VICTORIA – MLAs' constituency assistants from across B.C. crowded into the idle B.C. legislative chamber Wednesday to get up to speed on new financial reporting requirements for their office expenses.
Provincial politicians have been working to open up their expense reporting since a 2012 report by former Auditor General John Doyle exposed "pervasive deficiencies" in that and other areas of the legislature's $70 million operating budget.
The first steps after that report were to begin disclosing MLA expense totals on a quarterly basis, and to begin holding meetings of the long-secret Legislative Assembly Management Committee in public.
That committee met Tuesday and agreed to extend the deadline to begin detailed expense disclosure from constituency offices from Jan. 1 to April 1. In addition to base pay of more than $101,000 a year and an expense account for travel and accommodation, MLAs receive a constituency allowance of $119,000 a year, mainly for staff and office space.
Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan told the committee he is "absolutely in favour" of disclosing detailed information, but more time is needed, especially with 32 new MLAs elected in May. That means new constituency staff learning accounting procedures on the job, while also learning to handle day-to-day concerns of constituents, many of whom are "in distress," he said.
The committee supported Horgan's motion to make the first detailed report public April 1, covering the period from Jan. 1 to the end of the provincial fiscal year.
MLAs are also preparing to begin detailed disclosure of their personal travel and other expenses.
Expense payments to MLAs include a "capital city allowance," for which most MLAs who live outside Greater Victoria claim $1,000 a month without receipts. With receipts, out-of-town MLAs can claim up to $19,000 a year for rent, mortgage or hotel accommodation while in Victoria on legislature business.
MLAs are also eligible for $61 a day for meals while in Victoria on legislature business.
During discussion of the legislature's total budget, clerk Craig James told the committee there would be substantial savings this year because the scheduled fall session was cancelled. The cost for extra staff and services for one sitting day is about $30,000.