“Just because you can,doesn’t mean you should”
And oftentimes excusing of a fault
Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse.
Partisan snipes from both sides of the house have been fairly silent today on twitter and for good reason: once again, hypocrisy is the governing force of the legislature as news of taxpayer funded trips for both NDP and Liberal members come to light.
To be fair, it’s been ‘past policy’ for spouses to join politicians on the public dime, nothing new there. But what makes this particular revelation so hard to stomach is that it comes on the heels of other decidedly excessive spending by Liberal MLA and speaker of the house Linda Reid.
What’s more alarming is that we haven’t even heard the entire extent of Reid’s lavish spending, because she still hasn’t provided all the details of other trips taken on the public dime, along with other questionable expenditures.
The NDP have been largely silent on all this of course, because NDP MLA Raj Chouhan was on the very same African trip, with his spouse, apparently in his role as assistant Deputy Speaker. While Chouhan had yet to speak publicly on this trip at the time of this post, in a statement to the press yesterday Shane Simpson said Chouhan offered to pay for his spouse at the outset of the trip, but Reid informed him that he didn’t need to.
The trip in question for both members, was to the 59th Commonwealth parliamentary Conference. Let’s be blunt. There was absolutely no need for either Reid or Chouhan to even attend this conference – there were a number of other Canadian attendee’s that would more than adequately represent the country. It’s a fluff conference replete with scenic and historical tours for the participant alone,but it’s the spousal programme that really takes the cake!
Not only were spouses kept amused with lions and giraffes at a two hour trip to the zoo ( keep in mind that Reid was with her husband on that spousal visit- the programme for participants allowed plenty of time for sightseeing), visits also included the Orlanda Soweto bungee jumping towers, The Museum of Africa, and last but not least, the South African Breweries World of Beer. Do taxpayers have any assurance either Chouhan or Reid even attended conference events at all? And if they did, what did they take away from this conference that benefits British Columbians? I would be asking for a full report!!
It’s bad enough that after years of cuts to education, legal services, social services, etc. in this province, that government policy even allows for the payment of any spouse to travel with a minister – period. But it’s tragic the NDP went right along with this kind of bogus parliamentary conference at all. In particular since the opposition is constantly calling out the Liberals for spending like drunken sailors in the name of fiscal responsibility, which leads me to not a small conundrum the BC NDP find themselves in right now.
When the first batch of lavish spending by Reid was revealed, the BC NDP surprised everyone by not jumping on her immediately. In fact, then House Leader John Horgan instead commented:
“Are these legitimate concerns? Absolutely,” Horgan told reporters.
“Is the staff issue a legitimate concern? Yes, it is. But I believe that Linda needs to be given some slack here because she’s the first Speaker in 125 years to say, ‘This is what I’m doing.’”
Since the new revelations of the South African trip taken by Reid and Chouhan, Horgan has been silent, having effectively painted himself into a corner with his prior comments of support – he felt the nearly $50K computer terminal expense was appropriate as well.
There will be no calling for her resignation, there will be no outrage, and likely, there will be no consequences for Ms. Reid because I doubt Premier Clark will raise the axe on this one.
Raj Chouhan has no choice but to immediately pay for his trip to retain any credibility with the public at all.
The BC NDP and leadership contender John Horgan both lose face in the eyes of BC residents who have no stomach for the endless excessive government spending.
The Liberals will laugh all the way to the bank, having come out on top once again despite yet another scandal.
Ironically this entire debacle brings to mind the 2012 audit of the Legislative Assembly Financial Records – hence the title of this post as a ’2.0′ version.
At that time, the auditor general left no MLA unscathed, taking to task both the Liberal and NDP MLA’s for their inability to manage their own financial affairs- an astounding revelation to those in the province thinking the NDP were keeping the Liberals to task!
“The auditors office recommended way back in 2007, that the Legislature provide publicly available audited financial reports, and improve internal controls to prevent fraud and misappropriation of public funds…. and it never happened. Why?
Let me be perfectly clear. This is no way a difference of accounting standards as Falcon is futily trying to claim. This is no way a minor financial difference of opinion.. this is a lack of the most basic accounting methods for expenditures of all MLA’s in the Legislature, Liberal and NDP. Simple grade 10 accounting trial balance kind of stuff, that there was not enough documentation to even allow the auditor to determine if the figures he did get are even right or not! He cannot state if there is anything missing or untowards going on because the accounting is so bad!
Among the issues reported on:
– lack of bank reconciliations ( pretty standard even for a mom and pop corner store) and those obtained were not done in a standard fashion. The Legislative Assembly did not even start preparing bank reconciliations until right before the 2009 audit and then failed to report millions in expenses for a prior year. Bank reconciliations are the easiest way to track cash, and cash expenditures and catch fraud or unusual cash transactions.
– expenses for one year, intentionally reclassified into another fiscal year to meet budget.
– a repeated and consistent lack of supporting documents and receipts for MLA’s credit card travel expenses, a requirement in the Members handbook.
-lack of disclosure of MLA’s payments. There were approximately $2 million in transitional payments made to former MLA’s that were ‘misclassified’ and not included in the public disclosure of compensation, for MLA’s that had either chosen not to run in 2009, or were defeated in 2009.
– lack of inventory records for Legislative dining room or gift shop.
-No recording of appropriations and transfers between accounts for ministry of finance and the Legislative Assembly accounts. Accounting records showed one bank account had an overdraft of $133 million, another had a positive balance of $5.5 million. In reality, bank statements showed both bank accounts had a ZERO balance.
I could go on, but frankly it makes me feel sick. You can read the full report in this PDF file: AuditorGeneralLegislativeReport
Long story short, all of our MLA’s, both Liberal and NDP, have failed the people who elected them to office by ensuring that first and foremost, they can keep their own financial affairs in order.
While the NDP have been howling and crying foul at the Liberals for lack of transparency and accountability, they have failed to bring resolution to the mess that was first revealed in 2007 by the auditors office.
They have failed to ensure they held the governing Liberals to account by ensuring their own elected members who served on the Legislative Assembly Management Committee followed up and enacted the recommended changes that give the most basic, the most basic, accountability at an MLA level.”
And here we are, two years later, legislative spending still apparently out of control and unaccounted for, few controls to ensure legislative accountability and both parties clearly still wear this mess for the lack of resolution and accountability.
At all times both sides of the house must be fiscally prudent with public funds, but in times of austerity, particularly so. At no time should the opposition put themselves in a position of not being to take the Liberals to task. Having done so now, they’ve left British Columbians floundering, asking themselves “Who is watching the house?”