MLAs jumped to cut everything but the kitchen sink from expense accounts yesterday at the first public meeting of the internal economy board.
Among the changes, allowances MLAs claimed they used to fund hockey teams, donate to charities and help needy constituents with groceries and rent money were cut to a small fraction of their former value.
One unexpected NDP motion cut a $1,050 per month non-receiptable allowance altogether. The Liberals had their own surprise proposal to drastically limit advertising spending to 10 per cent of an MLA’s constituency budget.
Every motion brought up was supported unanimously by all three parties.
Liberal MLA Manning MacDonald said of his motion that public money supporting the community should go through community services or emergency groups, not be doled out by politicians. He said MLAs were expected to use their advertising money to support charities but that will have to change.
“MLAs should not get elected on how much advertising they can put out there or how much they can donate, rather what kind of work they do in their constituency,” he said.
Deputy Premier Frank Corbett said the changes could hurt some community groups and members but were necessary to restore public confidence.
The glut of unexpected proposals sparked grumblings of parties trying to one-up each other on reforms.
Tory MLA Cecil Clarke said he supported the motions on principal but said the NDP should have worked out a comprehensive strategy instead of making “knee-jerk reactions” to distance itself from a scandal.
“Members will be telling individuals in their community they don’t have money for them now, without anything to replace that,” he said.
Former Speaker Art Donahoe presented his interim report, which revealed only one overworked employee and an inadequate computer system were in place to approve expenses. Donahoe said some MLAs added further pressure by leaning on the employee to have their expenses processed within a couple days.
Donahoe wants to see three employees in charge of MLAs expenses plus a computer system capable of detecting duplicate payments.
Other recommendations include setting up an audit committee and limiting political advertising.
Some changes unanimously adopted yesterday by the legislature’s internal economy board:
• Cutting a $1,050 monthly non-receiptable allowance.
• Advertising, which can make up three-quarters of an MLA’s monthly budget, now limited to 10 per cent of the total allowance.
• All expenses made as of March 1 will soon be posted online.
• All expenses need receipts.
• Food per diems are dropped from $84 to the civil-servant rate of $38.