Friday, July 07, 2006

Culture of Entitlement Continues

Very interesting discussion going on at Garth Turner's blog regarding M.P.'s being allowed to use per diem expense account money to make mortgage payments on personal homes in Ottawa (H/T to Mike McGuire at Dispatches).

On an earlier post, Garth reports:

Apparently, according to the Liberal whip, Karen Redman, who is on the Board, MPs can now claim $75 a day for meals while they are away from home, in addition to $25 a day for accommodation if they own a house or condo in Ottawa.

“You just apply for your per diem for every day you’re in Ottawa and you receive an expense cheque,” Ms. Redman said. “You make a choice; either you’re using it for your meals or you’re applying it to your mortgage.”

Garth says:

This means MPs in Ottawa four days a week during the time the House of Commons sits can get more than $17,000 a year in the form of meal money to use to pay their mortgages. And it is absolutely, unquestionably and inarguably wrong...

The point is this: (a) Taxpayers should not be helping an MP build real estate equity at the same time he or she is getting a wage three times higher than the national average, and (b) it is indefensible to take mortgage subsidy money when all our constituents are paying their loans with after-tax dollars, and (c) how the heck are MPs ever going to understand the need for tax relief and the pressures placed on family finances today when they are insulated from the real world?

The secret committee that made this decision is comprised of M.P.'s of all political stripes, and you can see that the opposition in total outweighs the Conservative members. Since it is secret, there is no public disclosure of how each member has voted.

Lots of links related to this story, including the Vancouver Sun, and the Toronto Star. At the very least, I think the public should be allowed access to the voting record.

Love him or hate him, Garth keeps things interesting!

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Update: TrustOnlyMulder says Garth is wrong.


TrustOnlyMulder said...

Joanne, I have worked private sector with per diems and I think Garth is sadly mistaken.

The question should not be what an MP does with his/her per diem. The question should be what the per diem is and whether the amount is appropriate and who is eligible.

If one MP takes their money and pays for hotels with maid service, avoids grocery shopping, mowing lawns, fixing fences, reshingling, planting gardens, watering gardens, etc so be it. If another MP chooses to buy a house and takes all those nasty things that come with it and chooses to cook, clean, etc. I am not one to argue.

When I was paid $40 per diem for food in the private sector ($10 for breakfast, $15 for lunch and $15 for dinner) I would get the $40 whether i spent $30 a day or $60 a day. If i was frugal and pocketed $10 a day to buy baby a new pair of shoes, good on me. if I blew that $10 on a couple of beers, oh well. It was my choice to make.

Garth is simply wrong on questioning HOW that money is spent. He should question how much the per diem is. He might garner appropriate support on that issue.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Mulder, that's very interesting. Maybe you could post something about that to his blog. I'd love to see how he responds!!!

PGP said...

I've also had the benefit of per-diem expense allowances.

The point is that an ethical person does not take the per-diem for granted and does not claim per-diems to be a right! Calling to question the attitude of entitlement is a just thing. So, whatever GT is doing he's got me on his side this time.

If a public servant in the person of an elected official is using per-diem benefits for other than the intended purpose it should be made public.

And remember that these same MP's can expense just about everything as a line expense item.

If the per-diem assigned to cover housing costs is $25 a day then spending $25 a day on housing costs is an appropriate thing to do. But since the total per-diems come to $100 a day and this is being viewed as a means to enrich themselves beyond what is the norm for ordinary Canadians then I have a right to question the benefit.
Am I getting good value from my MP?
I think I'll ask him.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

PGP - Another interesting POV. This is an area where you guys obviously have a lot of experience.

The way it hits me is that the M.P.'s make so much money to begin with, it feels like they're Dingwalling us on the small stuff.

Kunoichi said...

MPs can now claim $75 a day for meals while they are away from home,

When dh was in the military, they allotted $22 per day per adult and half that per child as part of our moving expenses (which, I believe, has since been cut back drastically). For us (2 adults, 1 child at the time), that meant meal budget added up to $55 a day.

Funding for meals as part of their work related expenses, I am willing to accept, but when 1 MP gets more per day than a military family of 3, it tells me there's something very wrong with our priorities.

RGM said...

The big difference between the private and public sector is that the money being handed out for the per diems to MPs is that it isn't "the company's money," it's the taxpayers' money. If I'm some regular Joe working 9-5 at a minimum wage job and barely scraping by, and I see that someone who is already pulling down a helluva more money than me is getting a daily $100 bonus and using that to pay off their mortgage, I'm thinking I'd better get an invitation to a party or a Christmas card at some point because I'm helping to pay for that mortgage.
This is the type of story that only fuels peoples' discontent with politicians.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Kunoichi and RGM, I think you're both feeling that many M.P.'s are out of touch with reality. I just wonder why this type of thing is so secretive. We wouldn't even have known about it if it hadn't been for Garth.

TrustOnlyMulder said...

I understand the views of RGM and PGP, but I think again the issue comes down to re-analyzing the per diem system.

I get the impression you guys feel our MPs should all be eating every meal at the Parliamentary cafeteria or McDonalds.

You have to give guys managing billions of dollars some leeway and make the perks good enough that they aren't enticed to accept cash stuffed envelopes too.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Yeah, good point, Mulder. As it is now, it's hard to attract good people to these positions. If they are highly successful in business, for example, they're not likely to want to risk their whole career for a political stint.

RGM said...

Yeah the cafeteria would be nice, or you know, they could pay for their own damn food themselves. I don't think that it's right for ordinary Joes to pay for Joe Volpe's $700 pizza dinners, any more than I think it's right we should be on the tab for David Dingwall's packs of gum. I busted my butt for three months to write my MA thesis, I sure as hell didn't receive any per diem cheques from Dalhousie to assist my process. Seriously, if MPs are pocketing the money to pay for their mortgages, doesn't that seem a little, I don't know, out of whack to you? The limos, the Challengers, the hobnobs, all that jazz isn't enough already? Let's get real here.

TrustOnlyMulder said...

I didn't defend Dingwall's gum. But taking a client out like a major decision maker from a foreign country, who now uses the Canadian Mint to make their coins (and their are several) then the aspect can be related to a salesman entertaining a client to create a better relationship.

My last company paid for my flights, my dining, my car rental, my hotel, etc. But I submitted an expense receipt with an explanation for each and every one. (and that expense report was created on company time).

If the government has chosen to create a per diem policy instead of a "submit every expense" policy, then that is the topic that should be discussed.

Again, my point is simple. IF a per diem policy is in place, questioning how that is spent is not something I want the government spending time on. If someone needs to audit how every per diem is spent, (with a tax payer paid salary I might add) we may as well can the per diem policy and have them audit every expensed item.

I would not be against that at all.

I must point out that there are some MP's staying in hotels, having EVERY meal paid for, getting free maid service, free shampoo, free soap, free cable TV, free Internet access, free shower caps, free sponges that double as shoe shines, free wetnaps, free hot water, free water period, free air conditioning, free heat, etc.

And if we are taking them away from their families in their home ridings hundreds or thousands of miles away, away from their children, away from their friends, away from the fridge, stove, heat, airconditioning, internet access, etc of their constituency offices and homes, then it seems fair to me to allow them a few perks.

Volpe's $1000 limo rides to Buffalo and other abuses on TOP of a per diem is just bullshit. I am with you 100%. But if an expense can be legitimized via a valid, verifiable expense, then I don't have a problem with it. I am far more concerned about things like Adscam and the new Liberal Advertising scandal than I am about arguments on what a per diem is. And that is exactly what Turner is arguing. He is trying to rewrite what a per diem expense is.

He should rail against per diems altogether, not the WAY they are spent.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Mulder, yeah, that McGuinty thing stinks! What the heck is going on there? I haven't posted about it yet, because I am still in shock! How can things be going on like this and nobody seems to be challenging him?

TrustOnlyMulder said...

Joanne, the blogs are always about three months ahead of the press because we hash it all out with a worker bee mentality. Steve Janke is great at getting balls rolling like this.

The MSM is very Liberal friendly, but they are starting to pay attention to blogs that dig up dirt and then they go about the access to information and the usual due diligence before just posting what bloggers dig up.

i.e. bloggers do the buzzing and get it spreading in the blogosphere, and the MSM provides validity after the due diligence.

As long as it comes out before the next provincial election I am a happy camper.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Mulder, Steve did some awesome work there, that's for sure! I am in awe.

This is starting to look very hopeful. Yes indeed...