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When Should Taxpayers Be On The Hook For Moving Expenses?

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There has been lots of controversy and quite a few accusations thrown around about various individuals moving expenses. This is politics and mud throwing and making your opponent look bad is definitely the name of the game. Liberal rhetoric in the last campaign -- "open and accountable," a new way of doing things, sunny ways, etc. -- has made this type of issue a perfect one for the opposition parties.

More importantly the Liberals have forgotten that in politics perception is everything and some of their moving expense claims appear to the public to be outrageous and out of line.

In reality they have followed the guidelines, hence their standard answer in Question Period. The Conservatives have had a lot of fun with this issue because simply put -- some of the expense claims are more than most Canadians can ever hope to earn in salary in a year. The voting public gets this one and they don't like it. Let us not forget that MPs are also subsidized for their expenses while living in Ottawa, as are our senators.

It all boils down to what decisions a political staffer makes and based on those very personal decisions, should the taxpayer have to pay for the results of their decision?

We even have Brad Trost going after a former Conservative chief of staff wanting to have him pay back fees etc. It does get a bit ridiculous -- if someone who is no longer in the government is fair game, how far back should we go -- should we ask Martin and Chretien and maybe Mulroney era staffers to pay back fees?

This does however give parliamentarians a perfect opportunity to look at the guidelines, perhaps this should be a topic for one of the Standing Committees to review and task the committee to come up with new and acceptable guidelines.

Most Canadians don't get their expenses covered when they move, although you can claim some expenses on your income tax if you moved over a minimum distance to a new job. I wonder what moving expenses media types get covered if they leave Ottawa and move to another city?

It all boils down to what decisions a political staffer makes and based on those very personal decisions, should the taxpayer have to pay for the results of their decision?

First decision: Do I accept the job? If you know in advance that only a minimum amount of your moving expenses will be covered, then that will be factored into your decision. I know quite a few former political staff that accepted a job and moved to Ottawa knowing that none of their moving costs would be covered.

Second decision: Should I sell my home? If you do, you know in advance that you will be paying real estate fees (government moves get much reduced rates) and you know you will have to pay lawyer's fees. You could also keep your home, perhaps rent it out. Not a bad idea considering how volatile political life is and how easy it is to lose your job on the Hill. In a hot real estate market such as in Toronto, this is also something to consider as the value of your home is steadily increasing during your short stay in Ottawa.

Should the taxpayer have to pick up the costs of your personal decision to sell?

Third decision: Should I buy or rent in Ottawa? That is another personal decision. No one tells you that you have to buy a home. You can rent some pretty nice apartments on a senior PMO staff salary. You can also rent some pretty nice homes and still be close to your office. It is a personal decision when you choose to buy a home here. Before you decide to buy, you know that you will be paying our infamous welcome tax. You know in advance that you will pay legal fees. Should taxpayers be on the hook because you made the personal decision to buy and not rent?

Your actual moving expenses, i.e., having a company pack your things up and move them to Ottawa and then unpack them are not personal decisions. You have only a few choices in moving companies and you won't find that much difference in rates. It is not unreasonable to see those expenses covered and the general public, i.e., voters understand those costs.

There is an argument to be made that the costs that are currently covered apply to the civil service, military, RCMP etc. All true, but let us keep in mind that those personnel don't have a choice when they move. They are told where they are going and when they are going -- a big difference.

Going forward, should senior political staff be treated differently when it comes to moving expenses? Now is a good time for our parliamentarians to sit down and look at the process and the cost to the taxpayers. Let us see what they decide to do; after all it is our money that they are spending.

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