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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

Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan Purchase Photo Print

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/2/2014 (1230 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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.

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.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN 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.

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.

"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

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

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