There is a cloud of suspicion over the House of Commons, and it does no good for MPs to pretend it isn't there. It is, and they put it there by obstructing Auditor-General Sheila Fraser, who asked that she be allowed to do a "performance audit" of the $500-million-plus in annual Commons spending. The country's legislators are purposely blocking the public's view of something the public has a right to know.
Ms. Fraser has earned substantial respect from Canadians in her nine years probing government spending. They rely on her to find out how their money is being spent. They trust her. When she is sent packing, it is as if all Canadians are being told they have no business poking their noses in the business of government.
In other jurisdictions in Canada, public auditors have found spending practices that were excessive, offensive and in some cases illegal. Criminal convictions were obtained in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the RCMP has been called in in Nova Scotia. In Britain, the leaking of MPs' expense statements led to a weeks-long scandal and resignations of cabinet members.
It is simply not credible when Canada's legislators say the Auditor-General has no right to audit their spending. Of course she does. "The Auditor-General is the auditor of the accounts of Canada," as she pointed out in a letter to House Speaker Peter Milliken, quoting from the Auditor General Act. Their refusal to be audited invites the question of what they are afraid the country will learn.
Disingenuously, MPs claim the private, "independent" audit that is currently being done by KPMG LLP renders pointless an audit by Ms. Fraser. That private audit is a simple financial audit of House spending. It is a tabulation and not much more. Receipts have been accounted for. The KPMG audit is publicly available on the House of Commons website, and looks nothing like the reports issued by Ms. Fraser's office. Ms. Fraser, if she were free to do an audit, might look at the different categories of MP spending, and assess whether, for instance, their travel is legitimately for parliamentary work, or for partisan politics (the business of getting re-elected) or for personal purposes.
"Our job is to give parliamentarians independent and objective information that helps them hold the government accountable for how it spends public money," Ms. Fraser has said. "Time and time again, our reports have raised issues related to the quality and completeness of information provided by the government." Sheila Fraser is the agent through whom Canadians seek to make sure government is worthy of their trust. Until she is allowed to audit Commons spending, the cloud of suspicion will remain over Parliament.