The House of Commons has adjourned for the summer after the Conservative government agreed to a complex deal that included an NDP motion to scrap the secretive committee that oversees expenses of the House of Commons and replace it with an independent oversight body.
The motion was approved on Tuesday night, ending an combative sitting that was dominated by accusations of spending scandals.
There was some thought that the House could sit until the end of this week but the parties decided to call it quits early, ending a prolonged period of acrimony.
Opposition parties engaged in a game of one-upmanship to demonstrate their commitment to transparency and, on Tuesday, the NDP unveiled its proposals which would lift the veil on how MPs spend the money that is allotted to them.
The party wants to do away with the Board of Internal Economy, the committee that supervises House spending from behind closed doors, with a more transparent body that does not leave MPs policing themselves.
“We think Canadians would have much more confidence if there was an independent oversight body,” Peter Jullian, the NDP caucus chair.
Mr. Julian said the New Democrats have not decided how that body should be composed. That would be determined through a series of focused hearings this fall, he said, which would involve a “dream team” of officers and bureaucrats including the Auditor General, the Clerk and the Chief Financial Officer of the House of Commons who enjoy significant credibility with the public.
The aim would be to look at the best practices of other parliaments and legislatures and incorporating them into changes that would give Canadians some assurance that their tax dollars are being spent properly. A report of those hearings would be returned to the House of Commons by Dec. 2 and the changes could be implemented by 2014-15.
“What we’re saying to other members of Parliament is, take the summer, look at this, you may have suggestions to make. That’s fine. But we are going to bring this forward on an opposition day debate this fall so, what we would like to have is to build that debate among the public and have that type of support so we can move to a system that’s a lot more transparent.”
Transparency has become a central focus of the Canadian Parliament this spring after the housing allowances of four senators were called into question and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned when it was revealed he had given embattled Senator Mike Duffy more than $90,000 to pay back improper expense claims.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has announced that his party’s MPs, senators and staff would begin publishing travel and hospitality expenses in the fall. And the Liberals say they will propose a bill in the fall to open the board of internal economy’s meetings to the public in most cases.
Mr. Trudeau introduced four motions in the House of Commons last week, all aimed at improving transparency. They proposed the posting of the quarterly travel and hospitality expenses of MPs, the posting MPs’ expense reports, performance audits of the House of Commons administration by the Auditor General, and the development of guidelines for more detailed audits of Parliamentary spending by the Auditor General.
The motions failed when the New Democrats refused to support them. NDP House leader Nathan Cullen said his party agreed with them in principle but said the Liberals did not consult with other parties before they were introduced.