MPs spent more than $133 million last year crisscrossing the country, running their offices, advertising, hosting events and of course, paying for their own accommodations and meals, records released Thursday show.
Manitoba Conservative MP Steven Fletcher spent the most money, $803,109 last year — but as a quadriplegic MP much of his budget, $493,462, went to pay for specialized staff.
Conservative MP Richard Harris, the member for Cariboo—Prince George, was the second most costly MP, with expenses totalling $585,075. Former Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh was third with expenses worth $584,966. The top three MPs spent a total of $1,973,149.81 last year.
Dosanjh, the former Vancouver South MP, was also the top traveller, spending $213,740 of his budget on trips for himself, his designated traveller and/or his dependents.
He was followed closely by Conservative LaVar Payne, the MP for Medicine Hat, Alta., who spent $211,588 on similar travel.
The Board of Internal Economy, the secretive all-party committee that initially banned Auditor Sheila Fraser from closely scrutinizing their books last year, only to allow her in a few weeks later after mounting public pressure to perform a partial audit, released the data Thursday.
Although the disclosure reports are divided into categories such as staff and consultant costs, travel for the MP and his family, accommodation and per diem expenses, hospitality and events, mailing, and specific offices expenses such as telephone services and furniture, former Liberal MP Michelle Simson argues the public release doesn’t go far enough.
"There are still a bunch of categories lumped together, it is still not full disclosure. It just isn't," she told The Huffington Post Thursday.
"Why can't we put all the invoices up? The City of Toronto does it — like restaurant chips, it should all be out there. If you look under hospitality and events, tell me what an MP spends on hospitality? And on what events? We have no idea. And there is a reason that that particular category is lumped together I suspect, hospitality is where the MP takes people out for dinner and entertains," she said.
The top three hospitality spenders in 2010-2011 were: Conservative MPs Richard Harris ($9,761), Lisa Raitt ($9,621) and Paul Calandra ($9,481).
MPs can use up to three per cent of the budget on hospitality expense, though they cannot spend any taxpayers' money on partisan events — something the public can't be assured of without more detailed releases, Simson suggested.
"The protocols don't provide sufficient safeguards in some cases," she said.
Receipts are also not required for all expenses.
"Your per diem is for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but you don't have to prove that you actually spent that money in order to collect it," Simson said. "My way of thinking is that it is a tax-free income supplement in some cases, or it could be deemed so."
Fifty-five MPs claimed the maximum allowable limit, $25,850, for per diem and Member’s accommodation costs — a category that is lumped together, last year. (The House of Commons allows MPs to claim expenses on a secondary residence in Ottawa, or pay for a hotel or private accommodation stay while they are in the National Capital Region.)
Simson received national attention two years ago when she became the first MP to post her detailed expenses online for her constituents to see. Although some of her colleagues followed her example, Simson said she was shunned and severely punished by her party for her actions.
"Despite having the party's permission to post the expenses, I was punished by the Whip (who sat on the Board of Internal Economy). I was not allowed to give a members' statement, I was not allowed to allowed to participate, not allowed to essentially speak," she said. "Sometimes doing the right thing, isn't always easy."
At least Green Party Leader Elizabeth May won't have to worry about being disciplined by her party. May has pledged to make her expenses public once her website is up and running.
The Auditor General's report House of Commons' financial procedures is scheduled to be released in February. The report on the Senate's practices is expected in March.
1. Conservative MP Steven Fletcher $803,108.54
2. Conservative MP Richard Harris $585,074.90
3. Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh $584,966.37
4. NDP MP Jack Layton $578,291.82
5. NDP MP Dennis Bevington $565,668.33
6. Conservative MP Rob Clarke $557,398.58
7. Conservative MP Randy Hoback $557,353.97
8. Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai $556,425.57
9. Conservative MP Lee Richardson $554,682.75
10. Conservative MP Patrick Brown $551,426.82
1. Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh $213.740.40
2. Conservative MP LaVar Payne $211,588.48
3. Conservative MP Jim Abbott $200,090.55
4. Conservative MP Richard Harris $199,363.29
5. Conservative MP Devinder Shory $195,288.70
6. Conservative MP Brian Storseth $184,777.70
7. Liberal MP Ralph Goodale $183,323.57
8. Conservative MP Rick Casson $181, 426.56
9. Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai $179,449.58
10. Conservative MP Chuck Strahl $174,293.34
TOP HOSPITALITY SPENDERS
1. Conservative MP Richard Harris $9,760.51
2. Conservative MP Lisa Raitt $9,621.33
3. Conservative MP Paul Calandra $9,481.32
4. Bloc Quebecois MP Roger Gaudet $9,468.00
5. Conservative MP Rob Merrifield $9,281.34
6. Conservative MP Rob Anders $9,324.00
7. Conservative MP Patrick Brown $9,324.00
8. Conservative MP Steven Blaney $9,314.63
9. Bloc Quebecois MP Andre Bellavance $9,312.35
10. Bloc Quebecois MP Michel Guimond $9,238.77