Should all politicians post their expenses publicly?

Thomas Bink
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Conservative Senator Rob Runciman has become the second senator to post all of his Senate-related expenses online, something Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has advocated all Liberal MPs and senators do. Do you think all politicians should post their expenses publicly?

Thomas Bink: Well, of course they should. Politicians at every level are employees of the taxpayers, and taxpayers have a right to know specifically how their hard-earned dollars are being spent. Senators aren't voted into office, but since they're living off the taxpayer dime, they should be absolutely transparent as well. I guess the only hesitation I have on this one is that it might be another discouragement for our best and brightest to get into politics. A CEO of a big company doesn't have to justify every coffee he or she expenses, let alone their massive salaries. If we underpay our leaders and force them to account for every glass of orange juice they consume, I'm afraid it's just one more reason for really talented Canadians to stay in the private sector.

Andy Radia: Absolutely they should. As it stands now, senators are expected to provide data on their total expenditures but they're not required to publicly disclose information about specific expenses. In other words, we can see that Senator Wallin, for example, spent $X on 'travel' but we don't have specifics. It's a similar story for MPs — we only get to see top line numbers. I think all government officials should be forced to adopt the Alberta model whereby MLAs scan their receipts into an online platform. If we had regular access to their receipts, we could scrutinize expenses and that would help make them more accountable out of fear of being publicly shamed. And quite frankly Tom, if a politician isn't willing to do that, I don't want them in office. He or she can stay in the private sector.

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Matthew Coutts: I can’t disagree with either of you. I would imagine anyone willing and able to cast a vote would prefer to have the ability to peruse the expenses of those who represent them. The public value of that scrutiny far outweighs any issues someone running for office might have with having their every penny counted. This isn’t meant to slight the political community as a whole, but our current crop is a collection of those interested in gaming the system mixed with those willing to put public service ahead of their pocketbooks and those financially comfortable enough to chase the esteem of public office. The change we are talking about won’t scare off those latter types, but it could make things harder for the former. But the real question is: Are we currently doing enough to lure the most talented Canadians into politics in the first place?

Bink: See, I don't think so, and I think forcing someone to account for every penny of their expenses is just another discouragement. It's a real quandary for me. I think public servants should be transparent about how they're spending my money, and there should be punishment if there are abuses. But at the same time, I think Canadians deserve the best and brightest as their government leaders, not squirreled away in glass offices on Bay Street. And the only way to encourage them to get involved is by offering compensation and perks consistent with the private sector, and not nit-picking every bag of chips they pick up at a corner store.

Radia: I think we already do attract good people into politics. Sure, there's some bad seeds as there are in any industry but most are good quality. And I don't think good people are necessarily motivated — or unmotivated — by the financial gain or perks of political office. Most politicians that I know chose politics for a career because they believe in a cause or want to effect change. I also think we tend to discount the other advantages of going into politics — namely an increase in public profile, strong networking opportunities and good pensions. So no, there is no need to pay them more or to let up on public oversight of their expenses. I want to see those receipts for their bags of chips.

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Coutts: Ah, see! Andy dropped the P-word, the real carrot that lures people into politics: Pensions. The benefits are what we use to get folks to consider the public sector over the private. Juicy pensions, expense accounts, trips to visit the pandas. The hope is these are secondary to their desire to see a job well done. And, especially in this tough economic climate, a job well done most often comes down to saving money. Or at least not wasting it. We’d hope every one of our public officials thinks about that when they order room service in the morning. I’m all for ensuring we have benefit packages worthy enough to get the attention of Canada’s finest. But anyone who gleefully chugs down an $8 orange juice on our dime isn’t what I would consider Canada’s finest. And until we can trust politicians to be the kind of leaders we desire, we really should be watching to make sure they aren’t the other kind.

Bink: Clearly, it's a good thing we didn't invite Mike Duffy into this discussion.

So, what do you think? Have your say in the comments area below.