Members of Parliament from all parties have quietly approved a 6.7-per-cent increase to their travel-related expense budget in addition to a 1.6-per-cent salary hike.
The decisions were made behind closed doors on March 25 by the House of Commons board of internal economy. However, the increase to the travel status expenses account for all MPs was only made public Thursday, when the minutes of the meeting were tabled in the House of Commons.
The decision means the size of the accounts rose by $1,762 to $28,000 a year for each MP as of April 1. The accounts can be used by MPs to claim spending such as accommodation, meals, cable TV, Internet, utilities, parking and incidental expenses while on travel status.
The salary increase – from $157,731 to $160,200 – had previously been made public.
The increases come as federal parties point fingers over secrecy in spending by MPs and senators. Currently MPs disclose spending annually as total amounts for categories such as advertising or equipment rental. There is a debate taking place among MPs over whether they should release expenses more frequently and in greater detail.
The salaries for MPs and senators were frozen for three straight years prior to the increase that took effect April 1. Salary increases for MPs are based on a federal government index of the average percentage increase in wages resulting from major settlements negotiated with bargaining units of 500 or more employees.
Senators' salaries are set at $25,000 less than MPs' salaries, so the base salary for a senator is now $135,200, up from $132,300 in 2012.
NDP MP Nycole Turmel, a spokesperson for the board, said Canadians will understand that costs have increased and that the travel account had not been increased over the last two years. She also notes that the board approved spending cuts for MP budgets in other areas, such as printing.
Nonetheless, she said Canadians want more transparency and there will be changes in the fall, such as more detailed forms to fill out.
"There's an open discussion," she said. "Canadians need more information about what we are doing."
Conservative Government Whip Gordon O'Connor, the other board spokesperson, declined to comment.
Gregory Thomas, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, noted that a 6.7-per-cent increase is more than the rate of growth in government spending. It is also a higher rate than inflation or economic growth.
"When the government itself is mandating austerity, in a secret meeting, these politicians decide to give themselves a raise and we don't find out about it for almost three months," he said. "This is another illustration that the expense control systems in Parliament are broken beyond repair."
The board took a step toward greater transparency Thursday by releasing its minutes online for the first time. Previously, the minutes were tabled in the House of Commons and could be viewed only upon request by individuals with access to the Library of Parliament.
Still, the minutes continue to offer very limited information as to what was discussed. For instance, an item discussed on April 22 is titled "security" and offers a one-sentence explanation: "The Board took note of a document regarding a security matter."