Liberal Members of Parliament and senators will start to post their office and travel expenses online next month. If you're interested in these things, you'll be able to see how your MP (if you're in a Liberal-held riding) spent your money on plane tickets, hotels and meals. It's such a sensible thing to do that it's surprising - as well as disappointing - that it's not already routine for all parliamentarians.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made the announcement this past week, and challenged his political rivals to join in.
You'd think, or at least hope, that the other parties would support this excellent idea. After the embarrassing fiasco of runaway Senate expenses, parliamentarians must know that Canadians want openness on these matters and have no tolerance for wasteful spending.
Of course, you'd be wrong. Conservatives and New Democrats alike, while rushing to endorse the principle of openness and accountability in politicians' expenses, came up with all kinds of reasons not to follow Trudeau's example.
It's obvious that Trudeau sees political gain in having his followers publicly disclose details of their spending, but that doesn't detract from the merit of the idea. We should know what our representatives spent, and how, no matter what party they belong to.
Trudeau's critics point out, quite rightly, that his plan is far from perfect. Since it amounts to self-disclosure, there will be no way to know that an MP or senator has posted everything or included details that might prove embarrassing.
There are many reasons why an MP may spend more than another. Their expense budgets vary depending on how many voters are in their ridings, and someone representing 30,000 people in Prince Edward Island will obviously spend less than the MP for a GTA riding with more than 150,000. The MP for Yukon, who must fly great distances just to stay in touch with voters and commute to Ottawa, will spend much more than a member in an urban riding near the capital.
What's needed is a system that takes these differences into account and makes them immediately clear to the public and media.
The Conservative government promised full disclosure of expenses when it was first elected. Both opposition parties support the idea. All of them need to stop finding excuses not to act and agree on a compulsory, standardized system that can be implemented at reasonable cost
It's a move that is long overdue.
Editorial Exchange: This editorial is from the Toronto Star