Peter Shurman, the Ontario MPP for Thornhill, showed a singular obtuseness about the purpose of the rule that permits housing allowances for members of the legislature. Consequently, it is right that he has been removed from his position as the finance critic for the Progressive Conservative Opposition, by his party’s leader, Tim Hudak, though he has not violated the letter of the law. But the relevant section of the province’s Legislative Assembly Act should be rewritten.
The rationale for such allowances is that MPPs whose ridings – and homes – are far away from the legislature at Queen’s Park in downtown Toronto need a convenient place to live in the provincial capital. Mr. Shurman’s riding is just outside Toronto, and is part of the Greater Toronto Area. He lives in a rented apartment near the legislative building. If he lived in his constituency, he would not have a long commute; by the same token, his choice of a downtown flat does not make it difficult to visit his constituents.
Mr. Shurman may well regard his house in Niagara-on-the-Lake, 150 kilometres away, as his primary residence, but by his own account he bought it in the first place as a place to retire to, eventually. He says he spent most of the summer there; that was doubtless because the legislature was not in session. So far, it seems to have been more like a summer cottage than a primary home.
When he describes himself as a person of great, lifelong integrity, and as someone who would never try to “game the system,” he is no doubt being sincere, but he has shown a lack of insight – more particularly, on a matter of money, which is unfortunate for an opposition finance critic – especially after the excessive travel claims by some members of the Senate.
Mr. Shurman’s claim for reimbursement of his rent has turned out to be a gift to the Liberal government, whose House Leader, John Milloy, was right to say in a letter to the Speaker, “This clearly goes against the spirit of the allowance as envisioned by the Board of Internal Economy.”
All three parties should be able to agree promptly on a rewritten subsection that really makes clear what these allowances are for.