IN THE NEWS ~ Local MP says audit of expenses is welcomed

Local MP says audit of expenses is welcomed
By Alfie Lau, The Royal City Record

Joking that he has no moat-cleaning expenses to hide, Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian said he has no problem with auditor general Sheila Fraser looking into the expense accounts of Canada's MPs.

Julian said that while he believes Fraser's request to look into MP expenses is a "duplication" or "second audit," he doesn't have any problem with opening his books for further scrutiny.

"I believe most people in Burnaby-New Westminster are in favour of the auditor general going about her duties, so if she has to do a second audit, even if it's a duplication, I'm in favour of that."

Julian said he has nothing to hide and he supports the highest level of financial accountability.

"I've said this repeatedly. We have one of the tightest possible expense monitoring (systems) in the world," said the NDP MP. "All of our expenses have to meet tight criteria, and, unlike the United Kingdom, where there was horrendous misuse of expenses, including moat cleaning, we have to meet very clear and tight controls with all our expenses."

New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly has a slightly different take on Fraser's request.

"This was a decision of the board of internal economy, and they've said all expenses already undergo a rigorous process," said Donnelly. "I feel there is already a high degree of accountability ... and I agree with the board when it said they felt this third tier of scrutiny was unnecessary."

Donnelly said he would rather see Fraser look into government overspending in areas such as the Olympics and advertising.

"Why should we spend more money scrutinizing something that already has a high level of accountability when there are other areas that should be scrutinized?" said Donnelly.

Julian and Donnelly's comments come on the heels of a whirlwind week in Ottawa.

On May 13, a nine-member board of internal economy, which is responsible for all House of Commons spending, rejected Fraser's proposed audit on the basis that it's beyond the auditor general's mandate.

The mandate "allows her to audit government departments and various Crown agencies as identified in the act but does not include the legislative branch, which includes the House of Commons," the board said.

NDP MP Libby Davies, from the riding of Vancouver-East, sits on the board of internal economy that denied Fraser's request.

"The rules here are very, very strict," Davies told The Province. "We don't just get money to spend. Everything has to be claimed for under very strict policies and procedures and rules, and, believe me, we all have stories about a certain taxi receipt that was turned down because it didn't meet some technical thing."

Davies added that anybody who is concerned with MP expenses should know that an external audit is done on the House of Commons every year by the accounting firm KPMG, which includes an audit on MPs' expenses.

As well, taxpayers can view MPs' expenditures online, including a general breakdown into transit, office supplies, printing, telephone costs, office furniture and equipment and a category called "other."

In fact, on Julian's, Donnelly's and Burnaby-Douglas MP Bill Siksay's individual websites, each has a link to the 68-page MP expenses document for the period from April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009.

Donnelly's expenses aren't on these forms because he didn't take office until October 2009, when he won a byelection to replace Dawn Black. Black's expenses are included on the document.

Fraser has argued the current auditing system isn't good enough.

She says her team of auditors would go deeper to ensure taxpayers are getting good value for the more than $500 million in public money spent annually on MPs' expenses.

On May 14, she accepted, for now, the board's decision.

But, in a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons, she reiterated that her mandate covers "the accounts of Canada," which in her opinion includes money received and spent by Canada's members of Parliament.

- with files from The Province

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