N.L. MPs mostly cool to AG request

Rob Antle
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In familiar scene, auditors barred from Parliament's books

Newfoundland and Labrador's MPs are mostly cool to the idea of the federal auditor general reviewing more than $500 million a year in parliamentary spending.

It's an issue with particular resonance in this province.

The auditor general in Newfoundland and Labrador discovered rampant abuse of provincial legislative spending after finally being permitted to pore over the books.

Ottawa -

Newfoundland and Labrador's MPs are mostly cool to the idea of the federal auditor general reviewing more than $500 million a year in parliamentary spending.

It's an issue with particular resonance in this province.

The auditor general in Newfoundland and Labrador discovered rampant abuse of provincial legislative spending after finally being permitted to pore over the books.

Years after that scandal broke in St. John's, Ottawa is now going through its own debate over whether its auditor general should be permitted to examine Parliament's finances.

NDP MP Jack Harris said there doesn't seem to be much of a need, as there is a "much tougher regime" monitoring expenses in Ottawa.

"Everything is scrutinized," he said in an interview at his office on Parliament Hill.

"I think there's a very big difference between what was happening in Newfoundland and what happens here in Ottawa."

Harris has experience in both systems. He had a brief stint as MP in the late 1980s before going on to serve as a provincial MHA for 16 years. He jumped back to federal politics in 2008.

Harris said there are discussions ongoing between Auditor General Sheila Fraser and the board of internal economy - the secretive group of politicians that oversees parliamentary spending.

"It's not an issue of trying to keep out the auditor general. It's a question of the system is already there in place, and it's very rigid."

Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte MP Gerry Byrne uses process arguments to explain why Fraser should perhaps not be permitted to audit Parliament.

He questions whether Fraser - who is an officer of Parliament, and reports to Parliament - should be allowed to issue reports on that very same body.

"I am a process kind of guy," Byrne, a Liberal, said. "In terms of someone who reports to an entity, reporting on the entity, I wonder if Madame Fraser has actually sort of thought this through."

Ironically enough, that argument was among those used to bar Newfoundland and Labrador's auditor general a decade ago.

But Byrne stressed "there is an extremely robust system of audit and control and accountability" governing spending in Ottawa.

Avalon MP Scott Andrews echoed Byrne's process arguments.

"(An) officer of Parliament auditing members that appoint her, I've got a problem with," Andrews said. "So it should not be her, because she's appointed by Parliament, and she shouldn't audit Parliament."

He noted that any audits done on Parliament by other auditors should be made public.

Andrews said he is open to sharing information about his own expenses with anyone who wants to come into his office. But he noted it would create a lot of administrative work for his staff to post a detailed breakdown online.

Random-Burin-St. George's MP Judy Foote said she will abide by whatever decision the board of internal economy makes, but also noted that her financial transactions are looked at "very carefully" by internal and external accountants.

"I can tell you that, from everything I've seen since I've been here, everything is looked at very thoroughly," said Foote, who won election to Parliament in 2008 after nearly a dozen years of service in the provincial legislature.

"I abide by the rules, I always have, and I will continue to do so."

Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor MP Scott Simms had a simple answer when asked whether Fraser should be permitted to look at the books.

"Yes," said Simms.

The Liberal MP noted that the public has a strong appetite for transparency in government.

"It's coming," Simms said. "It's inevitable. People are demanding it, and it's going to happen. So we have an opportunity to discuss with the auditor general what she wants to look at, what is available, and do it responsibly."

If anyone wants to see his expenses, Simms said, they are welcome to come to his office. He is considering posting the information on his website.

"It's something that was never really an issue in the first four years I was elected," Simms said. "Only in the past year I've had people say to me, you know, maybe we should look at expenses. If there's nothing to hide, why evade the subject?"

The province's two other MPs - Todd Russell and Siobhan Coady - did not return messages seeking comment before deadline.

Fraser's request is being met with a notable lack of enthusiasm on Parliament Hill.

In a media briefing last week, Fraser told reporters she didn't know why politicians would bar her from the books.

"I think you'd have to ask them that," she said.

Marcel Proulx, the Quebec Liberal MP who is spokesman for the House of Commons board of internal economy, declined to get into specifics. "That is still under discussion by the board," Proulx told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald last week. "Until we've made a decision, you'll have to wait on that."

While parliamentary spending is currently audited, Fraser said that audit covers Parliament's financial statements. Her office would do a performance audit - something that would go much deeper.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, auditors were barred in 2000. That decision was reversed when the Williams administration took power in 2003. The AG subsequently uncovered wildly inappropriate spending that sparked broad police probes of the legislature's financial practices.

Four former MHAs and a former bureaucrat have since been jailed on corruption charges. A businessman is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to defrauding taxpayers and bribing a House official.

In recent years, auditors have also uncovered problems in politicians' spending in Nova Scotia and Great Britain.

In the U.K., one MP famously stuck taxpayers with the tab for cleaning his moat.

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Quebec Liberal MP, House of Commons, Halifax Chronicle-Herald

Geographic location: Ottawa, Newfoundland and Labrador, Parliament Hill St. John's St. George's Nova Scotia Great Britain

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Brian
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Politicains, who can you trust, let them do the audit, it's the right thing to do. To Jack Harris, how long have you been in Ottawa??? When it comes to money and politicians it seems like a cash cow to the ordinary citizen, open the books, let us have a look to see what really happens to our tax dollars. Once we do, bet a lot of politicians will disappear. Maybe we will
    save some $ and put to some good use.

  • Steve
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Journalists often charactarize the public as being angry with a particular government decision, when often they are miffed, or perturbed, or concerned, or dismayed. Our MPs had better sit up an pay attention to this one. If there's anything that will make the public angry, it is politicians abusing the public trust. If there is anything that will make them angrier, it is refusing to be transparent and accountable for that trust. If any politician contacts me or comes to my door in the next federal election, this is the first issue I will raise with them. If they have not publicly stated that they are in favour of transparency for their spending, they will not receive a good reception, nor will they receive my vote.

  • David
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    We spend $532 million a year on 308 MPs... that's an allocation of $1.7 million per MP.

    Within the cabinet, a total of 5 to 10 ministers do the most work. Beyond that, backbenchers and opposition members do nothing of any consequence. Nothing. THey don't or can't even vote on issues.

  • The Last Word
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Hey Jack, br You just lost my vote with answers like that. Stop patronizing voters with We would never do something like that answers. If there's nothing to hide the stop hiding it. It makes you look guilty.

  • James
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Scott Andrews has a problem with an appointee of parliament being a watchdog on those who appointed him/or her????

    But you abide by a Speaker whom you elect/appoint in parlaiment.

    But you abide by the interpretation of Judges whom you appoint to the Supreme Court????

    Mr. Andrews is a boy lost in traffic.

  • Taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Harris, Byrne and Andrews apparently want to make this their last trip to Ottawa. From Andrews comments I would say that Sen. Manning will be a shoe-in at the next election. Accounts were audited in Newfoundland and nothing was found by the outside auditors. So making public a report on a limited audit program is not sufficient. It takes time to check a larger volume of claims and compare them to others so that you can detect duplication and outside auditors are not instructed nor paid to do this level of work.

  • Greg
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    MP's Russell and Coady did not return the Telegram's requests for comments. MP's do not return calls on issues where they might look bad. I have never had a call returned by my MP, just some kid staffer who laughed at my concerns and told me to hire a lawyer.

    I'll remember that.

  • Frank M
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    No comment from Siobhan Coady.

    Must be attending one of those lunches on the Hill or dealing in the idle gossip of the Jaffer/Geurgis matter.

  • Whaddaya At ?
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Is anyone naive enough to think the crap wouldn't hit the fan if the Federal Auditor General was given access to Parliament's books ?
    Politicians in this province fought tooth and nail to keep the Auditor General away from the books in our House of Assembly and we all know what happened when the AG was finally allowed to look at the books.
    The same skullduggery is going on in Parliament and that's exactly why the politicians don't want the Auditor General nosing around.

  • Blair
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    I think they should certainly keep a close eye on ACOA and the BDC.

  • Lloyd
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    For the sake of argument (or the lack of one), let us for a moment take their word and believe them that Federal parliament internal spending is completely foolproof and everything is totally within the guidelines.
    But. Let us also have them go through the AG process under Ms Fraser and demonstrate exactly that via a good, open, accountable process from time to time.
    It is not only important for elected (and other) officials to do the right thing, it is just as important to be SEEN to be doing the right thing.
    It will also give us peons the opportunity to see how that system works and for Sheila Fraser to pass judgment no only on whether the system is properly run but whether we get good value for the money spent.
    I ask our MP(s) what could ever be the problem with that?

  • Patrick
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    Big shock Siobhan Coady didn't respond... Big Shock..

    I hope she sent a thank you card to Danny Williams for getting her into office with ABC

  • Brian
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Politicains, who can you trust, let them do the audit, it's the right thing to do. To Jack Harris, how long have you been in Ottawa??? When it comes to money and politicians it seems like a cash cow to the ordinary citizen, open the books, let us have a look to see what really happens to our tax dollars. Once we do, bet a lot of politicians will disappear. Maybe we will
    save some $ and put to some good use.

  • Steve
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    Journalists often charactarize the public as being angry with a particular government decision, when often they are miffed, or perturbed, or concerned, or dismayed. Our MPs had better sit up an pay attention to this one. If there's anything that will make the public angry, it is politicians abusing the public trust. If there is anything that will make them angrier, it is refusing to be transparent and accountable for that trust. If any politician contacts me or comes to my door in the next federal election, this is the first issue I will raise with them. If they have not publicly stated that they are in favour of transparency for their spending, they will not receive a good reception, nor will they receive my vote.

  • David
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    We spend $532 million a year on 308 MPs... that's an allocation of $1.7 million per MP.

    Within the cabinet, a total of 5 to 10 ministers do the most work. Beyond that, backbenchers and opposition members do nothing of any consequence. Nothing. THey don't or can't even vote on issues.

  • The Last Word
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Hey Jack, br You just lost my vote with answers like that. Stop patronizing voters with We would never do something like that answers. If there's nothing to hide the stop hiding it. It makes you look guilty.

  • James
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Scott Andrews has a problem with an appointee of parliament being a watchdog on those who appointed him/or her????

    But you abide by a Speaker whom you elect/appoint in parlaiment.

    But you abide by the interpretation of Judges whom you appoint to the Supreme Court????

    Mr. Andrews is a boy lost in traffic.

  • Taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Harris, Byrne and Andrews apparently want to make this their last trip to Ottawa. From Andrews comments I would say that Sen. Manning will be a shoe-in at the next election. Accounts were audited in Newfoundland and nothing was found by the outside auditors. So making public a report on a limited audit program is not sufficient. It takes time to check a larger volume of claims and compare them to others so that you can detect duplication and outside auditors are not instructed nor paid to do this level of work.

  • Greg
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    MP's Russell and Coady did not return the Telegram's requests for comments. MP's do not return calls on issues where they might look bad. I have never had a call returned by my MP, just some kid staffer who laughed at my concerns and told me to hire a lawyer.

    I'll remember that.

  • Frank M
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    No comment from Siobhan Coady.

    Must be attending one of those lunches on the Hill or dealing in the idle gossip of the Jaffer/Geurgis matter.

  • Whaddaya At ?
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    Is anyone naive enough to think the crap wouldn't hit the fan if the Federal Auditor General was given access to Parliament's books ?
    Politicians in this province fought tooth and nail to keep the Auditor General away from the books in our House of Assembly and we all know what happened when the AG was finally allowed to look at the books.
    The same skullduggery is going on in Parliament and that's exactly why the politicians don't want the Auditor General nosing around.

  • Blair
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    I think they should certainly keep a close eye on ACOA and the BDC.

  • Lloyd
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    For the sake of argument (or the lack of one), let us for a moment take their word and believe them that Federal parliament internal spending is completely foolproof and everything is totally within the guidelines.
    But. Let us also have them go through the AG process under Ms Fraser and demonstrate exactly that via a good, open, accountable process from time to time.
    It is not only important for elected (and other) officials to do the right thing, it is just as important to be SEEN to be doing the right thing.
    It will also give us peons the opportunity to see how that system works and for Sheila Fraser to pass judgment no only on whether the system is properly run but whether we get good value for the money spent.
    I ask our MP(s) what could ever be the problem with that?

  • Patrick
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    Big shock Siobhan Coady didn't respond... Big Shock..

    I hope she sent a thank you card to Danny Williams for getting her into office with ABC