Old line parties have learned nothing from Senate scandal

The ever ballooning Senate spending scandal has been instructive for political watchers as it highlights how our democratic institutions operate in a self-policing manner that can be secretive, self-serving, and difficult for people to make sense of.  Amidst the understandable public outrage there are clear messages being sent to politicians of all stripes.  At the top of the list is a call for real transparency from elected officials.

While MPs can do little to overhaul the practices employed by the Senate, we can clear up our own chamber and do our best to show Canadians how we use our budgets.  That was the intent of an NDP motion that was passed two times through the House – once as we were wrapping up the 1st session of this parliament in June, and again in October shortly after the Throne Speech.

This motion would have created an independent body charged with ensuring accountability and transparency in Parliament. It would have increased transparency and ramped up accountability well beyond the current practice of simple disclosure.

At the heart of the motion were instructions for the Procedure and House Affairs Committee to conduct hearings and determine how to replace the secretive Board of Internal Economy (BOIE).  But that is not what happened and bears little resemblance to what was reported in parliament this week.  Instead, and against the Auditor General’s recommendations, the Committee’s Liberal and Conservative members decided that the status quo is good enough and the secretive BOIE will remain.

Ultimately the Liberals and Conservatives are happy with the current Senate-style self-policing.  Despite the fact that Canadians are tired of secrecy, entitlement and backroom deals. Among the questions that should now be asked is what are these parties trying to hide? 

The rules for how MPs are allowed to spend their budgets are actually very clear. The oversight provided from the House of Commons financial services department is, in my experience, thorough and fair.  It is the Board of Internal Economy that stands alone as an impenetrable wall.  That is where budgets are set for all manner of House of Commons items that go well beyond MP’s expenses, which makes it ground zero in the battle for transparency and accountability.

With the New Democrat initiative defeated we can expect the other parties to use smoke and mirrors to try and deflect the attention from the only real solution, which is an independent oversight body.  Until parliament opens its books for real scrutiny, we cannot claim the moral authority to send any messages to the Senate and Canadians will be properly outraged.