POLITICS

Elizabeth May's Call For Audit Into MP Expenses Rejected By Tories

03/04/2014 06:53 EST | Updated 03/05/2014 09:59 EST
CP

OTTAWA — Conservative MPs have rejected a call to have Canada's auditor general take a good look at their expenses — or those of the prime minister and his cabinet.

"NO!" was the word emanating from the Tory benches when MPs were asked by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on Tuesday to give their unanimous consent to allow Michael Ferguson and his team to review their books.

The dismissal came entirely from Conservative MPs, May said.

The "no's" began as soon as she rose to ask the House of Commons for unanimous consent to invite Ferguson to conduct a comprehensive audit of House expenses — including the offices of members, the prime minister and cabinet ministers.

"I don't question the integrity of any of my colleagues, but I believe in a simple principle," May said. "We, as members of the House of Commons, must hold ourselves to the same level of transparency as that we expect from the Senate."

The upper chamber is currently undergoing a detailed review of senators' expenses. Last summer, at the height of the Senate scandal, Conservative and Liberal senators unanimously agreed to have the auditor review their spending.

But Conservative MPs in the House are unwilling to go through the same level of scrutiny.

May told HuffPost she wasn't surprised her Tory colleagues didn't support her request.

"I don't know if it's MPs or party leadership," she told reporters outside the chamber. "I think the fear is that, much like the British House of Lords, if there’s one of us who's had their moat cleaned, it's going to end up being a scandal that tarnishes everyone," she said.

"I feel the other way about it. I feel that when we open ourselves up and ask for an audit, we earn the respect of Canadians."

May noted that she received the support of the NDP, Liberals and independents like Brent Rathgeber. But she needed the Tories onside for her motion to pass.

Daniel Chomski, a spokesman for Government House Leader Peter Van Loan, told HuffPost: "The Government has taken no position on this." He suggested MPs were acting on their own behalf when they shouted down May's request.

A former Liberal senator who wrote every MP in the House asking for the lower chamber to undergo the same level of scrutiny as the Senate said he was disappointed by the reaction.

"Most MPs say their expenses are in line, I believe them," Percy Downe said in a phone interview. "But Canadians want proof and they should provide the proof."

Downe, a P.E.I. senator, rejected the suggestion he was proposing a full audit of the House in order to downplay a potentially nasty Senate audit.

"Not at all. I think Canadians are asking for greater transparency from all Parliamentarians," he said. "It's what people want. Everybody has been asking for it. The Senate has agreed to it. And we should do the two chambers at once."

Auditing the Senate alone was only a job half done, Downe added.

"The budget of the House of Commons is four times that of the Senate," he noted.

NDP caucus chair Peter Julian told HuffPost his party has been trying to increase transparency in the Commons and might push May's motion back on the agenda.

"We're going to be continuing to use every tool that we can to raise this issue," Julian said, adding that it was May who was following the NDP's lead on the matter.

Canadians overwhelmingly trust the auditor general, Julian said.

"And many Canadians, I think, would be astounded to learn that the auditor general doesn't [have the ability to audit MPs expenses] and that the only way he can move in, and even do a general shallow audit, is by the invitation of members of Parliament. I don't think that is acceptable."

In a dissenting report last December, the NDP supported giving the auditor general a clear mandate to review House of Commons' spending, including MP expenses.

The committee report, supported by Conservative and Liberal MPs, stated it believed the current process of inviting the auditor general worked sufficiently well.

Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc told HuffPost his party believes the auditor general should carry out performance audits at least every three years "and work with House to see if other measures [such as May's request] are appropriate."

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