Let me draw your attention to this story in the Ottawa Citizen, which discusses the hospitality expenses of our Members of Parliament.
More helpfully, the actual report itself is available here at the Parliamentary web site. If you want to compare hospitality expense numbers among individual MPs, there’s a search tool here.
I thought it might be interesting to use this tool, so I pulled up the expense figures for Élaine Michaud, the NDP member whom the news story names as the highest spender on hospitality; Paul Dewar, the MP for my riding of Ottawa Centre, and the three major party leaders.
The results, in alphabetical order:
Mr. Dewar had $2,007.83 allotted for hospitality during the reporting period. He spent a total of $305.94 for two meetings in June, both at the Parliamentary restaurant.
The Prime Minister had no money in his MP budget for hospitality, and the report says he spent no money. (To be fair, whatever hospitality he would have spent would be covered in the PMO budget. Different account, you might say. Or, as leader of the Conservatives, hospitality could be picked up by the party.)
Ms. Michaud had $6,190.27 budgeted for hospitality, $4,999.83 of which was spent. The majority of her expenses (which are documented here) were on town hall meetings. Considering how big her riding is (7,617 square kilometers and 81,093 registered electors) and since the attendance was substantial, the amounts do seem reasonable.
Mr. Mulcair budgeted $70 for hospitality (yes, $70), which wasn’t used. As with the Prime Minister, hospitality expenses are more likely to come out of the budget for the opposition leader’s office, which is a separate account, or the budget of the party.
Mr. Trudeau had $562.30 budgeted for hospitality, which wasn’t used. Although the leader of the third party doesn’t have an official parliamentary office, hospitality would most likely be picked up by the Liberal Party due to his role as leader.
Here’s the thing: hospitality is a recognized function of all MPs. A constituent comes to visit to discuss business, and if they go for lunch or dinner, who pays for it? Answer: the MP, because if the constituent pays it could be twisted in the media to look like undue influence. Should the MP pay for it from his / her own salary? No, because if he or she does, there won’t be a public record that the meeting took place (i.e. the restaurant bill), and sometimes it’s desirable that an MP prove that there was a meeting at which business was discussed.
Thankfully, the expenses aren’t quite as outrageous as the $18 orange juice that Bev Oda tried to put on the public tab. But they’re still necessary to the business of MPs, and nothing here seems overly extravagant. Wouldn’t you agree?
“Wouldn’t you agree?”
Actually, no. Whenever the topic of MPs’ expenses comes up, I’ve argued that the taxpayer should not have to pick up the tab for MPs’ meals & other living expenses, which is what got Senators in trouble.
“if the constituent pays it could be twisted in the media to look like undue influence” … but equally, if the MP pays for the meal, it could be construed as a bribe for the constituent’s vote. Also, a restaurant bill is very flimsy proof that “there was a meeting at which business was discussed.”
As for Bev Oda’s $16 orange juice or anybody else’s preferred breakfast drink … MPs have to eat & drink whether they’re on the job or not, so why have the taxpayer pay for it? And why give human nature the opportunity to opt for the higher priced item, with the rationale being that it’s part of an MP’s job perks?
IMO, the only ones who should have a “hospitality” budget — a tightly controlled one — are the PM and the GG, when they receive foreign dignitaries. That’s it, that’s all. Raise salaries if you must, but have MPs pay for their own filet mignon or burger, their choice.