FOULDS: MPs demand transparency — until it reaches their expenses
The Conservative government’s decision to plod forward with legislation that will compel unions to reveal to all how and where they spend their money is, naturally, making unions angry.
Union officials have argued Bill C-377, which passed the House of Commons and will become law if and when it passes the Senate, is an unnecessary, unconstitutional invasion of privacy that treats union finances differently from other private corporations that benefit from similar tax breaks with respect to tax-deductible donations.
The House of Commons finance committee also learned mandating union fiscal transparency won’t come cheap. The Canada Revenue Agency estimates it will cost $2.4 million to administer the bill for the first two years and about a million dollars per year thereafter.
Of course, that figure is a very rough estimate, based on fewer than 1,000 submissions, a number even the Parliamentary Budget Office concedes is likely too low.
On a scale of 1 to 10 among issues that are of crucial importance in Canada right now, this private member’s bill on the cusp of becoming law sits at about 11.
However, on a scale 1 to 10 on the hypocrisy meter, Bill C-377 and its supporters are No. 1 with a bullet.
Consider the Conservative MP who created this contentious bill — South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale’s Russ Hiebert, who spends your tax dollars with as much frugality as a dipsomaniac at closing time.
“I believe there is a genuine public purpose served by requiring financial transparency in all institutions that receive a substantial public benefit,” Hiebert said during the bill’s debate.
This is the same politician who was anything but transparent when asked to explain his obscenely high expense tab as an MP in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, when he charged $637,000 to the taxpayer — the highest of any MP in B.C. and second-highest among all MPs across Canada.
He claimed the rich figure was related to his decision to fly his family back and forth to Ottawa (a practice that, while allowed, is nonetheless a grotesque waste of public funds), yet the fact much of the spending ($400,000 of the total) came from other areas prompted many on his election district association to resign last year.
It’s not only Hiebert being the author of Bill C-377 that makes the process so odious.
It extends to Conservative party MPs who voted in favour of this legislation — and only five Conservatives voted alongside opposition parties to oppose it.
These would be the same Conservative MPs who in 2010, along with their Liberal and NDP counterparts, vociferously opposed allowing then-auditor general Sheila Fraser to audit their spending habits.
Transparency in how unions spend their money? Absolutely.
Transparency in how MPs dish our cash? Are you crazy?
The vast majority of MPs reveal superficial information regarding how they spend your money and are still not required to reveal detailed receipts.
Take, for example, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, who voted in favoured of Bill C-377, citing the need for transparency in how unions spend their members’ money.
However, McLeod remains less-than-transparent when the issue is expenditures.
Two years ago, during the storm surrounding MPs’ resolve to keep their spending details secret, I asked McLeod to break down her $110,000 travel bill, her $25,000 housing tab in Ottawa and other reported expenses.
Alas, my request was refused.
There are MPs — Liberals Michelle Simson (Scarborough-Southwest) is the most noteworthy — who take that extra step in detailing expenses.
Check out her website here and see how vastly superior her financial disclosure is, compared to websites of McLeod and others.
In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Canada’s 308 MPs spent a collective $121.3 million, which is a 34 per cent increase from about a decade ago, when 301 MPs spent a collective $90.1 million.
The dollars have increased; information linked to those loonies have not.
When it comes to union spending, our governing MPs demand the transparency of air; when it comes to how they spend your money, they cling to the transparency of lead.