The federal Liberals have pledged to start publishing travel and hospitality expenses for MPs, Senators and staff.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made the announcement in Ottawa Wednesday, laying out a proposal to boost transparency in government at a time when, he says, questions about Senate expenses have shaken Canadians’ faith in the system. It extends rules that currently apply to cabinet ministers.
“Over the past weeks, we’ve seen a tremendous level of cynicism increased and a level of disenchantment with both our parliamentary institutions and the people who serve them. It is our sense that the proposals…. are going to go a long way toward restoring Canadians’ confidence in institutions we believe in,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters.
The data will be released quarterly in searchable formats so that people can “search, play with, utilize, share and actually get to the heart of concerns anyone might have,” Mr. Trudeau said. Presently, some Senate expenses, for instance, are published in a series of PDFs that are cumbersome to compare.
Mr. Trudeau has been under fire from Conservatives for defending the Senate, saying it’s to Quebec’s “advantage,” and for not immediately passing a Conservative motion for an audit of all Senate expenses. Senator James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate, said he expects that motion will pass Wednesday.
The Wednesday announcement was interrupted by a small group of roughly one dozen protesters, who appeared to target Mr. Trudeau’s support for the Senate by chanting “Trudeau loves the status quo, what about the average Joe?” Mr. Trudeau stopped his speech, watched them, and then suggested the group was sent by Conservatives.
“One can see why the Conservatives are so worried that the openness and the transparency that the Liberal party is demonstrating and is serious about demonstrating. They want to change the channel, they want to talk about anything else, but we are going to talk about how we’re restoring Canadians’ confidence in the Senate,” he said.
The group of people, all young adults and most of them male, did not identify themselves, and left Parliament Hill once approached by reporters. They declined to say their names, whether they work on the Hill or for the Conservative party. One said he was unemployed. Photos suggest that person is a former employee of the Conservative Resource Group, a research agency serving the Tory caucus. An RCMP officer said the group had no permit but was not asked to leave.
Mr. Trudeau’s move to announce the disclosure of expenses was applauded by former Liberal MP Michelle Simson, who served from 2008 to 2011 and voluntarily disclosed her own. “At last, a party leader leading by example,” Ms. Simson wrote on Twitter, adding: “Shame on all other MPs that don’t follow suit.”
The Liberal proposal also includes a bill, due in the fall, to make the House of Commons’ secretive Board of Internal Economy meetings open to the public in most cases. The Conservatives would have to support that bill for it to pass. Mr. Trudeau also called on the House and Senate boards of economy to work with the Auditor General to develop mandatory performance audits.
Before the announcement, however, Mr. Cowan, the top Liberal Senator, said it’s a “cop-out” to blame rules and that audits would not have caught a $90,000 cheque from the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff to Senator Mike Duffy. “I don’t think the real problem we have here [are] the rules. I think it’s the lack of respect that some people have for the rules. That’s the problem,” he said.
Senator Claude Carignan, a Conservative appointed by Mr. Harper, said the cases of Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy are “exceptions” to the performance of the Senate.
“We are very good senators, we are here to serve citizens and not the inverse,” he said.