Tories odd man out as Liberals, NDP support audit of MPs’ expenses

OTTAWA — Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau threw their support Wednesday behind inviting the auditor general to put MPs’ expenses under the microscope.

That left the governing Conservatives as the odd man out among the main federal parties.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, said he doesn’t support the idea.

He noted that auditor general Michael Ferguson himself has said the House of Commons can learn from his comprehensive audit of the Senate, without subjecting MPs to the same kind of individual scrutiny given to senators.

“I certainly wouldn’t support that. I think the auditor general made very clear comments that it wasn’t required,” Calandra said.

By contrast, NDP Leader Mulcair said: “We have already proposed it, the other parties voted against it.”

Mulcair appeared to be referring to an obscure dissenting committee report his party wrote two years ago, in which it backed giving the auditor general a clear legislative mandate to audit spending in the House of Commons, including MPs’ expenses.

The NDP has also proposed replacing the secretive board of internal economy, which polices Commons spending, with an independent oversight body which would operate primarily in public.

“The NDP has every intention of getting rid of the secretive board of internal economy,” Mulcair said. “Every penny being spent there is public money and the public has a right to see how every penny is spent.”

Trudeau, the Liberal leader, said it’s “high time” Ferguson looked at the House of Commons.

“House leadership needs to sit down with the auditor general and figure out a way for him to engage,” Trudeau said.

“It is time that we actually establish a process whereby we can restore Canadians’ confidence and that means asking the auditor general to come in.”

Ferguson’s scathing report on Senate expenses, tabled Tuesday, found 30 current and former senators improperly spent almost $1 million, nine of them so egregiously that their cases have been referred to the RCMP.

The Commons can and should learn from his recommendations that the Senate needs greater transparency and independent oversight of expenses, Ferguson said.

The damning details of misspending uncovered in the Senate is putting pressure on MPs to subject themselves to the same scrutiny as senators.

Trudeau stopped short of calling for a forensic audit of the Commons, but he said some steps need to be taken to restore the confidence of Canadians.

Over the past five years, more than twice as many MPs have been accused of improperly spending more than four times the amount Ferguson concluded was misspent by some 30 senators.

MP spending is policed by the board of internal economy, a secretive group of four Conservatives, two New Democrats and one Liberal, who meet behind closed doors and typically issue only cursory summaries of their decisions.

The NDP has been railing against the board, which it calls a “kangaroo court,” since it ordered dozens of New Democrat MPs to repay almost $4 million for allegedly improperly using parliamentary resources for partisan purposes.

— With files from Kristy Kirkup

Follow @jmbryden and @kkirkup on Twitter

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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