....because I think Peter Van Loan's pants are on fire...
Tory minister spent more, disclosed less than LiberalRecommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers
Source: The Canadian Press
May 14, 2007 16:33
By Bruce Cheadle
OTTAWA (CP) _ Old expense reports torpedo Conservative claims that their Quebec regional economic minister spent less on travel and disclosed more than his Liberal predecessor.
Following revelations last week about hidden Tory air travel, the year-old minority government repeatedly stated that cabinet ministers' expenses are considerably lower than the former Liberal government's _ and that they are more forthcoming and accountable into the bargain.
But at least in the case of Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who also serves as regional economic minister, those Tory assertions are turned on their ear by an examination of past expense reports. In fact, all the government needed to do was look at its own website.
Jacques Saada, the former Liberal minister for Quebec regional economic development, spent $66,000 on charter flights in 2005 and publicly posted every flight and its cost. The link to those "proactive disclosures'' is found on the same government web page as Blackburn's current expenses, which failed to disclose a penny of almost $150,000 in charter flights for 2006.
Saada's 2005 expense reports fire a pair of missiles into last week's Tory defence of Blackburn.
"The fact is, the expenses of the Conservative labour minister during 2006 were less than the comparable expenses for the Liberal minister during 2005,'' Peter Van Loan, the Conservative House leader, told the Commons last Monday after an Access to Information request by the NDP turned up Blackburn's hidden air travel.
True...but only if you don't count the $150,000 in unreported air travel.
Blackburn followed up with a letter to newspaper editors that claimed "allegations of hidden travel costs are false.''
"In my time as minister,'' Blackburn wrote, "I rejected my Liberal predecessor's practice of not disclosing chartered flights costing less than $10,000. At my request, these, too, are notified in proactive disclosure.''
In fact, Saada counted as air fare the fees for all 17 of his charter flights, ranging in cost from as little as $1,272 to as much as $11,342.
Blackburn, by contrast, listed air fare as zero even on those charter trips that he chose to "proactively disclose'' _ including one single charter that cost $41,822. He took some 25 charter flights in all last year, and only eight are referenced in his expenses.
It is true that air charter contracts, including contracts worth less than $10,000, are disclosed on the department website. But those contracts do not list who was onboard the aircraft, or where it flew, making the disclosure virtually meaningless.
Only by obtaining actual flight logs through an Access to Information request was the NDP able to reveal Blackburn's travel habits.
For a Conservative government that preaches accountability, thin Tory expense reports raise interesting questions, said New Democrat MP Pat Martin.
"The jig is up for Blackburn. He's been busted, plain and simple,'' Martin said. "But it does beg the question: is this common practice to falsify your expenses or to hide and obfuscate your actual expenses? If so, this is the opposite of transparency. This is deliberate obfuscation.''
Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon has also been shown to have not disclosed a series of flights on departmental aircraft last year.
Saada, who was defeated in the 2006 election, said he'd instructed his staff to post every expense related to his ministerial duties.
"I took a lifetime to build my credibility and I don't want to jeopardize it for a few hundred dollars not declared,'' said Saada from Montreal. "So I wanted to make sure everything was fine and very transparent, that's all. That was my instruction and my instructions were followed to the letter.''
In his letters to the editor last week, Blackburn concluded by stating that "Canadians deserve better than half-truths and mudslinging.''
His office did not return calls Monday seeking clarification.