IN THE NEWS ~ Keeping closer eye on expenses - Greater oversight needed on parliamentary expenses

Sulz, Dave, The Lethbridge Herald, Comment, Page A6

Greater oversight needed on parliamentary expenses

If there's anything positive about the recent scandal involving parliamentarians' expenses, it's that it has put the issue of MPs' and senators' expenses under the microscope.

It has also prompted political parties to spring into action by proposing measures aimed at keeping a closer eye on those expenses. Last week, the NDP gained approval for a motion to create an independent body to oversee House of Commons spending, including MPs' expenses. The proposed new body would take the reins from the secretive board of internal economy, a multi-party committee which currently handles the financial administration of the Commons.

A week earlier, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau proposed requiring MPs to publically post their travel and hospitality, as well as office, expenses quarterly. That motion, which would have taken immediate effect had it gained unanimous consent, was shot down in the Commons. New Democrat MP Peter Julian's motion, meanwhile, could take close to a year to produce tangible results, but Julian said it's important to not rush into the matter.

"It gives members of Parliament a chance to think about it over the summer," Julian said in a Canadian Press story last week.

There's likely a certain degree of grandstanding involved in these recent moves since politicians are quick to latch onto an opportunity to express righteous indignation and be seen by the public as working to right a wrong. Nevertheless, the proposals are on target in terms of the need to improve efforts to track parliamentary expenses. The recent kerfuffle over expenses involving some senators and MPs is an indication that the present system isn't working as well as it should. One might argue that these irregularities were brought to light, so the system is doing its job, but it seems clear that the guidelines for keeping tabs on expenses could stand some tightening so such claims aren't approved in the first place, and are quickly spotted if they do somehow gain approval.

The auditor general is doing an audit of Senate expenses but that is expected to take in the neighbourhood of 18 months. Besides, as CBC national affairs specialist Greg Weston noted in a story last week, there is no ongoing oversight by the auditor general or anyone else to ensure senators are sticking to the rules when it comes to spending taxpayers' money - unless you count the board in internal economy, which is akin to letting the foxes guard the henhouse.

The public outrage over the expenses scandal suggests that Canadians don't take lightly to politicians taking more of taxpayers' money than they're entitled to spend. It also suggests that greater oversight of parliamentary expenses, on a regular basis, is needed. That effort should be a priority for members of Parliament when they return from their summer break.

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