Four former Nova Scotia politicians and one sitting member of the province's legislature may have committed "illegal acts" in the filing of their expenses – a discovery by the province's Auditor-General that comes days after federal politicians refused to be subjected to similar scrutiny.
Due to the "serious nature" of the findings, files on the five people in question have been handed over to the RCMP for criminal investigation, Auditor-General Jacques Lapointe said on Tuesday in a letter to the province's Speaker.
Mr. Lapointe's study of the expenditures of a small group of politicians stemmed from a broader report he filed in February that highlighted "inappropriate" claims by MLAs for a home generator, home furniture and MP3 players, as well as "excessive" claims for office furniture, a 40-inch LCD television, a model-boat office display and an espresso machine.
His findings follow on the heels of other high-profile expense scandals in Canada and abroad.
In Newfoundland, four provincial politicians were convicted after that province's Auditor-General red-flagged expense claims for about $1-million in 2006.
In Britain, it was revealed that former prime minister Gordon Brown paid his brother, a bank executive, $11,650 to clean his flat, while another MP expensed the cleaning of his moat and a third billed taxpayers for a house for his ducks.
But last week, a committee of Canadian MPs rejected a request by federal Auditor-General Sheila Fraser to examine the administration of the House of Commons, including the systems in place to manage politicians' expenses.
With public outrage mounting, some federal politicians are now distancing themselves from that decision.
Peter Stoffer, a New Democratic MP from Nova Scotia, said Tuesday that he would be calling his House Leader to find out the reasons for the decision. "My constituents are [saying]that the Auditor-General should have access to anything she wants to look at," Mr. Stoffer said, "and as far as I'm concerned, I agree with them."
The type of audit that Ms. Fraser hoped to perform is the same sort of investigation that Mr. Lapointe conducted in February. In a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, he said it is true that the irregularities in his province would not have been uncovered had he not been permitted to conduct that probe.
"I have a responsibility, as most of the other [auditors-general]do, to audit the public expenses, and that includes all expenditures of public money regardless of which department or agency it's in," Mr. Lapointe said. "My concern was to identify recommendations to make the system stronger. While I was doing that, I also found a lot of transactions that I thought were inappropriate or excessive, and I reported them as well."
The initial Nova Scotia investigation led to the resignation of Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Hurlburt, who had expensed an $8,000 generator that he kept at his home. Liberal MLA Dave Wilson resigned for reasons that have not been made public. And the NDP removed Trevor Zinck from its caucus after learning he had been reimbursed for unpaid bills in his constituency office.
It is unclear whether any of those men are among the five now being investigated by the RCMP. Mr. Lapointe has refused to name the politicians who may have acted illegally.
Kevin Gaudet, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the type of activity uncovered in Nova Scotia is exactly the kind of thing that is making federal politicians fearful. "When they hide this stuff, it leads people to believe that there are buried bodies that they don't want to unearth," he said.
Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, a citizen advocacy group, said Ms. Fraser has not only a right, but also an obligation to look at MPs' expenses.
"To actually fulfill her legal duties, the Auditor-General must audit every government institution at least every few years," Mr. Conacher said. "And it's been almost 20 years since the House of Commons was audited. So it is far past time."