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.”
“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.