Combine the expensive $16 orange juice, limo rides, and five-star-plus hotel stays of Bev Oda (1), the pricey hospitality spending habits of both Gerry Ritz and Jim Flaherty (2), and the recent exposure of Montreal Old Port’s CEO, Claude Benoit’s, extravagant vacation (3), and you have a consistant image of the Conservative Government’s abuse of taxpayer’s funds. The expensive abuses of trust are far from new to the Conservatives, who were harshly criticized in 2010 because of the exorbitant costs associated with the Toronto G20 summit, which included the creation of a $57,000 artificial indoor lake.(4) Considering all of the government’s preaching about fiscal sustainability, these expenses are way out of hand. The fact that they’ve come to light so late is a major problem with our country’s budgetary transparency.
For all the verbal “encouragement” for MPs to reduce their expenses, they seem to have a really hard time making it happen. A part of the problem stems from the way these expenses are tracked, recorded, and made available to those who pay the bills: the Canadian taxpayer. You can find a record of the spending, somewhere on the Government’s site, through extensive digging, but it’s not specific, sorted, or properly searchable. Finding out the cost of orange juice was $16 was a fluke, generally it would just be labelled as “food & beverages”. It doesn’t make sense for an MP to have a fancy steak dinner on taxpayer’s dime, but to spend its equivalent on “food & beverages” doesn’t raise an eyebrow since it doesn’t show how many people were entertained during the “business dinner.” And so, another huge expense is tallied onto our bill and we can’t even see it.
The issue of fiscal transparency is something that periodically raises its head, is claimed to be addressed, and then forgotten. The addressing of the issue comes in the words of a few choice arguments in parliament, some press releases, and a photo-op of an MP (or the Prime Minister) having an inexpensive meal with some foreign diplomat. The media has its story, taxpayers believe what they read, and the issue subsides. Until the next time, and the next, and the next. It is a never-ending cycle of fiscal abuse, minor scandals, and staged public relations events to make the issue go away.
The expenses of the government, its members, its officials, and those employed by it should not be swept under the rug, ever. I’m not referring to their personal expenses, but those incurred on the public dime & time. Fiscal transparency, amongst many other things, is one of the areas to which the Pirate Party of Canada hopes to bring greater attention. The party is hardly faultless when it comes to its own record keeping, with its first preliminary expense report to its members sadly lacking in specifics, but the movement for increased specifics and transparent handling of funds is something dear to its core supporters. While the party continues to consider how it would like to phrase their position, I have a few thoughts of my own.
It may be more work, but all expenses should be categorized, sub-categorized, laid out specifically, and have its receipts scanned and visible for viewing. Additionally, specific policies should be developed laying out allowable amounts for expenses, based on mid-level pricing. By mid-level pricing, I mean an end to five-star hotels for our representatives, especially if they’re representing Canada at an international meeting about addressing poverty or fiscal austerity. Three or four-star hotels are more than sufficient. Thinking of a high-end meal, no thanks. Aim for something with more reasonable pricing, I swear the food is still quite tasty. Policies governing appropriate spending in regards to hospitality, travel, hotels, etc needs to be aimed to encourage fiscal prudence in our representatives and set a good example for the average Canadian. After all, when the average-Joe is deep in debt, they can’t very well dine at Le Cinq, in Paris, and stay at The Savoy, in England, why should the Government, who is far further in debt, be allowed to do so on our coin?
Our spendthrift Conservative Government, likes to pretend to be fiscally conservative, but burns money across the world. They cut many valuable programs, while misspending funds. They only pay back any excess after they’ve been caught and exposed in the media. This is not the way to conduct business, and it is not a good way to run our country. Fiscal transparency and economic accountability are not just ideas, they’re an important aspect of a truly responsible government. This largesse needs to come to an end. We do not nee our Members of Parliament, like Bev Oda, to stand as examples of what not to do, they should demonstrate to responsibly use taxpayers money.
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