This is in response to Andre Carrel’s August 27, 2013 column in The Terrace Standard, “MP Nathan Cullen silent about his wages.”
Carrel’s piece bears some timely wisdom about public disclosure of expenses for parliamentarians, and I was pleased to read it in The Terrace Standard.
While expense scandals haunt Senators in the red chamber, many Canadians are rightfully wondering if their MPs in the House are abusing the public purse as well.
Canadians are, by now, familiar with the scandals surrounding Senators like Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy. They’ve also heard about the secretive oversight bodies like the Senate Board of Internal Economy (BOIE), a committee made up of Senators that are supposed to prevent such abuses.
However, the Senate board, like its counterpart in the House of which I am currently a member, sits behind closed doors, and it’s these kinds of environments of secrecy where conflicts of interest and systemic abuses are able to thrive. The Senate BOIE’s recent whitewashing of a damning report about Mike Duffy’s abuses of public money is a perfect example.
Under the current system, once they leave the room, members of the BOIE legally cannot comment on what happened inside – not with their colleagues, their staff, or even their own families. When it comes to sensitive legal matters or the security of the Prime Minister, there is good reason for this.
But when it comes to how parliamentarians use public money for travel and housing expenses, the public has every right to know.
I think Mr. Carrel expressed the dismay of many Canadians when he asked, “Why can’t discussions and votes on compensation and expense entitlements for parliamentarians proceed in the open?” I fully believe that they should.
But unfortunately what Mr. Carrel missed is that before the House adjourned for summer, the NDP proposed and passed a motion in the House to deal directly with this exact issue: looking at ways to dissolve the secrecy of the Board of Internal Economy altogether and replace it with an independent body to oversee how MPs spend public money.
I’m part of a team that worked on this issue for the better part of a year, and as an MP I’m proud to have stood up for more accountability and transparency over the years since coming to office.
It may be uncomfortable for parliamentarians to publicly discuss their salaries and benefits, as Mr. Carrel notes, but it’s even more uncomfortable for Canadians to hear repeated stories of parliamentarians abusing the system behind closed doors.
It’s time to push those doors open for the public to see.
Member of Parliament, Skeena – Bulkley Valley