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Liberal MP Michelle Simson, who has a background in banking, says constituents have only praised her transparency on expenses. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Liberal MP Michelle Simson, who has a background in banking, says constituents have only praised her transparency on expenses. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Rookie Liberal gets cold shoulder for coming clean on expenses Add to ...

There were some smirks and sniffs as rookie Liberal MP Michelle Simson told caucus colleagues this week that sometimes it's easier to do the right thing. It was not a message her colleagues enjoyed hearing.

Ms. Simson is the first MP to take the bold step of publicly revealing her MP expenses. Last year, with little fanfare, she posted the information on her website, fulfilling an election campaign promise to her constituents that she would show them how she spent their money.

But with the issue blowing up all over the Hill after the secretive all-party Board of Internal Economy decided to block the Auditor-General from looking at MPs' spending, Ms. Simson has suddenly become the poster child for political accountability and transparency.

While she is being feted by Canadians who like what she did, some caucus colleagues are giving her the cold shoulder.

That's because, according to one Liberal caucus source, some believe her actions are making them look bad.

Behind the closed doors of caucus this week, however, Ms. Simson was not grandstanding. Neither was she trying to suggest she was better than her colleagues.

She simply wanted other MPs to know that it's not scary to post expenses; when she did it she suffered no consequences. In fact, she has said that not one of the more than 100 people who sent her e-mails in response commented on how she spent the money. The comments were congratulatory.

Rather than praising her and encouraging other MPs to follow her lead, however, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told members not to do what she did.

He told his caucus to stick together and not to be mavericks on this issue. He is concerned that different MPs could post different expenses, creating the perception of inequities.

"Right now, she is not very popular in our caucus," said the Liberal source. "It's hard when you go against the grain, especially when it's the right thing to do."

Doing the right thing is not a stretch for Ms. Simson.

The 56-year-old MP from Scarborough Southwest - who lives in Markham and was appointed the Liberal candidate by former leader Stéphane Dion in an effort to find gender balance - has a background in banking.

She worked for a bank before ending up in the auto-leasing business; she met her husband (they're celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary on Monday) at the bank; their 29-year-old son works for the Bank of Nova Scotia.

"It just didn't come as anything strange," she says about being accountable, having had to endure random internal audits when she worked at the bank.

"They came in and it was a surprise. They'd come after hours, show up with black bags and they would rip through everything. And so I was used to it," she recalled in an interview this week.

During the 2008 election campaign, with government spending and waste an issue in her riding, Ms. Simson promised that if she was elected she would open her books.

"Once you are elected there are very few things that you really do control as an individual MP," she says. "And I said [to voters] but the one thing I can tell you is I'll be accountable ... you'll see where I spend my money."

But Ms. Simson knows that any time "you put yourself out there" there are consequences.

"I'm sure that there may be colleagues from various parties that maybe weren't enamoured with what I did," she says. "But frankly, I couldn't afford to really worry about that because I answer to the constituents and it's taxpayers money."

Over the next few days she is planning to post numbers for this year. And despite her leader's edict, she is having an influence. Two of her Liberal colleagues this week released detailed breakdowns of their expenses.

"We need more people like that," said one of her colleagues about Ms. Simson.

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