Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore was proud of her participation in the annual MLA “welfare food challenge” last year, in which she pledged to spend only $19 for a week’s worth of groceries.
A year later, opposition MLAs questioned why Elmore claimed her $61 daily meal allowance during that week, the first week of November 2017.
After the receipts and Elmore’s Twitter photo of getting by on two hard-boiled eggs for breakfast were released by the B.C. Liberals, Elmore initially stopped short of saying she would pay the money back.
“The intention of the food challenge, I wanted to take that to understand what’s the experience of folks who were living on a limited income, and the challenges around purchasing food and really having that budget stretch out for the week,” Elmore told reporters at the legislature Wednesday.
After reviewing her records, Elmore said the daily allowance was claimed by her staff “as a matter of course.”
“In the spirit of the Welfare Challenge, I’ve decided to pay back the per diem for that week,” she said.
The $61 “per diem” is a flat rate paid to MLAs to cover their food costs while the legislature is in session. It is in addition to travel expenses and the MLA salary, currently at $108,105.35 with an annual cost of living adjustment.
Raise the Rates, an organization of unions and community groups, has staged the MLA welfare challenge since 2012.
The first year, Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar lived on the single-employable social assistance rate of $610 for a month. Brar stayed at a shelter and a single-room occupancy hotel, reporting that he lost 26 pounds and had to borrow money and sell possessions to make it through the 30 days.
The NDP government raised all social assistance rates, including the single-employable rate, by $100 after forming a minority government in 2017.