Yes, the MLA expenses scandal is a scandal. Some of what some MLAs filed as legitimate expenses were not. A few claims may even be criminal. Let’s make MLAs pay back what they can’t justify, and prosecute those whose actions crossed the line. Let’s fix a screwed-up system. Then let’s move on.
When it comes to scandalous wastes of taxpayers’ dollars, MLA expenses represent a piddling amount, even within the auditor-general’s report that started the current tsunami of public outrage.
The auditor-general’s report painted with a broad brush, flagging items he deemed excessive, lacked receipts or were otherwise questionable without digging deeper to determine which might actually be justifiable.
While many expenses—can you say the Dance Dance Revolution video game in the hands of ex-Tory MLA Len Goucher’s grandson, or the patio furniture in Liberal Dave Wilson’s backyard?—seem indefensible, others are more iffy.
Take ex-premier Rodney MacDonald’s $3,250 purchase of a projection screen for presentations. Hardly something for your rec room. MacDonald says community groups still use it. Did he pay too much? Should such items be paid out of constituency expenses? Good questions. But neither justifies labeling MacDonald a pig or a crook.
Or take the pink Nano—valued at $261.06 —that shows up among NDP MLA Leonard Preyra’s expenses. Preyra says he donated it to the Italian-Canadian Cultural Association of Nova Scotia for a fundraiser. He’s not alone. NDP Transportation Minister Bill Estabrooks proudly acknowledges he spent much of his flagged $44,424 in advertising, donations and gifts on local schools and sports teams. Should MLAs use constituency funds to help not-for-profit groups and teams? Another good question. But is doing so a flogging offence?
And, while the auditor general noted over half of legislative members—28 of 51—filed duplicate receipts, the report shows the total cost was $14,123, or approximately $92.31 per MLA per year of the audit.
“The types of wrongdoing… and the scale of it… simply would not warrant more work from my office,” the auditor-general initially said. Partly because of the outcry and new information he’s received, he is now looking at possible criminality. Go for it. Prosecute the cheaters.
Then let’s reform the system: make new expense rules in public, require tendering for purchases, demand receipts for everything and then publish every MLA’s expense report every month on the web.
With those—easy—changes in place, let’s finally turn our attention to the same auditor general’s report, which identifies a $52 million windfall private developers get to pocket from those infamous P-3 school projects. Now that’s scandalous!