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The Board of Internal Economy: You will not believe this...

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grumpy old man

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By GREG WESTON, QMI Agency

While ordinary Canadians are being forced to tighten their belts, federal MPs recently helped themselves to $5.1 million from the public purse — wait for it — for more political junk mail.

While they were at it, those elected to ensure the prudent expenditure of tax dollars stuffed another $2.7 million into their own travel budgets, and gave all their staff a raise.

Of course, no hogfest on the Hill would be complete without the Members of Porkville pigging out on another $3.2 million to fatten their already overbloated pensions.

If all this sounds like the makings of a taxpayer revolt, it darn well should be.

But don’t ask what the heck the politicians are thinking.

In the amazing republic of Canuckistan, the nation’s elected parliamentarians are still allowed to raid the treasury for their own creature comforts without any effective public scrutiny or transparency.

Instead, a small group of MPs from all four political parties periodically gathers in private with the Commons speaker to decide how to help themselves and fellow parliamentarians at taxpayers’ expense, all without a single word of public debate or justification.

They call themselves the Board of Internal Economy — not to be confused with doing anything the least bit economically — and are likely the deepest black hole of unaccountability in all of government.

Last fall, this secret society of MPs approved a 3.2% increase in this year’s Commons budget that will suck a whopping $440 million from taxpayers’ pockets.

Yet, the board’s meetings are always held behind closed doors, its books are off-limits to the auditor general, and its filing cabinets cannot be pried open by reporters requesting documents under the access to information laws that are supposed to ensure the public knows how its money is being wasted, er, spent.

For instance, two weeks after the board approved $5.1 million more for junk mail, the opposition parties voted to limit the program, but don’t ask what happens to the money.

We asked Liberal MP Marcel Proulx, the unlucky spokesman for the board, how any group of elected representatives could possibly justify locking the public out of deliberations involving taxpayers’ money.

“Oh, well, it’s always been like that, and there’s no intention of opening it.”

Proulx pointed out the board does make its decisions public, albeit in vague meeting minutes released months after the fact.

The latest, for instance, reveals the board will consider at its next closed meeting “a service provided by Service Canada for the exclusive use of parliamentarians.”

Proulx admits that even as the board’s spokesman, he is “not allowed to discuss what the discussions were, but we can give out the results of these discussions.”

As a consequence of that policy, the minutes of virtually every meeting include some reference to a “settlement” approved for an unspecified ex-staffer of an unnamed MP.

How much taxpayers are coughing up, and for what, the board of internal secrecy will not say.

Is the pay-out for severance? Or hush-money to cover up the egregious misbehaviour of an MP? Taxpayers — and voters — apparently have no business knowing.

MPs having anointed themselves to be their own watchdog, it is hardly surprising that individual parliamentarians are allowed to operate — and spend — behind the same wall of accountability opaqueness.

Every year, MPs have to make public the total amounts of their travel and office expenses.

But they are not required to give a detailed breakdown of those expenses, much less produce copies of actual receipts.

One might have thought this archaic honours system would have gone out the window after the massive scandal in Britain, where auditors uncovered MPs stiffing taxpayers for everything from moats to mistresses.

Instead, the U.K. fiasco merely sparked a muted debate in this country’s parliament about maybe allowing Auditor General Sheila Fraser to audit the expenses of MPs.

So far, even that modest concept of accountability has been met by all-party horror.

To their credit, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives changed the rules to expose ministerial expense accounts to full public scrutiny.

As the PM said: “Canadians have a right to know exactly how their tax dollars are spent.”

What is it about that statement MPs don’t understand?


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Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

Miz point

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MP's do not have to give a financial breakdown of their expenses........hmmmm. When my mother-in-law (a wonderful lady and retired professional teaching nurse of high-standing) had to deal with my father-in-law's mental and physical deterioration from a rare form of Parkinson's disease she was forced to disclose to an auditor every month ALL of her expenses right down to something as mundane as toilet paper. What an insult to a woman who was a loyal and caring wife and mother....it was a good thing she had her own inheritance money to play with on occasion.

This auditing or as I would put it, an enforced inquisition, was a process put in place to ensure that in the case of mental infirmity on the part of the main asset holder (her husband who had never modernized his paperwork with regard to marital assets) the spouse would not be able to abscond with or squander/abuse the marital assets.

This demeaning process went on until months after his death. I shudder to think what was spent on attorneys and accountants during this time and it was for at least seven years.

Now I tell this story for a reason - these assets were privately held, not taxpayer disbursed as in the case of the MP's.....full disclosure had to be provided on a regular basis and was done so. Since when did elected officials get a free pass on accountability? If a woman, a senior citizen, is instructed to be accountable and is not in charge of anyone else but herself (father-in-law was a permanent resident of the Palliative Care Unit at Foothills Hospital) and she has to go through an accountability process why do these MP's get a pass when they are in "charge" of so many aspects of the taxpayers' lives?

Perhaps we Canadians need to stop being so quiet and accepting of this flagrant abuse of our monies.....I see a class system in place here in this country and not just on Parliament Hill but in many other strata of professional life.....I refuse to someone's peon and so should the rest of Canadians refuse to be peons. This type of financial abuse is heinous and a huge slap in the face to those of us who are presently facing financial and health adversity.

I for one will be addressing this issue as per my situation in the days to come. Reading the posted material upset me greatly and more so, made me feel incredibly disappointed with the system.


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rosencrentz

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We elect public officials and should have enough confidence in the systm of cheques and balances, plus the Freedom of Information Act, and the fact that public servants are encouraged to act as tattletales, when they uncover illegal activities.
Our system works just fine, although a bit slow.
Steven Harper has been great in everything except being open, and transparent .
Any queston of wrong doing and he calls in the RCMP, and their tazer machines.
Regarding paperwork for small bureaucrats, as a small business I have never had the problem of writing on many required forms to be filled out, "no one here to pay to fill in, please send someone"- and the requests seem to disappear.


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EdWin

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rosencrentz wrote:We elect public officials and should have enough confidence in the systm of cheques and balances, plus the Freedom of Information Act, and the fact that public servants are encouraged to act as tattletales, when they uncover illegal activities.
Our system works just fine, although a bit slow.
Steven Harper has been great in everything except being open, and transparent .
Any queston of wrong doing and he calls in the RCMP, and their tazer machines.
Regarding paperwork for small bureaucrats, as a small business I have never had the problem of writing on many required forms to be filled out, "no one here to pay to fill in, please send someone"- and the requests seem to disappear.
Rosen, I'm glad to finally read a serious post from you. Very glad indeed!

Jondo

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It makes me physically ill. Total, exhaustive, mandatory accountabilty of the public and near-zero on the their side when they spend our money. The working man should be outraged.

Miz point

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And the working woman!


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Caesar is a salad dude
http://www.granhotelflores.blogspot.com

Jondo

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The use of man in that context includes women. You know that P. Shame on you.

grumpy old man

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More crap from those we elect...
OTTAWA — Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff both seem to agree: There is no need to make MPs’ expenses public.

In separate interviews on Sunday both politicians were asked whether the $500-million budget for the House of Commons and the Senate, that includes MPs’ and senators’ expenses, should be reviewed by the auditor general.

The Board of Internal Economy, presided over by MPs from all parties, currently manages that budget and its annual audit does not reveal details of how MPs spend taxpayers’ money.

“Our expenses are publicly available already in aggregate form,” Ignatieff said. “We already have an independent audit and the only question is whether that audit is made public and that is a matter for the Board of Internal Economy.”

Nicholson said making expenses public was not “his call.”

“I accept what I am told by representatives by all political parties at the Board of Internal Economy that there are safeguards in place to protect Canadians’ money,” he said

peter.zimonjic@sunmedia.ca


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Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

grumpy old man

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And yet more...
OTTAWA – A Tory cabinet minister says despite the furor over MPs refusing to let the auditor general look at their expenses, he hasn't heard anything from his constituents on the subject.

“I represent about 120,000 people in the House of Commons. I haven't had one constituent contact me on it,” said James Moore, the Canadian Heritage minister who represents the Vancouver-area Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam riding.

“Because the media are talking a lot about it doesn't mean the public is talking a lot about it,” Moore told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser asked for an invitation to do a performance audit on MPs' expenses and House of Commons operations.

The expenses are already subject to an accounting audit to ensure proper accounting principals are upheld, but the audit doesn't evaluate whether spending is effective.

The Board of Internal Economy, a committee of MPs from all parties whose discussions are secret, refused Fraser's request.

The decision sparked a public backlash has been so strong all parties have stepped back from their initial support of that decision and now say they want the committee to sit down with Fraser to work out a compromise.

A recent poll for QMI Agency found 88% of people surveyed want more openness on MP expenses.

laura.payton@sunmedia.ca

eMAIL this twit. Let him know we are pissed.

moorej@parl.gc.ca


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Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

grumpy old man

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While you're at it, make sure YOUR MP knows how you feel:

http://foundlocally.com/winnipeg/Local/Gov-FederalMPs.htm

Fletcher.S@parl.gc.ca
Maloway.J@parl.gc.ca
Smith.J@parl.gc.ca
Hoeppner.C@parl.gc.ca
Toews.V@parl.gc.ca
Glover.S@parl.gc.ca
Bezan.J@parl.gc.ca
Martin.Pd@parl.gc.ca
Wasylycia-Leis.J@parl.gc.ca (Who do we contact now that this bozo has abandoned her post?)
Bruinooge.R@parl.gc.ca
Neville.A@parl.gc.ca


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Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

St Norberter

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From what I understand, the PM was instructed cabinet ministers to make their expenses public.He has not, nor has the board of internal economy, instructed non-ministerial MPs to do the same.

And why is the BQ the only party to support the AG investigating MP expenses?

You know, if Duceppe wasn't a separatist........ 'cause there is a lot that he says that makes a lot of sense!

http://bgilchrist.wordpress.com/

grumpy old man

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But he is a separatist Madge, he is a separatist.


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Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

St Norberter

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^ Yeah, I know, but it seems like more common sense stuff comes out of his mouth than any other leaders.

Remember the debate when the leaders were asked what they would do when they formed government? And Duceppe said "We're not going to form government", and then pointed to Dion, Layon and May and said " and neither are you, you or you"

And his position on Gun Registry seems to make sense - "we register cars, what's the problem with registering guns? It's just that the cost is too much to justify the program"

That's the only reasonable argument I have heard for gun registry. The Lib/NDP argument that it has reduced crime and gun crime doesn't fly. How many gun crimes have you seen perpetrated with hunting guns vs. handguns?

But anyway, I digress.

I can't see any reason why the MPs would refuse to make their expenses public. Unless of course there are a substantial number of fraudulent expenses. Which is obviously the case. If not, then give me another plausible reason for it.

http://bgilchrist.wordpress.com/

Jondo

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I agree - as much as I don't like the Quebec movement - that Duceppe is a likeable and straight-talker. He brings that to the table. Too bad the nationalists can't be as direct as he is. The looming threat of real auditing (not their definition of auditing non-supported amounts) has effectively already started saving taxpayers millions. We have their attention but I'd still like to see their excesses revealed. How damn outrageous for they to hold that position while taxpayers routinely audited by CRA are fully accountable for keeping their books proper for CRA or else. Not even the slimiest politician can blur the lines of that stark contradiction.

Deank

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"If not, then give me another plausible reason for it."

perception. thats the only reason.

look at what happened in the press here in Winnipeg when the freep(or was it the tax payers federation??) used freedom of information to get the listing of the councillors expenses. People went crazy over some of the minute details.


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grumpy old man

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The latest...
OTTAWA -- Manitoba MPs are open to being more open with how they're spending your money.

But how transparent they're willing to be depends on who you ask and what others are willing to do. And in the case of eight of the nine Manitoba Tories, they weren't even prepared to answer the Free Press' questions on the increasingly hot political issue.

The comments come amid the whirlwind of debate and public outcry about the secrecy of how MPs spend money to run their offices and carry out their duties.

On May 13 the all-party committee that administers the House of Commons budget shunned auditor general Sheila Fraser's request to look at the MP expense claims. The system is already full of enough checks and balances and Fraser had no authority to audit MPs, the committee said.

Canadians responded in anger and disbelief and last week, one by one, each political party changed its mind.

The issue will be discussed this morning as all the parties meet for their weekly caucuses, and a meeting between Fraser and the Board of Internal Economy is being planned to hash out a deal for her to conduct an audit.

Manitoba Liberal MP Anita Neville said she knows Canadians are suspicious and said she feels confident to open up her books.

"I have no problem with further disclosure," she said. "I think Canadians deserve to know where the money is going."

In fact, said Neville, she asked her office last week to prepare a more detailed summary of the $444,916 she expensed in 2008-09. That report isn't finished yet, she said.

But Neville said there is a fear that an audit will be value-for-money, and that there are often good explanations for an expense that on the surface may seem high or unreasonable.

"It's not as straightforward as it would seem," said Neville.

Fraser said Tuesday she had no intention of poring over every penny spent by Canada's 308 MPs had she been permitted to scrutinize House of Commons operations.

Fraser said she was surprised by the public backlash to a decision by the secretive all-party committee of MPs to reject her bid to do a "performance" audit. But she also said that because of the flap, federal auditors would "probably do more extensive testing than we might have done otherwise" if the board changes its mind and allows the audit.

Fraser spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since May 13 to clarify what she proposed for the audit.

"It was never suggested that it would be an audit of MPs or MPs' expenses," she said, "and certainly never, never an audit or any kind of assessment of MPs' performance."

Instead, she said, it would have been a performance audit of the administration of the House of Commons in such areas as contracting, human resource management, management of information technology and security.

The audit would entail spot checks to ensure the systems are working as advertised, Fraser said, and that probably would lead to a review of MPs' expenses. "But it would not have been a detailed audit and review of all MP expenses," she said.

Neville said it's clear Canadians want more information about how their MPs spend money and they should get it.

The Free Press asked the 13 MPs currently representing Manitoba to answer three questions about the situation, including whether they support the decision to deny Fraser the audit, whether they think more details should be provided to the public about how MPs are spending money, and whether they'd be willing to provide further details of their expense claims from the last two years.

All three NDP MPs, the lone Liberal and one Conservative either responded to the survey or granted an interview. Eight of the nine Conservatives did not respond at all.

In total, Manitoba MPs claimed $6,348,792 in 2008-09 but the amounts claimed by each MP under each category varied significantly, and there is no explanation, beyond total amounts, about where the money went and why.

NDP MP Pat Martin said Tuesday he remains undecided about whether the public should get more information about MP expense claims and said he would open up his books "when all other MPs do the same."

But he also thinks turning Fraser away was the "dumbest move in the history of Canadian politics."

Winnipeg South MP Rod Bruinooge, the only Conservative from Manitoba who answered any questions from the Free Press about the expense issue, said he's not opposed to being more open about what MPs spend money on.

"I have no difficulty with that," said Bruinooge.

But he says Canadians will certainly find there is nothing to be suspicious about. "I'd be highly surprised if someone was hiding a castle or a moat cleaning (on their expense claims) in Canada," he said.

Manitoba NDP MP Jim Maloway concurred. "There is no money being handed out without receipts," he said.

-- with files from Canwest News Service

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2010 A4


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Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

grumpy old man

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Looks like Harper has muzzled his Manitoba puppets.

Pat Marten looks like an a$$hole after his comment.

Anita at least played the game. But watch her actions when the vote comes...

This represents the worst of politics and politicians and is why people have lost faith in our system.

Remember to ask your MP the next time they knock on your door what they are afraid of and why are they not responsive to the taxpayer/voters.


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Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

Guest

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Why would you say that Harper has muzzled his puppets? Bruinooge responded to the FREEP's request so it appears that nobody is muzzled.

grumpy old man

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Well, JTF, the EIGHT other Manitoba PC MPs said squat. Sounds like a muzzling to moi.


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Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

Guest

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Perhaps many were not asked. We don't know any details about that part. How long were they given to respond if asked, etc.

My point is that if Harper told them to shut up, I very much doubt that Bruinooge would have given a response, never mind such a response...a definitive answer. Just say'n that's my take.

grumpy old man

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Heh heh, and that was my take.

Didn't Bruinooge diverge from party policy on the abortion issue also? The man is a renegade I tell ya. A renegade.


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Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

grumpy old man

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http://www.cbc.ca/politics/story/2010/05/21/harper-abortion.html


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Yes, I really am that Grumpy...

It's their, they're and there; in Canada it's colour, cheque, rumour and zed...

Guest

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I'm not sure the two are related actually.

Harper is well aware of what the anti-abortion activists are doing...Bruinooge, who heads the self-declared "pro-life caucus" of MPs in the House of Commons was given a mandate to bring forth a private members bill. Harper can't stop that.

Regards the expense issue, the answer really is a no-brainer ya'think? Ask any MP if they have anything to hide and I'll bet I know what their response will be. Smile

Deank

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"Ask any MP if they have anything to hide and I'll bet I know what their response will be"

Lets talk about this over lunch?


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Why do we call them fingers if no one has ever seen them fing?

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