Expense reports showing how much B.C.’s provincial politicians spend on travel are worthless, a director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation says.
“It’s flawed in many ways,” Jordan Bateman said Friday.
The reports don’t include a breakdown of ministers’ expenses, doesn’t give context on the number of trips they actually took or where they went, nor does it include who travels with them, although MLAs are allowed to take someone on 12 trips a year.
“It’s a virtually worthless document,” he said.
The province began releasing broad travel expense figures for MLAs last year after the auditor general proclaimed the legislature’s books to be a mess.
Updated totals released this week showed Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Kevin Krueger spent more on travel in the last nine months of 2012 than his Kamloops-North Thompson colleague, despite Terry Lake being environment minister as well as an MLA.
Expense reports released by the B.C. Legislative Assembly show Krueger’s travel at $47,567, compared with Lake’s total of $30,109.71. Lake’s total does not include ministerial travel in December.
Premier Christy Clark spent even less in her MLA account, tallying $3,528 between April 1 and Dec. 31 of 2012. But her travel as the province’s leader cost $57,088.01. Again, December’s numbers were not included. That puts the total (minus December) at $60,616.01.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix’s travel for the nine-month period cost $50,934.
MLA’s expenses are compiled separately from those for cabinet ministers and the premier. The MLA figures are complete for April 1 to Dec. 31, but those for ministers and the premier are still missing December’s numbers.
Bateman said he’d like to see B.C. adopt a system similar to Alberta, where all receipts are scanned and made available for anyone to see online.
“I don’t know why they even bother to release this. What they should release is every single expense they incur on their jobs,” he said.
“Without context, it’s hard to say what’s reasonable.”
Krueger disagreed, saying staff have to document the submitted receipts, which are then gone over at the comptroller’s office. MLAs also know they can be audited at any time, and the provincial auditor-general is reviewing accounts as well.
“How much more can you do without being absolutely silly?” he said.
“We’re watched like hawks about everything.”
All of that accounting costs money, he noted.
Lake was not available for comment and Dix could not be reached — ironically — because he was on an airplane.
But last summer, Dix said in a radio interview that being an MLA means travelling to meet with constituents, engaging and researching. Anyone who is a minister or critic has to have a provincial perspective.
Krueger said committee work also takes MLAs back and forth between home and Victoria. He said Lake might be so busy in Victoria he’s not getting back to Kamloops that often, which might explain his lower expenses.
Bateman said closer expense scrutiny revealed a Nova Scotian MLA was expensing video games like Dance Dance Revolution. That government has saved money since public access to expenses began, he said.
He’d like the same examination of travel costs here, rather than lump-sum tallies.
“This is the bare minimum of what they could have done.”