Greater Victoria’s six MLAs incurred more than $185,000 in travel expenses last year.
The figures, as part of the public accounts portion of the province’s finances, were released last week as the B.C. government works towards an air of openness. In years past, only ministers’ expenses were released, but British Columbians can now see just how much of taxpayers’ money every MLA spent.
In Victoria, Carole James (Victoria-Beacon Hill) racked up the largest MLA bill with $39,869 in travel costs. The former NDP leader said she spent three-quarters of her time as leader travelling the province prior to her stepping down in December, and welcomed this new measure of financial openness.
“It’s definitely the right direction. MLAs are accountable for those dollars, they are public dollars and we should be accountable to the voters in our community,” she said.
Oak Bay-Gordon Head’s Ida Chong had a meagre $1,635 travel bill as an MLA, but racked up an additional $61,057 on ministerial duties.
She says it’s because following a cabinet shuffle, the new minister is expected to meet with the same stakeholders and interest groups their predecessor met with months before.
“When I took on universities and colleges, there was a huge demand for me to visit them all and get up to speed on the initiatives they started with (former minister of advanced education) Moira (Stilwell),” she said.
“If you’re supposed to understand and bring in legislation and policy, sometimes you have to go out and see how things work.”
Chong served as minister of healthy living and sport, sciences and universities, and regional economic and skills development during the year.
James says that is a prime example of extraneous, unnecessary spending.
“With the number of cabinet shuffles we’ve seen over this past year with Gordon Campbell and with Christy Clark, every time you change cabinet you have different travel costs, you have new business cards, and those are taxpayers’ dollars,” James said.
Of all ministers, Chong had the third-largest travel bill, after Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Pat Bell ($68,467) and Kevin Krueger ($65,562).
Chong, who is now Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, had an additional $1,635 travel bill as an MLA.
Elsewhere in the region, Saanich South MLA Lana Popham’s travel bill was $28,825, Victoria-Swan Lake’s Rob Fleming ($26,683), Malahat-Juan de Fuca’s John Horgan ($15,745) and Maurine Karagianis of Esquimalt-Royal Roads ($12,044).
Gregory Thomas, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, said the transparency of public accounts is a good thing, but he said that more detailed summaries may be needed.
“It’s progress, but they’re years behind the rest of the country,” he said, adding that many other jurisdictions provide scans of receipts or a breakdown of each expense. “It’s not rocket science. Providing one expenditure line for the whole year just doesn’t cut it in 2011.”
The MLAs all said they’re cognizant of spending taxpayers’ money.