A man looks lazily up from the couch at his wife. "I'm the leader of the greatest nation on earth," he says. "Procrasti-nation!"
B.C.'s 85 MLAs have become that little man from one of my favourite cartoons, putting off any effort to become transparent with their expenses. Now that procrastination is coming back to cost them -- B.C. Auditor General John Doyle recently released a scathing 17-page report on Legislative Assembly spending, showing that the Legislative Assembly's books were a hopeless mess and casting doubts that MLAs are spending our money wisely.
Doyle and taxpayers simply don't know what we don't know. Because of shoddy bookkeeping by MLAs, political staff and the Legislature's comptroller, no one -- not even Doyle and his expert team -- can tell if money is missing or not. Bank balances don't match up with Legislature records. Proper paperwork doesn't exist or has gone missing.
Doyle was ruthless in his assessment: "If the Legislative Assembly were a public company, it would be delisted," he said. "This audit has taken more effort and energy in regard to my staff doing this work than some of the largest organizations in this province. We had to restrict ourselves eventually to just correcting the errors rather than delving even deeper into the financial transactions, and that's what I propose to do at some time in the future, is to actually dive deeper into the transactions to make sure that they're all appropriate."
That's our money Doyle is talking about -- taxes paid by British Columbians in good faith that they would be used efficiently, effectively and accountably.
MLAs have no one to blame but themselves for this public spanking. If they had followed Doyle's 2007 recommendations or heeded the call of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and posted detailed expense records online for the public to see, none of this would have happened. Instead, they delayed, ducked, dodged and dithered until Doyle had enough.
Audits like this became necessary following significant political spending scandals in the U.K. and Nova Scotia, where elected officials used taxpayers' money to dredge castle moats and buy a copy of Dance, Dance Revolution video game.
Is that happening in B.C.? Who knows? Without proper records it's impossible to tell where MLAs are spending our money. That's why complete transparency is the only way for politicians to fully regain the trust of taxpayers.
Some MLAs have made a few steps toward transparency. Cabinet ministers post monthly travel reports, but this is high level information with no breakdowns -- the devil is in the details which taxpayers haven't been allowed to see. Independent MLA Bob Simpson posts his travel expense sheets, which gives taxpayers some sense of his spending. B.C. Liberal MLA John Rustad posts expense totals on his Facebook page, but again, no details.
These are tiny steps, albeit important ones. But the time has come for B.C. MLAs to go rogue, ignore their party brass and pressure from other politicians and start posting their own detailed expense reports.
Toronto City Hall should be the model B.C. MLAs follow. Toronto's mayor and councillors post every receipt of every expense they charge taxpayers. One can see, for example, that Mayor Rob Ford's office spent $80.88 on three black ink cartridges on August 9, 2011. Taxpayers can make their own decision as to whether that money was spent wisely.
Enough procrastination. Who will be the first B.C. politician to become completely transparent?