CALGARY — Michael Ignatieff says Canadians want accountability from their MPs, but he’s not sure they want to see every restaurant receipt politicians submit.
Speaking with reporters in Calgary, the Liberal leader addressed a controversy surrounding an all-party board of internal economy decision to block auditor general Sheila Fraser from looking at MPs’ expenses.
Ignatieff cracked the door to Fraser’s request, but stopped short of swinging it wide open.
“I understand what Canadians are saying — they want accountability and transparency — but I don’t think they want us to be going through our receipts for this meal and that meal,” he said Wednesday.
“People can look at whatever you want. I’m just saying there’s accountability that is in itself a waste of public money.”
He said he’ll discuss the issue with his caucus, but all four parties will have to make the decision together.
“It’s important that Canadians know that the money that we spend is honestly accounted for, and that’s the kind of solution we need to look for, but there are four parties in the House of Commons and we need to work together to get this done — and we will.”
The board says an audit is beyond Fraser’s mandate and MP expenses are already reviewed by independent private accountants.
Fraser shot back in a letter to the Speaker last week. She said her mandate doesn’t apply only to certain departments and agencies, but to “the accounts of Canada.”
There were signs Wednesday that MPs have been feeling the heat over the issue.
NDP MP Peter Stoffer of Nova Scotia said he’s getting about 15 to 20 calls or emails a day “plus what I hear in the stores and on the streets.”
He said that amount of feedback is moderate, but added that his constituents know he’s in favour of having the auditor general look at MP expenses “so they’re probably not calling me on it.”
Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice said his office had received a few calls on the issue, but not many.
He said there’s already a method to look at expenses and there’s no sign that it needs to change.
“I think we have a system that has been working,” he said at an event in Calgary.
“We’ll continue to hear more about this, but these expenses have been scrutinized, and they’ll continue to be scrutinized, and I think, by and large, most of them are made public.”
Conservative colleague Rob Anders said at the same event that based on recent spending scandals in the United Kingdom, he expects MP expenses will eventually be opened to the auditor general.
He stopped short of saying he’s pushing for that, but implied that he’s not the one standing in the way.
“I think that you need to talk to some of my colleagues to convince them.”
It is an issue that does seem to be gaining some traction, said Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa specializing in the legalities of the Internet.
“I think we’ve started to see quite a lot of discussion about it, and I think that if it continues to simmer it could really take hold,” Geist said.
“It’s the sort of issue that many Canadians sort of identify with.”
Two Liberal MPs who returned calls from The Canadian Press on Wednesday said they’ve had only a handful of constituent calls about the issue, but both would like to see the decision to rebuff Fraser’s audit revisited.
Montreal MP Marlene Jennings and Toronto’s Bonnie Crombie said they are happy to throw their books wide open.
“I personally believe in full and open disclosure and transparency, so I’m hoping we come to some kind of accommodation,” said Crombie.
“People are owed accountability. It’s taxpayers’ dollars. They want to know how we’re spending them.”