Will policy create trust?

A little shame could go a long way to improving openness and transparency in spending at all feeding stations along the public trough.

A little shame could go a long way to improving openness and transparency in spending at all feeding stations along the public trough.

Premieress Alison Redford recently announced Albertans will no longer pick up the tab for MLAs’ booze, first-class travel and fancy dinners with their benchmates. The rules go into effect Oct. 1 and in December taxpayers can go online to review provincial politicians’ expense reports and detailed receipts with a fine-toothed comb. The policy also applies to the provincial bureaucracy: deputy ministers and press secretaries, chiefs of staff and senior officials appointed and paid by the government. It doesn’t directly apply to employees of arm’s-length commissions but Redford expects them to fall in line.

The “new” policy, which should have been the practice all along, will not automatically apply to municipal councils, school boards, health authorities and universities although they are accountable to the same taxpayers and are just as prone to abuse as the legislature.

Redford expects those governments and public boards to adopt similar disclosure and accountability policies.

And so should we. There is no reason in today’s world why a municipal council or school board cannot make its records database available for public scrutiny on its website, every month after the accounts are approved. The Town of Rimbey — not without a number of council spending controversies — posts a copy of each councillor’s monthly expense claim, signed off by the mayor. In the absence of a watchful ratepayers association, that’s the least we should expect from councillors who campaigned on a platform of openness and transparency.

Council’s best weapon to defend against charges of expense account abuse is to be proactive and disclose this information to the public. Audited financial statements at the end of the fiscal year will tell you how much the mayor and councillors were paid last year but you don’t know how much of the expense payment was for out-of-pocket costs, travel reimbursement, tickets to PC party fundraisers and golf tournaments, three-martini lunches or convention hotel Swedish massages.

Certainly town and county councillors and school trustees work hard for the stipend and they’re due any glory the position affords them. We shouldn’t begrudge a councillor flying first class the elbow room to work on his laptop while flying to a conference across the country. He’s giving up a few days’ wages to learn how to be a better representative, cut the guy some slack. But it’s the folks like chronic abuser former federal cabinet minister Bev Oda and disgraced former provincial bureaucrat Allaudin Merali who claimed expensive restaurant meals and maintenance on his Mercedes who tarnish the good name and practices of our politicians and bureaucrats.

Hopefully this new policy will create more public confidence and comprehension of the actions of governors at all levels. There is value in hosting dignitaries, doing business over a glass of wine with dinner, or travelling to convince a CEO to relocate his company to Rimbey. But show us the receipts.

This new policy, if adopted by all municipal councils and boards, will provide the transparency to help taxpayers understand these expenses are necessary and legitimate.

It will also treat taxpayers with respect instead of like mushrooms.