Auditor general wants to lift the lid on MPs' expenses

OTTAWA - Canada's auditor general wants to lift the lid on expense claims and other spending by MPs and Senators.

OTTAWA - Canada's auditor general wants to lift the lid on expense claims and other spending by MPs and Senators.

Sheila Fraser began preliminary talks with the House of Commons and Senate earlier this year, well before the expense-claim scandal erupted in Britain.

Fraser's office said Tuesday she wants to conduct a "performance audit" to ensure taxpayers are receiving value for their money.

If the talks give Fraser full access to expense claims and other financial data, it would be the first foray by the auditor general into Parliament's books since 1991, when there was an audit of only a sample of expenditures.

MPs and senators have long resisted incursions by the federal auditor general. The Commons uses the private accounting firm KPMG to conduct annual audits of its statements.

Fraser ruffled feathers in 2006 when she told a Senate committee that the auditor general - an officer of Parliament - should be able to audit Parliament and replace KPMG.

Fresh talks on giving Fraser full access to the books began in February, said a spokeswoman.

"They are having discussions about the audit and about the scope of the audit and the timing of the audit," said communications officer Susan Whelan.

"We're having discussions about everything to do with it."

The British expense-claim scandal led to the resignation Tuesday of House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin.

The controversy began earlier this month with a series of newspaper revelations about MPs' abuse of tax dollars for personal items ranging from swimming-pool maintenance and apartment decoration to mortgage payments.

Canadian MPs spent $126.6 million last year on such office expenses as staff, rent, phones and travel. But the details behind the numbers are never made public, released only on a consolidated basis each year.

The spending included $25.7 million for the 64 free return airline tickets each MP has available annually for travel between their riding and Ottawa or anywhere else in the country. Spouses and dependants also have access to flights.

MPs have a $25,500 annual expense allowance on top of their $157,738 salary, and are allowed to assign a portion of their per diems to home costs if they have a secondary residence in the capital, including a house or condominium.

Liberal MP Mauril Belanger said safeguards and Commons spending rules prevent the kind of abuse exposed in the British Parliament.

"Everyone knows how much each MP spends," he said. "That situation that exists elsewhere would not exist here."

 
 
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