Friday, June 21, 2013

Why can't all MPs be this transparent now?

Transparency: apparently easier to talk about than to do.
When Stephen Harper first led his Conservatives to government in 2006, a key promise was transparency and accountability, contrasting with Liberal government corruption in areas like “Adscam”. Canadians were sick of politicians using public money for their own gain, and hoped a change of government would curtail this abuse.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. The Harper government has consistently received the lowest possible grade on transparency. All the recent headlines are MPs and Senators, mostly from Conservative Party ranks, caught red-handed either padding publicly-funded expense accounts to the roof or illegally overspending election limits. Of course, the occasional offender from some other party is gleefully held up by Conservative MPs in Question Period, as if saying “some of them do it, too” somehow makes it all okay. But lacking many real offenders from other parties, they have even tried bizarre tangents: attacking Liberal leader Justin Trudeau for fulfilling his duties as a paid speaker at various events, as if he were somehow cheating organizations that invite, host, and pay him on their own initiative; mocking NDP leader Thomas Mulcair for not taking a bribe. (Mulcair apparently missed Brian Mulroney’s lessons on accepting cash-filled envelopes.)
Of course there’s always talk about being more transparent, and not just 7 years of unfulfilled Conservative promises. The Liberals want to make all MPs and Senators publish detailed expense reports online for the public to see. I ask them: why don’t you do that now? Although no law requires it, there is nothing stopping you. Any MP supporting transparency can start today.
We know this can be done because one MP has been doing it for two years already. Every year since getting elected, Saanich – Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May has published her itemized expenses online, not just by category, but with copies of every single receipt! We can all see she is spending far less than the maximum in each category, unlike the consistently high-spending MP who sent 2 pieces of literature to my mailbox today. This despite having to singlehandedly represent not just her own riding’s constituents, but the million supporters of the Green Party.
Has this openness made her a pariah among MPs, or hurt her work in her riding? To the contrary, she was found to be the Hardest-working MP and Best Constituency MP in The Hill Times’ survey, and was chosen by her peers as Parliamentarian of the Year. She must be doing more than something right, yet no other MP has yet followed her example.
So, in light of how rewarding this approach is, I wonder if our local MPs Patrick Brown, Peter Van Loan, Kellie Leitch or Bruce Stanton will do the same, and post their expense claims in a transparent way for all to see? Without waiting for a law to make them, that is. (Feel free to contact them at those links and if they respond, tell us in a comment what they said). Myself, I'd be very interested to find out how much of my tax money goes into buying MP advertising in the Barrie Examiner.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Transparency easy to talk about, but not accomplish".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

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