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Tory MPs reveal spending online

But quarterly accounting lacks detail, consistency

Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan

Conservative MP James Bezan was the most frequent flyer last fall. Joyce Bateman favoured Kum Koon Garden. And Rod Bruinooge was the most generous with gifts and donations.

Manitoba's Conservative MPs have just released their first batch of monthly expense reports, which cover roughly the last quarter of 2013. It's the first time Conservative MPs have agreed to regularly post their expenses on their personal websites instead of waiting for annual reports to be released by Parliament.

Enlarge Image

(JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES)

Tory MPs Shelly Glover (St. Boniface), Rod Bruinooge (Winnipeg South) and Robert Sopuck (Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette) take in a Jets game with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Enlarge Image

Tory MPs Shelly Glover (St. Boniface), Rod Bruinooge (Winnipeg South) and Robert Sopuck (Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette) take in a Jets game with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES)

That leaves the province's two NDP MPs -- Churchill's Niki Ashton and Winnipeg Centre's Pat Martin -- as the only ones who fail to regularly disclose their travel and hospitality spending reports. Their websites link to annual summaries compiled by Parliament.

You got a receipt for that?

Manitoba's Conservative MPs, like their caucus-mates across Canada, have just posted their first round of monthly travel expenses online. It's difficult to compare their spending because details are reported inconsistently. Some, like James Bezan's report, include costs for an Ottawa apartment. Some, like Robert Sopuck's, aren't quite completed through the end of December. Some include dates. Here are the totals for MP and staff travel and hospitality for the last quarter.

  • Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan -- $29,055.34 (includes spending on secondary residence in Ottawa)
  • Winnipeg South MP Rod Bruinooge -- $22,154.72 (includes spending on hotel accommodations while in Ottawa)
  • Winnipeg South Centre MP Joyce Bateman -- $16,009.11
  • Kildonan-St. Paul MP Joy Smith -- $14,097.22
  • Elmwood-Transcona MP Lawrence Toet -- $14,069.65
  • Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia MP Steven Fletcher -- $12,457.90
  • Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Bergen -- $10,280.77
  • St. Boniface MP Shelly Glover -- $8,946.06
  • Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette MP Robert Sopuck -- $5,034.95

Easiest expense report to find: Bruinooge, Fletcher, Glover and others. The front page of their websites features an "Expenses" button.

Trickiest to find: Bezan, which takes several clicks. But, Bezan lists his expenses dating back several years.

Who flew to Ottawa the most: Bezan, who took 10 round trips to the nation's capital last fall, costing roughly $12,000.

Who flew the least: Sopuck, who only took an estimated three round-trip flights.

Who offered the most detail: Bateman, who listed where she lunched with constituents. Smith and Sopuck were the only ones who listed their dates of travel.

Who shmoozed the most: Bruinooge, who met with more than 50 people in Ottawa and Winnipeg and spent nearly $600 on meetings.

Smallest charge: $2.49, charged by Bezan for unspecified hospitality/food in his Ottawa office.

Notes:

  • The Conservative MPs' expenses cover Oct. 17 to Dec. 31, 2013. They date from Oct. 17 because that's the day the Harper government announced Tory MPs would begin posting their monthly expenses online.
  • Rookie Conservative MPs Larry Maguire (Arthur-Virden) or Ted Falk (Provencher) haven't yet posted any expenses. They won byelections in November and were sworn in just last week.
  • Tory MP Robert Sopuck's expenses only cover Oct. 17 to mid-November. His expenses are a little fussier because he has a significant distance to travel home. His staff are still putting the finishing touches on his December tally.

"We are willing to post much more on our websites," Martin said in an email. "We just want the reporting requirements to be standardized and the information verified independently -- by the auditor general's office, for instance."

Martin said the Liberals and Conservatives worked together to allow MPs to self-police instead of creating some form of independent oversight of MP expense reports. He said it was self-policing that led to the Senate spending scandal.

But Winnipeg North Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, who took the NDP to task on the expense issue in the House of Commons last week, called the NDP's approach "childish."

Just because there should ideally be independent oversight of monthly or quarterly MP expense reports doesn't mean MPs can't begin to release the information on their own, Lamoureux said.

"The fact is, you can go look and see where Mr. Trudeau is flying around. You can't do that for Mr. Mulcair," Lamoureux said of the Liberal and NDP leaders. "The NDP preaches from a pedestal about accountability and transparency but in reality it's a bunch of hogwash."

The new batch of expense reports recently posted online by Manitoba's Conservative MPs includes minimal detail, reported inconsistently.

Most of the Conservative reports -- except those of Kildonan-St. Paul MP Joy Smith and Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette MP Robert Sopuck -- don't include the dates of travel, so it's tricky to know how many days an MP spent in Ottawa or in their Manitoba riding.

There is also virtually no detail about what hotels were chosen, where meals were eaten, whether MPs flew first-class or the general topics of meetings with constituents.

Only Winnipeg South Centre MP Joyce Bateman listed where she lunched or bought coffee with constituents -- Tim Hortons, Daily Burger, Kum Koon Garden, Starbucks, Mona Lisa and other restaurants.

Politicians' expenses have been a fraught and confusing issue in Ottawa. The Senate spending scandal, which caused the suspension of three senators, forced the retirement of one and resulted in criminal charges against two, was sparked by questionable expense filings, most related to improper secondary-residence claims.

The way MPs report their expenses has been ever-changing. The expenses of cabinet ministers and senior officials have been online a few years. Critics say the online details are limited, but it's possible to request invoices and trip details through access to information.

Two years ago, Parliament created an online, searchable database of MPs' expenses, broken down by category. But the database is only updated annually, and it's impossible to request more information such as invoices because MPs are not covered by the Access to Information Act.

The Liberals, including Lamoureux, began posting their monthly expense reports on the party's websites last October. The Conservatives quickly announced they would follow suit.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 6:39 AM CST:
Replaces photo

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