This week I started posting my travel expense reports on my website www.bobsimpsonmla.ca. The press immediately labeled this a challenge to all other MLAs to become more “transparent” and suggested I wouldn’t be very popular with my colleagues in the legislature. I also got lots of airtime on the issue and kudos from the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.
However, making my expense reports public had nothing to do with the other MLAs and was not a challenge in any way. It was simply about fulfilling a promise I made earlier in the year when the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC) made a decision to only report on the total annual expenses incurred by MLAs and not their detailed accounts. I believe there’s nothing to hide in our detailed expense accounts and lots to be gained from being fully transparent with the public. Our travel expenses are governed by strict rules and overseen by the Comptroller General’s office. Only airfare, taxis, rental cars, hotel rooms and other legitimate expenses are reimbursed and we get a $61 “per diem” to cover food. In most cases, MLAs end up out of pocket when they travel.
Not providing details in this case simply feeds the cynicism toward politicians that is so pervasive in our society. It also distracts from the real financial accountability issues we should be confronting, like the ineffectiveness of balanced budget legislation, appropriate levels of taxation, or how realistic the public’s expectations are of government relative to their willingness to pay for them.
Rather than getting a lot of airtime talking about my travel expenses, I’d sooner have more attention paid to the other issues I’ve been raising about the Pacific Carbon Trust or hydraulic fracking or the state of our forests or whether we’re getting enough revenue from our natural resources. These issues are much more important to British Columbians than MLAs travel expenses.
Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.