This news story, presented by the Canadian Press' Bruce Cheadle, makes me wonder if Canada will soon see its own version of the United Kingdom's Parliamentary expenses scandal. Certainly the fact that the political parties have been resisting calls for an audit looks bad,l and makes me wonder.
There's no expense scandal on Parliament Hill, MPs insist, but they're finally acknowledging they have a huge, collective, public-relations problem.
Both Conservatives and Liberals are revisiting a controversial decision to bar the auditor general from looking at MP spending.
The change of heart comes after MPs of all stripes got an earful from people back home during last week's House of Commons break.
"Canadians need to know more detail, and they're going to get more detail," Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said Wednesday following a Conservative caucus meeting.
"Mostly we've done a poor job of communicating what we already do, and that's why most MPs are maybe genuinely puzzled — because they haven't explained to constituents what they already do."
A new Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey simply drove home the message.
The poll suggests four out of five Canadians believe MPs are likely breaking the rules on expense claims. Only 12 per cent think it unlikely.
"That cynicism is so disappointing," said Liberal MP Martha Hall-Findlay, looking genuinely defeated by the poll results.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says his party has written to Commons Speaker Peter Milliken asking that Fraser be given a new opportunity to explain her proposed audit of half a billion dollars in annual spending.
"I think there has been some misunderstanding . . . of what she intended," said Ignatieff. "She clarified that quite a lot."
In a series of media interviews this week, Fraser said she has "better things to do than look for $4 cups of coffee."
MPs have repeatedly stressed there are effective rules, systems and audits already in place. "If that's the case, I would be very happy to report that," Fraser told CBC.
But Fraser also told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, which has recently covered Nova Scotia's own legislature expense scandal, that the provincial auditor general there "did a sampling and then found that while there were rules and procedures in place, they weren’t being followed."