Tuesday, May 18, 2010

MPs' expenses: a sober second look

The row over MPs' expenses in the United Kingdom was big news. The story broke in the lead up to the general election, and no political party got off clean. However, before Canadians head down the same path, demanding an audit of Canadian MPs' expenses, I think a sober second look is in order.

First, these expenses are audited, by KPMG. Second, those audits, along with all the OAG audits, are paid for by the taxpayer. The OAG paid KPMG over $250000 last year for "accounting and audit services" in 2009-2010. In that same year, the OAG's fourth quarter expenses for accounting and auditing contracts approached $900000. Even if we say that that was an expensive quarter, you're still looking at more than $3 million a year for audits. That's a lot of money. And while the annual spending of the House of Commons and the Senate is more than $500 million, I think we should ask ourselves when demanding another audit is throwing good money after bad, so to speak.

It isn't like the government hasn't had its share of embarrassments related to its expenses. I think we would be kidding ourselves to imagine that excesses like Radwanski's haven't led to changes. Still, I would like to see the results of those KPMG audits made public. I think the OAG's website is an excellent example of the openness that could defuse this sort of storm in a tea cup.

Update 27/05/10: looks like the audit will happen anyway.