Opinions abound on Parliament Hill

In the course of the past seven days since the 2nd session of this 41st Parliament began, seven Bills have already been introduced to the House of Commons. The vast majority of these bills have been largely ignored by Ottawa media as the focus has been largely on the actions of a number of Senators and recent efforts to suspend said senators for the misuse of public funds. Political partisans from all sides including the media are quick to jump in on this debate that has justifiably angered many Canadians.

It is easy to understand the immense frustration citizens feel. When media stories show a Senator on a Caribbean cruise vacation while claiming Senate expenses or reveal an audit of another senator finding in excess of several hundred thousand dollars in wrongly claimed expenses over an eight year period, citizens are rightly outraged. These findings are not in dispute, what is in dispute is what can and should be done about it. The comment I most often get from frustrated taxpayers is how Senators can misuse funds and simply expect to walk away with an apology and a claim that innocent mistakes were made. As many constituents have pointed out to me, if most Canadians misused government funds or abused funds from their employer, they would expect serious consequences- including dismissal or worse. This is also part of the current debate in Ottawa with some favouring a suspension of these Senators without pay, while others argue that no rules were broken and due process should be followed.

This begs the question: what exactly is due process in the context of expense claims? I am fast learning that “due process” has a very different meaning for some on Parliament Hill than it is does for most Canadians. As an example, the House of Commons provides an equal number of opportunities for a Member of Parliament to travel between his or her riding and Ottawa. These are called regular trips. Obviously in many regions of Canada, (Okanagan-Coquihalla included) this will require one or more connecting flights, sometimes over a course of one or in more extreme cases, over two days. Over time the Board of Internal Economy has been forced to introduce a rule that further defines a regular trip and makes it clear that any planned stopover between a Member's riding and Ottawa is not part of what is considered a “regular trip”. As an example of this rule if a MP, on the way from the riding to Ottawa took a connecting flight with a planned stopover in Las Vegas (or elsewhere) it would not be considered a “regular trip”. Obviously these travel rules were introduced in the past to prevent taxpayer financed vacation stopovers by Members of Parliament. Keep in mind that these vacation stopovers while offensive to taxpayers, would have not broken any rules at that time as “due process” would have been argued to indicate no specific rule existed to prevent this obvious self-serving abuse of tax dollars.

The above example brings me back to “due process”– to some, the Parliament Hill definition seems from my perspective to justify the misuse of tax dollars if it can be successfully argued that there was no specific rule against a given expenditure broken. On that note I should add one final point that has been frequently overlooked: that all travel claims must be personally signed by the Member in question and include the purpose of the travel. This requirement is mandatory and not optional. I mention this final point to illustrate that if a member has signed for expenses that are against the rules that is not the fault of others- that is the responsibility of the member in question. The vast majority of citizens I have heard from do not support the misuse of tax dollars and many have also asked about the process for submitting expense claims and pointed to the need for more information in this area. These are important questions and as such, are part of the discussion in this week’s MP report. As the Auditor General is currently reviewing the expenses for all Senators and the Board of Internal Economy has recently approved greater financial detailed reporting for Members of Parliament I will be relaying more information as it becomes available.

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About the Author

Dan Albas, Conservative member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, is the shadow minister of innovation, science, economic development and internal trade, and sits on the standing committee on finance.

Before entering public life, Dan was the owner of Kick City Martial Arts, responsible for training hundreds of men, women and youth to bring out their best.

In British Columbia, Dan has been consistently one of the lowest spending MPs on office and administration related costs despite operating two offices to better serve local constituents.

Dan is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s top 10 most active members of Parliament on Twitter (@danalbas) and continues to write a weekly column published in many local newspapers and on this website.

He can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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