MPs Expect Deal with Auditor General in Spending Row

May 28, 2010 Updated: May 28, 2010

PARLIAMENT HILL, Ottawa—Parliamentarians have taken a public opinion beating in recent weeks over their refusal to allow the auditor general to scrutinize their books. However, the issue could be resolved soon, said several MPs this week.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser asked Parliament to do a performance audit on their books but was denied by the Board of Internal Economy, a reclusive all-party committee that oversees the workings of Parliament.

MPs have been hounded by questions about why they would refuse an audit and what they have to hide after all parties except the Bloc Quebecois voiced opposition to the scrutiny.

Many MPs have defended the decision, saying their books are examined in other ways and they don’t want the auditor general casting judgements on what they do.

On Wednesday, Government House Leader Jay Hill told reporters his party had agreed on a possible compromise that could appease the auditor general while blunting the concerns of parliamentarians. He would not spell out the details of that deal, saying it still needed to be discussed at the Board of Internal Economy.

Joe Comartin, Deputy House Leader for the NDP, voiced similar optimism on Tuesday, saying he hoped a compromise could be reached that would give Canadians a clearer view of how Parliament spends its money but would not grant Fraser powers he doesn’t think she should have.

“She’s in a conflict. A public servant should not be making the judgement calls that a performance audit would require her to make. If she was doing a regular audit, it wouldn’t be nearly so bad but she doesn’t do regular audits.”

The difference between the two is that in a performance audit, Fraser would actually voice her opinion on spending, rather than just detailing what spending took place.

Comartin gave an example that came out of Nova Scotia.

“They did a performance audit there and the auditor general decided that the premier of the province, a whole province, was not entitled to two laptop computers. That was a judgement call that he made.”

Comartin said MPs were also uncomfortable with Fraser deciding how well they spent advertising dollars and other expenses.

“Her office has some real authority and she should not be making those judgement calls, they should be made by the electorate.”

But Fraser can’t currently do a regular audit either, Comartin admitted, and that is why a compromise is needed.

“We want to see more information come out, but it’s got to come out in a format that people are able to understand. … We’ve got be sure that the information that gets out, people can judge it.”

Canadians fearful that their representatives could be indulging in the kind of errant spending that ruptured faith in Britain’s Parliament needn’t be worried, said Comartin.

He said egregious spending on personal items for one’s home, including renovations, is not possible in Canada.

“You just get turned down. It is not within the categories that you can spend money on.”

In Britain, MPs were caught expensing everything from home furnishings to getting a moat cleared.

Liberal MP Bob Rae said he is also confident an agreement will happen soon.

“I would say that if the auditor general wants to look into something, I’m sure that is something that is going to be worked out. I don’t think that is going to be a problem at all.”

“I’m absolutely sure that when the Board of Internal Economy gets together, a sensible decision is going to be reached.”

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has asked the auditor general to sit down and talk with the Board of Internal Economy, he said.

“The one unfortunate impression that has been left by all this is that our expenses are not audited or reviewed. They are audited and reviewed on a very regular basis, not only by government officials but also by a very respected auditing firm. So you know, this notion that somehow there is no review of what is taking place is simply not true.”