OTTAWA - A Conservative MP is sounding off against the expensive perks given to cabinet ministers.
And in a sharp, online rebuke of his caucus, Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber is airing a complaint other Tory MPs say they're also hearing about on the doorsteps this summer: that the government is wasting people's money.
Rathgeber reports he was in Grenfell, Sask., a town of around 1,000 people last month, and found that the champagne tastes of senior Tories were at the top of people's minds.
In May, CTV revealed that more than half a million dollars in overtime was paid to ministerial drivers and some remained on standby almost all year long.
"The $600,000 in limousine driver overtime did not play well with the small prairie town sensibilities," Rathgeber wrote on his blog. "How could the average payout be $20,000 and how could the chart-topping minister's driver rack up $40,000 in overtime charges?
"Admittedly, I had no answers. The cabinet minister limousine service represents one of the most egregious displays of Ottawa opulence."
Rathgeber, who represents the riding of Edmonton-St. Albert, wrote that he understands why ministers need to be driven around Ottawa, but doesn't understand why they need such expensive car service while on Parliament Hill.
"Surely there is a more cost-effective method of getting cabinet ministers to and from meetings," he wrote.
"Surely, as government preaches fiscal discipline, such extravagance must be eliminated."
In the House of Commons, the government has defended the cost of cars and drivers.
"Our ministers are working long hours for the economy, long hours for jobs, long hours for the people of Canada," Treasury Board President Tony Clement said at the time.
"Sometimes that means a bit of overtime by the drivers."
The government is reviewing the rules, though a spokeswoman for Clement noted that the issue of overtime and salaries are governed by union agreements.
The story on driver costs followed revelations by The Canadian Press that International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda spent $16 on a glass of orange juice at a hotel and $1,000 a day on limousines during a 2011 conference in London.
Rathgeber noted that Oda apologized and repaid the money but suggested people may not be forgiving.
"In Grenfell, most of the attendees have never ridden in a limo and none of them have ever drunk $16 orange juice," he wrote.
"Surely, they would appreciate if government took more care in spending their money."
In an interview, Rathgeber said he was airing a complaint he's also hearing in his own riding.
"We all have a job and my job as a member of Parliament and as a member of the Conservative caucus is to hold the government to account, even though I am a member of the government caucus," he said.
"I still think that I have a responsibility to do what I can to ensure taxpayers get value for their dollars."
His blog was posted as Conservative cabinet ministers, parliamentary secretaries and MPs fanned out across the country to plug the government's budget bill at a series of events Tuesday.
Rathbeger said he knows the money spent on drivers wouldn't make a dent in the deficit.
"It's an issue I guess of optics, and it's an issue of leadership," he said.
"At a time when we are attempting to get our fiscal house in order and we're asking Canadians to make some sacrifices, with respect to government programs and services that are offered, I think it's incumbent upon politicians to do the same."
Complaints about Oda's expense claims have found their way into caucus meetings since the story broke in April.
MPs are concerned about further blowback from Canadians if the minister isn't replaced in a widely expected cabinet shuffle this summer.
Since 2006, Harper has been expanding the size of his cabinet, which in turn increases its cost.
In 2011, the bill for salaries and perks for him and the other 38 ministers and junior ministers was about $9 million, the highest on record.
Ontario Tory MP Rick Dykstra said he, too, has received an earful about Oda's spending and cabinet cars in the last few months.
But he said the budget is prompting questions as well and not the kind he's used to hearing.
Ever since he's been back in his St. Catharines, Ont., riding, Dykstra said he's received a "boatload" of queries on the marathon voting session in the Commons earlier this month, when MPs voted continuously for almost 24 hours on hundreds of opposition amendments to the budget bill.
"It's very rare when I get constituents actually talking to me about what's happened in the House of Commons, actually in the House itself," Dykstra said.
Rathgeber is the latest backbencher to pop his head over the wall of silence that usually keeps Tories from public criticism of the government.
Earlier this month, Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney spoke out against planned cuts to coast guard services being made as part of the government's overall drive to slash spending.
And in May, another B.C. Tory, David Wilks, raised concerns about the budget and the lack of say backbenchers have in overall government policy.
Top 5 Political Spending Scandals
Here are a few examples of some red-faced moments in public expense reports, in which those involved likely wished they had gone back and done -- or in the case of David Dingwall, said -- a few things differently.<br><br><em>With files from CBC</em><br><br>(CP/Getty)
5. Cleaning The Moat
Britain's parliamentarians became embroiled in scandal in 2009 over their declared expenses after the Daily Telegraph obtained an uncensored copy of their claims and published them.<br><br> Details disclosed by the newspaper showed how MPs from all parties manipulated rules by routinely switching the designation of their second home -- using public money to furnish and improve several properties and later sell them at a profit.<br><br> Facing fierce public fury as embarrassing details emerged daily, nearly 400 British MPs, including then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, were ordered to pay back close to $2 million in wrongfully claimed expenses.<br><br> But amid the outrage, one the most publicized cases was of that then Conservative MP Douglas Hogg, who was alleged to have expensed the cleaning of a moat at his family's country estate. Hogg agreed to repay the cost of cleaning the moat, but insisted he had only listed the cleaning cost as an expenditure on his house and never asked to be reimbursed. He decided not to stand for his seat in the 2010 election.<br><br> (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
4. EHealth Ontario
A scandal broke out in Ontario in 2009 over wasteful and untendered consulting contracts at eHealth, a provincial Crown corporation charged with creating an electronic health records system. The controversy over eHealth's spending led to the resignation of then Health Minister David Caplan.<br><br> Among the embarrassing revelations at eHealth, CBC News obtained documents that showed consultants, contracted by eHealth at up to $2,750 a day, billed taxpayers for out-of-pocket expenses that included $1.65 for a cup of tea and $3.99 for cookies.<br><br> The documents said eHealth CEO and president Sarah Kramer billed thousands of dollars for limousine rides, including one $400 trip from Toronto to London, Ont., before she left her $380,000-a-year job in June of that year.<br><br>(CP)
3. Nova Scotia MLA Scandal
Nova Scotia's provincial legislature was rocked by a report by the provincial auditor general that found that many MLAs submitted questionable expense claims over a number of years. The affair evolved into a criminal investigation that led to several MLAs resigning and at least one former member being sentenced to prison.<br><br> Ex-Liberal MLA Dave Wilson, pictured, pleaded guilty to defrauding Nova Scotia taxpayers of nearly $61,000 to support his gambling addiction and was sentenced last week to nine months of jail time and 18 months of probation. Crown attorneys in his case detailed how Wilson submitted 36 false expense receipts using five people's names -- including his niece and brother-in-law -- totalling $60,995. Wilson apologized to his family and the people of the province, telling the court he was deeply ashamed of his actions.<br><br>(CP)
2. George Radwanski
Former federal privacy commissioner George Radwanski resigned in 2003 under a cloud following intense scrutiny of his spending. At the time, Radwanski blamed "a powerful political backlash from some who would prefer a less forceful privacy commissioner." His severance package was initially $82,562, but later cut to nothing.<br><br> Radwanski resigned after a Commons committee called for a full audit of Radwanski's expense claims, which included more than $500,000 in travel claims, $250 drinks tabs and dinner bills of more than $450, usually shared with one staff member.<br><br> Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report called for an RCMP investigation of Radwanski after her department's audit revealed "a major failure of management controls and the abuse of public funds by the former commissioner and some senior executives, for their personal benefit."<br><br> In 2009, an Ontario judge acquitted Radwanski of criminal fraud charges, but criticized his "negligent and cavalier" approach to accounting for controversial expenses he claimed while in office. Radwanski's former chief of staff, Art Lamarche, was convicted of breach of trust. Radwanski acknowledged he wished he had done some things differently, but insisted he "never acted dishonestly or knowingly improperly in any way." <br><br>(CP)
1. 'I'm Entitled To My Entitlements'
In February 2006, former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall was awarded $417,780 in compensation after an independent arbitrator concluded he was forced out of his $277,000-a-year job as head of the Royal Canadian Mint.<br><br> His removal from the head of the Crown corporation came amid a frenzy caused by unproven allegations that he and his office made improper and excessive expense claims, as the then Liberal government was reeling from the inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal.<br><br> Opposition MPs, including then Opposition Leader Stephen Harper, portrayed the Dingwall case as a sign of Liberal misspending, accusing him of wasting taxpayers' money on reimbursement claims for expensive meals, excessive travel and even a pack of chewing gum. In the midst of the controversy over his resignation and compensation package, Dingwall drew the scorn of opposition parties when he said the now notorious words to a Commons committee: "I'm entitled to my entitlements."<br><br> Harper's party picked up the phrase and used it repeatedly as an example of Liberal arrogance during the campaign leading up to the Jan. 23, 2006, general election.<br><br> In fact, an independent audit of the expenses by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers later found that more than 70 per cent of them were incurred by other employees in Dingwall's office at the Mint, and that all the payments had been properly approved under the Crown corporation's guidelines.<br><br> A second independent review by law firm Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt concluded the governance of expendures at the Mint went "well beyond what one could expect to find in most private-sector corporations."<br><br>(CP)