Monday, July 08, 2013

Two ways guaranteed to endear yourself to your political representatives this summer!

Good Day Readers:

Given your representatives are on an extended holiday and may come knocking at your door or invite you to a barbecue, here are two sure ways:

(1) Ask your Member of Parliament and/or Member of Legislative Assembly if you can drop by their constituency office to look at their expenses - they'll love that!

(2) Inquire how whipped they are - no, no, no, not like that!

Read on.

Clare L. Pieuk
Try testing your local politician
By Colin Craig
Monday, July 8, 2013
Looking for a bit of fun? Try calling up your provincial or federal politician’s office and ask if you can pop by and go through their expenses.

After an awkward pause on the phone, you’ll probably hear your federal representative’s assistant delicately explain some reason as to why you can’t see their expenses. Conversely, if you call your provincial representative’s office you’ll probably find a much more inviting response.

And therein lies the difference between the two sets of politicians – provincial rules are good (not yet great), but federally things are embarrassingly bad.

Consider, back in 2010, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a donation-based taxpayers’ watchdog organization, looked into provincial politicians’ expense disclosure. At the time, anyone could walk into any provincial MLA’s office and review a book with expense details or visit the clerk’s office in the legislature and see the same information.

It was an ok system, but it clearly required some improvements. After all, for those living outside of Regina, they didn’t really have a convenient way of keeping tabs on their MLA’s expenses anonymously.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation asked both the Saskatchewan Party and the Saskatchewan NDP if they would take the reports available in their offices and begin placing them online. To their credit, both parties agreed and the docs were published online not too long afterwards.

Within a few clicks, taxpayers can now see a fair amount of info on how public funds are being spent. For example, online you can see that NDP MLA Danielle Chartier spent $135.45 at Don’s Photo on March 30, 2012 for a “voice recorder.” The same site shows Sask Party MLA Russ Marchuk expensed $353.70 at “Supreme Basics” on February 1, 2012 for “Misc Supplies.”

However, if you want to see receipts for each, you can only see them if the MLA agrees to let you. While Ms. Chartier’s expense seems pretty self explanatory, one doesn’t know much about Mr. Marchuk’s. Thus, the Legislature should change the rules to give the public the right to see all receipts rather than relying on cooperation from an MLA. Alternatively, the Legislature could follow the City of Toronto’s lead and just start posting each receipt online for all to see.

Federally, it’s a totally different story. Reports are tabled each year that show you how much each Member of Parliament and Senator spent by category.

For example, Regina MP Ralph Goodale spent $168,592 on travel in 2011-12, but that’s all we know. The only way someone can see a breakdown of how Mr. Goodale spent that $168,592 is for Mr. Goodale to grant you permission to see the bills or by tunneling into the House of Commons’ record room.

We certainly don’t advise the latter and several MPs have flat out refused cooperation in recent years. Incredibly, some MPs have even tried to suggest – with a straight face – that they’re already transparent by simply disclosing totals by category. We all know how well that’s worked out for the Senate.

All three major federal parties seem to be united in their hesitation to put all expense receipts online. Let’s face it, they’re likely worried about certain members getting butchered in the media for questionable expenses from the past they thought they could keep hidden.

However, there is nothing stopping them from disclosing all expenses going forward as of, say September 1st or some other date.

Regardless, it’s clear the provincial expense disclosure rules could use some improvement, while federally they require a lot. For a lark, try calling your local politicians’ offices…you’ll likely come to the same conclusion.

Colin Craig
Prairie Director (Saskatchewan/Manitoba)
Office Location:
P O Box 42123 1881 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, MB R3J 3X7
Phone: 204-982-2150/1-800-772-9955
Fax: (204) 982-2154
Cell: (204) 227-5561
Twitter @ colincraig1

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Colin has worked for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation since 2008.

He has an MBA and BA (economics) from the University of Manitoba and both public and private sector experience.

While pursuing his undergrad degree, Colin worked as an assistant to a provincial cabinet minister in Manitoba and later as a policy researcher.

Following graduation, Colin served as a policy advisor in the Minister of Finance's office in Toronto, Ontario. He later gained significant insight into municipal affairs while employed as the Project Director for the City of Winnipeg's Economic Opportunity Commission.

Colin has also worked in the private sector. He assisted an internet-based vehicle-importing firm with business development and helped a Winnipeg-based market research firm with data analysis.

In his spare time, Colin enjoys reading and participating in a wide variety of sports. He has traveled around the world and spent three years living in Japan.
Whipping MPs into toeing the party line
Friday June 28, 2013
Political parties expect their members to vote with the party, but a new documentary, Whipped suggests this not only robs constituents of an independent voice, it can cause politicians to suffer emotional stress. We hear from the Director of Whipped and from MP Brent Rathgeber on why he thinks the government's heavy-handed party discipline is wrong.

MP for the riding of Edmonton-St. Albert, Brent Rathgeber

"I said I have no choice. I have to stand up in the house and vote against my own government. Oh you better just think about it because you know you gotta have rocks in your head. He was daring me and that's how it goes.

Well the vote was to be called at 6 o'clock, with 2 minutes before 6 he indicated he wanted to talk to me, so I went over to his desk and he said - get your *ss out of here. (laughs)." Former B.C. Social Credit MLA Nick Loenen

Former British Columbia Social Credit MLA Nick Loenen knows defying the party whip and voting against the party policy can have serious consequences.

Earlier this month MP Brent Rathgeber quit the Conservative party to sit as an independent. It was a decision borne out of frustration over demands for unquestioned support of the party. Brent Rathgeber joined us our studio in Edmonton.

We invited the Prime Minister's Office to respond to Mr. Rathgeber's criticisms, but the PMO's Director of Communications replied that it had no comment.

Director of Whipped, Sean Holman

"I had a one on one with the Premier and basically told him you need private members just when it comes time to vote because we are never included in anything. You don't include us in the policy decision making process, you don't include us in the drafting of the legislation, you don't ask for our input. So I said the only reason you need private members is for voting and he agreed with that." Former BC Liberal MLA Dennis McKay

Former BC Liberal MLA Dennis McKay is featured in the documentary, Whipped, about political party discipline. It unveils the techniques governments use to get their caucus members in line.

Whipped Director Sean Holman (Darshan Stevens)

Sean Holman directed the film, Whipped. He is a journalist who covered the British Columbia legislature for close to a decade. He's now an Assistant Professor of Journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

Sean Holman is also founder of the online investigative political news service Public Eye. He was in our Toronto studio.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry.

Have thoughts you want to share? Tweet us @thecurrentcbc. Or on Facebook. Or email us from our website. And if you missed anything on The Current, grab a podcast.


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