It’s time to call Premier Christy Clark’s bluff on her approach to using the legislature.
The premier has a lot of control over when the legislature sits and for how long. Clark has an obvious distaste for that aspect of government. The idea of sitting in the legislature seems to prompt a lot of disdain on her part.
But people knew that going into the election and she won handily. So be it.
What they don’t know is the waste of money that comes from creating a living allowance for MLAs that is paid regardless of whether they need it.
Living costs for out-of-town MLAs are covered by the legislature budget. That’s fair enough. No one could expect them to pay their own way while in the capital as part of their jobs. But one of the assumptions built into the program is that they need long-term accommodation.
Under Clark’s stated approach, they clearly don’t. So why are taxpayers paying thousands of dollars every month to accommodate MLAs who don’t need accommodation?
The arrangements that MLAs have made for themselves when it comes to living in the capital just don’t stand up to scrutiny.
The Liberals pride themselves on taking a miserly approach to every nickel of taxpayers’ money. Every financial report for the past five years has a piece about belt-tightening, increased vigilance on expenditure and curbing discretionary spending.
But when it comes to allowances for the politicians themselves, there’s a degree of slack.
Under the rules, MLAs have choices when it comes to the capital-city living allowance.
They can submit expenses up to a set amount, or get a lesser amount ($1,000 a month) with no receipts. Or they can stay in hotels up to a limit between the other options.
In the 85-member house, 42 take the $1,000 a month without needing to file receipts. A handful have opted to file receipts up to $19,000 a year. And 27 stay in hotels, eligible for up to $17,000 a year. (Seven MLAs are from the capital region and aren’t eligible.)
It’s odd that with so many options, none of them really work for everyone. The favoured $1,000-a-month option doesn’t cover the true cost of living in the capital. Some MLAs say they are out of pocket. The hotel option is considered inconvenient because it means carting luggage back and forth.
And the option of filing receipts up to $19,000 a year isn’t fair to taxpayers, given how seldom they use year-round lodging.
The $1,000-a-month provided with no receipts is a particular curiosity. No other office in government invites people to claim sums like that just by ticking off a box on a form.
Former auditor general John Doyle landed hard on MLAs last year for chronic sloppy accounting on the legislature budget.
The legislature’s management committee of MLAs met Tuesday to continue the progress that has been made on responding to Doyle’s criticisms. No one at that meeting defended the housing arrangement.
If they want to be bold in achieving efficiency, they should look at just providing a daily
allowance for MLAs’ accommodation.
They sat 36 days this year and 47 the previous one. Providing long-term lodging for this bunch is a waste of money.
Les Leyne writes for the Victoria Times Colonist.