exactly where the minister is going with this, but my feeling on it is this. Other than staff people that are working, I don’t think that any of the accompanying people should get a per diem. That’s my feeling. I mean, you feed them at home. There’s no reason that, because they’re here, the taxpayer should be feeding them. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

    We get a per diem because we’re here working. And if our CA comes down, they get a per diem because they’re here working. But when accompanying people travel — spouses, children, grandparents, whatever — I don’t think there should be a per diem built in for them. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

    Madame Speaker: Any other comments? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

    So is it the wish of the committee that we take this back to finance and audit? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

    Hon. M. de Jong: We can keep going around, but I’ve been pretty clear on my views, and we’ve heard from others. I think we should make a decision. We say here that if grandma or grandpa or both want to come and visit you in Victoria, if you choose to do so, the taxpayers will pay for that trip. I think people look at that and say: “And they’ve got — what is it now? — 60 bucks now or 61 bucks. Well, what’s the deal with that?” So fine, we’re saying grandma and grandpa can come down. We’ve agreed to do that. But you know, grandma and grandpa can feed themselves. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

    [1445]

    It’s not like we’re paupers. It’s not like we aren’t paid a good wage to do this. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

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  5. Ralston:”……If the goal is family friendliness, if the goal is to keep families together, if the goal is FAMILIES FIRST, then, surely there should be some consideration to the fact that you’re going to, obviously, want to feed your child when you’re here. ”

    FAMILIES FIRST!!! That is what she meant…MLA Families First… no wonder we haven’t seen it here in the real world..

    Like

    1. Kreditanstalt

      There’s no such beast as timber “harvesting”. It’s MINING. And the profits are enormous so they’re working ’round the clock. We get nothing from this, but the (overpaid and competition-protected) longshoremen, the (institutional and foreign) shareholders and the (revenue-desperate) governments LOVE it…

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  6. persey

    Excellent read, Laila.

    I am a little confused by Ralston’s quoted comment on redacting the posted receipts. Are we to understand that, instead of transparency, we will be seeing black ink swatches on the receipts?

    That some wise-nose will be deciding what amounts we are permitted to see and what we can’t see?

    Heavily redacted documents certainly cause me to lose interest fast, because the fact that they are redacted means they have something to hide. N’est-ce pas?

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    1. Laila

      No Persey, the redaction will cover things they deem security issues, like names of hotels and flight numbers. But I agree,I would hope we don’t start seeing heavily redacted versions of receipts perhaps showing only amounts paid, but what the money was spent on, blacked out.

      Ralston and others were concerned that presenting the receipts to the public was only going to cost taxpayers more money (Shane Simpson piped in that at least they would be creating another job….) However then in the next breathe, Ralston bemoaned the per diem for children.family members. Sigh. They just don’t get it.

      I couldn’t help but think yesterday during the failures of the ministry computer problems that the MLA’s could have just donated their housing allowances to cover what was needed….

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      1. JPF

        I understand there may be some issues around showing receipts for travel for security reasons – flight numbers etc.

        I wonder if the real reason is MLA”s don’t want to travel with the unwashed on BC Ferries. After all if they travelled on BC Ferries they would be put in a position – as in cornered – to actually answer questions and be held accountable.

        Another reason for not wanting to show the name of restaurants or other establishments where they might eat or be entertained is the reaction from the common folk who can’t afford to eat at Milestone’s or the Bengal Lounge on a regular basis – let alone an irregular basis.

        We should be paying attention to the changes in the ALR process – at some point it may be decided the Legislature area should be rezoned and included in the ALR in order to legitimately let pigs feed at the trough.

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    1. Laila

      I knew it had been covered somewhere – thank you Paul, for posting this here! Your post is pointed and spells out exactly the issues with this.

      Nice perk, if you can get it. Culture of entitlement. I guess it’s no wonder that the MLA’s can’t agree on asking for proof on this allowance if it shows they are making mortgage payments with it?

      An excerpt from Paul’s post, but please go read the entire post. ( might turn your stomach) :

      “MLAs’ decision to give themselves big pay raises and lavish pension plans in 2007 attracted much attention. (Rightly, of course. About 75 per cent of working British Columbians have no pension plan, but pay higher taxes so MLAs can have a gold-plated plan. The average pay for B.C. MLAs is now $118,000, more than the income of 96 per cent of tax filers in the province.)

      But MLAs also voted for big changes in their benefits.

      MLAs had been eligible for an allowance when they had to be in the capital on business. The amount – $150 per day – was judged enough to cover meals and a hotel room. Some members – mostly cabinet ministers – were in Victoria enough that the per diem allowed them to rent a place, or in a handful of cases buy a residence.

      In 2007, MLAs decided they needed more.

      The new deal gives them $61 a day for meals, no receipts required.

      And it provides generous housing allowances. MLAs can rent, and claim up to $19,000 a year in expenses with receipts. Or they can claim $12,000 a year and not have to provide any receipts.

      And they can also claim taxpayers’ funds to support the purchase of a second home in the capital, based on the same approach. With receipts, they can get up to $19,000 a year for “property taxes, strata fees, if any, insurance, basic telephone and Internet service, parking and furniture rental.”

      Or they can just claim $12,000 a year with no receipts. (It’s notable that MLAs believe they need up to $19,000 for a second home, but single parent with two children on disability assistances is allowed less than $8,000. Their children must not need housing up to MLA standards.)

      The new rates are a good deal for MLAs from outside the capital region, or they wouldn’t be buying the condos and houses.

      But is it a good deal for taxpayers, especially when the legislature sits so rarely? The legislature has been sitting about 47 days a year. Committee work and other meetings could bring an MLA to Victoria for another 30 days a year. Under the old system, he or she would get about $7,700 for accommodation. Enough for a nice hotel or long-term rental.

      Under the new system, taxpayers pay at least $12,000, maybe more – a 56 per cent increase. (The extra costs might be less for MLAs or ministers who are here more often.)

      Part of the problem in assessing the benefits is that MLAs continue to cloak their spending in secrecy, despite repeated promises to provide a proper breakdown. It’s impossible to tell what they’re doing with the housing allowance – or even whether the rules are being followed.

      The whole plan was presented and approved without any rationale, justification or assessment of the increased costs to taxpayers. ”

      Like

  7. Steve Cooley

    A few MLA’s have used their housing allowance to buy motor homes and use them for their Victoria accommodation since the 1980’s that I know of. They also used them for a mobile constuency office. I remember the MLA for The riding Vanderhoof is in parking his motor home where the present credit union office is and doing constituency office work (probably campaigning too!).

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  8. Kreditanstalt

    MLA expenses are an irrelevant and ridiculous little distraction. But the masses focus on such things, even as the province’s finances sink under much more significant expenses such as a costly public school/government teacher system, unionized healthcare salaries, un-tendered and un-privatized municipal services, a massive public sector, social welfare expenses…not to mention the big boondoggle of LNG

    Like

    1. Laila

      No, I would say it’s not a ridiculous little distraction.If you can’t get the small things right, how can one expect the large things to get handled? The inability for MLA’s to deal with the housing allowance accountability issues speaks to a culture of entitlement that has sparked outrage across the country via the senate, via Alison Redford and so on.

      It’s a shameful embaressment that the legislatures finances have been so poorly run for so long and nothing was done, no one said anything or did anything, until the former auditor general ripped into all of them.

      They have made some small steps to rectify this but clearly there is a long way to go.

      Like

      1. Kreditanstalt

        Laila, I fully agree with what you say but strictly in terms of dollars spent MLA waste remains…peanuts. And…even if reining this in with rule changes does occur, people will always be people and the temptation to spend other people’s money on oneself and on vote-buying, favoured interest groups or boondoggle infrastructure projects will NOT change.

        Like

        1. Laila

          I think it will change, but because people find the financing of projects etc such a dry topic, the author has to make the connection between this kind of thing and how that culture extends into the rest of government, using examples. Subject for another post 🙂

          Like

  9. I recall working for government once and it was a nightmare of illogic. Three of us had to do some work in a town that was holding a conference. So, we shared a room. We got one receipt and it exceeded the allowance for any one of us. But, for three, it was a bargain. I slept on the rollaway. The govt. wouldn’t allow the bill. So, I paid it myself. One of the other guys refused to submit any receipts. “Too crazy-making. I can afford it. To hell with them!” I also remember running a medical clinic back in the day and, after a year end accounting, we had UNDERSPENT our budget by $7,000. I sent the money back. They said, “We can’t take it back. The Health Dept. has no way to receive income. Please just keep it. Spend it somewhere. Maybe reduce your next years budget? And don’t do this again. No one ever underspends their budget. What are you thinking?” So – my point? It is a giant trough. And the pigs over indulge. Politicians. Staff. Makes no difference. Accountability, to them, just means ‘getting caught’.

    Like

      1. nonconfidencevote

        It happens ALL the time.
        And not just in govt.
        Blame accountants and the other narrow minded budget dweebs that cant think outside the box.
        I’ve had similar experiences over the years. Budgets are meant to be spent, not refunded.
        I once had to fly to Montreal on business. The itinerary was thus.
        Leave Vancouver on Monday morning, return Wednesday. Business Class, (peak rates during the week) $1800.00. for the flight. $400 for the hotel/meals. Total $2200.00
        I hadnt been to Montreal in ages, wanted to meet some friends there. I suggested that I stay over til Sunday. The flight rate would drop to $600(non peak rate). The extra hotel/meal costs would have been $400 on top of the original hotel bill. Total $1400.00
        The company would have saved $800 and I would have had a chance to possibly enjoy the trip as opposed to dreading the jet lag.
        Hell hath no fury like a booking agent scorned.
        I had phone calls from bosses I never knew existed. How dare I try and book a “free” holiday? How dare I steal from the company? Blah,blah,blah.
        I finally sent an email to the president of the company explaining what I had wanted to do and how much money it would save.
        The result?
        All future “business trips” to anywhere were booked for a return flight on Saturday am.
        For everyone.
        I saved the company millions and earned the loathing of everyone that flew.

        Like

  10. cherylb

    Did anyone answer the question about what happens to the condo/house and/or funds from the sale of it when an MLA retires/gets turfed? Surely they don’t keep it?

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  11. e.a.f

    MLAs receive way too much money for housing. If the province doesn’t have enough money to permit parents and their children to keep child support than we don t have enough money for the MLAs. If a parent on welfare only receives $600 or $700 per month to house their whole family MLAs are receiving way too much. Come to think about it a disabled person receives only $908 per month to house, cloth, ans feed themselves so why do MLA s need so much money if they are only in Victoria a couple of months per year

    Like

  12. Dart

    Man oh, man. Sorry but I almost had to puke. what a bunch of crap. How many people in BC work in a camp?

    How many take their children to work? If I took my kids to work with me, and by some gift of some god, my employer would foot the bill, social services would be up my butt because they would be left alone for 12 to 14 hours a day while I was working.

    What politicians need to understand is that the gig is up. We now have the technology and the understanding to keep an eye on them. They can’t just give the newspapers some sweetheart deals and have nobody stand up.

    When I am in camp, the amount that the camp charges is taxed as income for me. Do politicians pay the same tax? If not how come?

    There are people now, like yourself, that are independent from the privileged (sorry), and will talk about things that could be considered sensitive.

    Like

    1. e.a.f.

      liked Dart’s response. Your comment of, “the gig is up”. Let us hope so. It is hard to believe this level of entitlement got this far out of hand. There was a time, I can even remember it, when M.L.A.s went to Victoria, rented a small apartment or hotel room, for the time they were there, shared accommodation and got on with the business of the people.

      M.L.A.s ought to be given a living away allowance while working in Victoria, but it might be best if it paid at the same rate as those who work for the provincial government, i.e. regular employees. If it is good enough for the “regular” employees of the government it ought to be good enough for the M.L.A.

      Wanting to receive $61 a day to feed, etc. family members when they come to visit? Are they out of their minds? Na, just out of touch.

      When these M.L.A.S think the current welfare/disability rates are high enough for the children of B.C, they can try raising their own kids on that. At $61 per day, it comes to $1830 per month. Those $12 thousand housing allowances are more than those on disability receive to live on for food, shelter, clothing, meds, bus fare, telephone, hydro. They all need to give their heads a shake.

      Like

  13. nonconfidencevote

    ……And as former politician and Head of the Royal Canadian Mint David Dingwall so eloquently put it when he was being hammered by a Royal Commission into govt employee expenses.
    ( he recieved an extremely generous severance package AFTER he quit his job as the head of the Mint).

    “I’m entitled to my entitlements”. David Dingwall 2005

    http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&sqi=2&ved=0CDMQtwIwAQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DUIo-bEsoMgA&ei=7Hh3U5jSKcH5oATj24CwBw&usg=AFQjCNHKPEMvx2BQdTldRu9-8U5CZdFRvQ

    Like

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