Monday, March 3, 2014

Trudeau Liberals spend three times more on hospitality than Prime Minister's staff: expense reports

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

Trudeau Liberals spend three times more on hospitality expenses - over $6100 per month - even as Liberals attack Conservative staffers’ occasional working lunches

It took almost a year since Justin Trudeau made the promise, but the Liberal expense disclosures are finally available.

However, the expenses raise many more questions about the Liberal’s hospitality expenses than they answer: namely, that they’re spending over $6100 in taxpayers' money every month on pizza, lunches, dinners, and staff meetings over coffee.

According to the Liberal website, between September and December 2013, Liberal Members of Parliament billed taxpayers a total of $24,575.80 on “hospitality” expenses.

However, this number is likely to be much higher: the almost $25,000 is based on the MPs who have actually reported their expenses in accordance with Trudeau’s instructions. Several MPs, such as Roger Cuzner, Chrystia Freeland, Ralph Goodale, Mark Garneau, and David McGuinty still have no hospitality expenses listed. In fact, McGuinty has absolutely no expenses listed.*

The most expensive Liberal MP is Lawrence MacAulay, who has billed taxpayers a total of $2181.07 in hospitality over four months.  His expenses include a $377.84 dinner “with elected officials” on September 16 and a $40 breakfast on September 28.  Both of these occurred when Parliament wasn't even sitting.

A close runner up is Emmanuel Dubourg who, although only being elected to Parliament in November, has already billed taxpayers for $1534.96 in hospitality.  That total includes a $50 “Christmas dinner” and a $1424 party to celebrate his swearing-in as an MP, paid for by Canadian taxpayers.

More questions arise from other members of the Liberal caucus.  For example, Carolyn Bennett’s $155.45 lunch in Ottawa on September 19 when Parliament did not resume sitting until October 16.  Or what about her $65.31 dinner when she was back home in her Toronto riding on October 18?  Or what about Mauril Belanger’s $290.36 dinner on December 17, even though the House had already risen for the Christmas break?

One of the reasons these questions arise is because the disclosures are so light on details.  As the Canadian Taxpayers Federation quickly noted, many of the expenses that are posted are wholly insufficient – not much more than the date the expense was incurred, and maybe the odd name of the restaurant supporting where the expense was incurred.  This also assumes that we trust the Liberals to post everything thoroughly and accurately.

Of course, the disclosures also raise questions that will require further explanation.  Why are Canadians paying for MP's meals when they're not even in Ottawa or on MP duty?  Who was present at these taxpayer-funded dinners? Were their meals purchased by taxpayers on the MP’s bill?  What was discussed at these dinner meetings?

These expenses also expose the blatant hypocrisy over the Liberals’ criticism of Conservative staff lunches: just last week Liberal MP Gerry Byrne complained Conservatives were breaking Treasury Board policy by providing a working lunch to some staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office.  Meanwhile, Byrne billed taxpayers $135 to have lunch back home over Christmas break.  By Byrne's own words, the only way that would have been allowable was if it was a "working lunch."  Was it?

Surely if we can’t feed staff over the occasional working lunch, we shouldn’t be feeding MPs when they’re back home for Christmas.

If the Liberals keep spending taxpayers’ money on hospitality this way, they will surpass the Conservative staffers’ lunches over three years in a mere 10 months - a rate more than three times higher.  Critics complained Conservative staffers can make almost $180,000 per year but they bill taxpayers for their coffee and sandwiches.  Well, all of these Liberal MPs make $160,000 per year, yet they’re charging taxpayers for their coffee and their sandwich and it’s okay?  Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

The Liberals’ disclosure of expenses is a step in the right direction, but right now they raise more questions than they answer.

*Update: On March 5, 2014, David McGuinty's office contacted the author to confirm that no expenses are listed because McGuinty does not incur travel or hospitality expenses.