With NAFTA renegotiations on the horizon, Members of Parliament took more than three times the number of trips to Washington and New York from April 1 to June 30 than the same period the year prior.
In the first quarter of the 2017-18 fiscal year, which runs April 1 to Mar. 31, MPs used 16.5 travel points—or return trips—to the two United States cities, compared to just five points in the same period a year earlier, according to MP spending reports the House of Commons’ Board of Internal Economy released Sept. 26.
MPs who travelled to the U.S. between April and July included former interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose, who left politics to join the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute in Washington in the spring, Conservative Randy Hoback (Prince Albert, Sask.), his party’s Canada-U.S. relations critic during that time, and Liberals Hunter Tootoo (Nunavut), and Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.). Mr. Easter is the co-chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group. Seventeen MPs used U.S. travel points in all.
The spending reports don’t give many details on the purpose of travel, but the Canadian Press reported Ms. Ambrose met with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on April 10 to discuss NAFTA, among other issues.
During her time as interim Conservative leader, Ms. Ambrose made a point to show her party would work with the government to advance Canada’s interests with respect to the NAFTA renegotiation. The first round of talks to rework the trilateral trade deal began in August. Both she and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) talked about having MPs on the House Trade Committee travel to the U.S. to speak to policy-makers about the mutual benefits of bilateral trade.
The spending reports also revealed the highest-spending MPs in the first quarter of this year, with Conservative MP Rob Liepert (Calgary Signal Hill, Alta.) coming in on top, having spent $140,818, followed by several MPs from far-flung ridings to which travel is expensive.
The quarterly reports track MP spending for parliamentary business and are processed by House administration staff. Costs include travel between their ridings and Ottawa, gifts, hospitality expenses like hosting town halls, printing newsletters or flyers to keep their constituents updated, and a secondary residence, if necessary, close to the Hill.
The costs are broken down into two categories: expenses charged directly to MP budgets (which includes things like employee salaries, service contracts, hospitality and advertising expenses, and constituency office leases), and resources provided by the House. The latter refers to costs incurred by the House administration to support MPs in their parliamentary functions.
A travel point is one return trip to a designated place. Members have the option of using 25 of their 64 annual points to go to places other than their ridings, mostly in Canada. They can use four of those on trips to the U.S. All four can be used to go to Washington, D.C, or up to two of the four can be used to travel to New York City. The U.S. travel must support an MP’s parliamentary duties, and trips to New York must be for conferences or other events related to the UN. The travel points can’t be used for the business of parliamentary associations or parliamentary committees.
The travel point system is used so that members have an equal number of trips regardless of the distance of their riding.
Despite an increased number of trips, MPs spent less on travel during the first three months of the fiscal year than the same period in 2016. MPs used a total of 1,786.5 points, costing about $2.8-million for the first quarter of 2017. This compared to 1,557 points used in 2016, costing about $3.1-million. This excludes points used for designated travellers (spouses, for instance), dependants, and staff.
Overall, MP spending is up about six per cent, from about $28.6-million in the first quarter of 2016 to about $30.5-million for the same period in 2017. The average spending per seat is just under $90,300, dividing the total by the 338 seats in the House.
MPs are each given a basic budget of $355,400 per year, or $88,850 per quarter, which is topped up if their riding is geographically large, densely populated, or remote.
They are also given $2,280 per year ($570 per quarter) for telecommunications costs in up to two constituency offices, which is boosted to up to $12,660 per year ($3,165 per quarter) depending on how remote the riding is.
Employees’ salaries were the highest budget item in the report, totalling more than $17-million. Maintenance of constituency offices—including leases, insurance, and utilities—was the second-highest budget item, at about $3.6-million.
Calgary Conservative MP has highest spending so far
The highest-spending MPs include, as expected, some who represent ridings the farthest from Ottawa. MPs from ridings in northern Canada and parts of British Columbia often top the list simply because their travel is the most expensive.
Calgary’s Mr. Liepert had the highest expenses in the report, totalling $140,818. His MP budget for his riding is $379,160 per year ($94,790 per quarter). He spent nearly $49,000 on employee salaries, and another nearly $25,000 on employee travel, in addition to his own $23,000 MP travel spending.
He told The Hill Times the high number was in part due to staffing. Over the summer he had a Calgary constituency office staff member filling in at his Ottawa for two months, resulting in increased travel. He said his second-quarter report would be less because staff would no longer be commuting abnormally.
“Rather than hiring somebody, because I’m not really [in Ottawa] all summer, I just had the guy in Calgary travel back and forth,” he said.
Another large expense was a Canada 150 community celebration, he said. His office gave out quite a bit of Canada 150 promotional material that cost “more than I would have liked.” Leftover Canada 150 gear from the event was used at another event in the second quarter.
“When it all shakes out at the end of year, I won’t be at the top of the pile,” Mr. Liepert said.
The second-highest spender was Conservative MP Todd Doherty (Cariboo-Prince George, B.C.), who represents a northern British Columbia riding. He listed $130,238 in expenses. He has one of the highest MP office budgets, at $424,988 per year ($106,247 per quarter). He said travel is one of his highest expenditures.
“I travel home every weekend, arriving late Friday (early Saturday) spending Saturdays in the riding and leave again at 5:00 on Sunday mornings,” Mr. Doherty said in an emailed statement.
He added his office reviews its expenses biweekly to ensure everything is up to date, and that this quarter had some “one-off expenses that would not be reoccurring.”
Liberal MP Larry Bagnell (Yukon) spent the third highest, at $125,880. His budget is $432,980 per year ($108,245 per quarter).
“Our expenditures will be higher because…our constituents are spread out and it’s farther to get to them,” he said.
He completed a tour of 14 communities in his riding during the first quarter, driving to most, but flying to one. He noted this is why his first quarter is higher than the rest of the year. The Yukon is 482,443 square kilometres.
“I drive; in a weekend I do over 1,000 kilometres,” he said. “A couple of times I slept in my car, so that didn’t cost very much, because there were no hotels.”
As for party leaders, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) spent $66,595, although the perks of being prime minister mean he is not paying for some expenses, such as secondary housing. In May, former Conservative interim leader Ms. Ambrose was replaced by Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) and their offices spent $103,770 and $86,790, respectively. Tom Mulcair (Outremont, Que.), NDP leader at the time, spent $79,335.
The lowest spending recorded by active MPs—those not elected in a byelection or who did not have any extenuating circumstances—were for Conservative MP Scott Reid (Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, Ont.) at $50,325, and Liberal MPs Robert Morrissey (Egmont, P.E.I.) at $53,014, and Nicola Di Iorio (Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel, Que.) at $58,565.
The next Members’ Expenditure Report covers April through September, and will be published by Dec. 31.
The Hill Times
Top spenders, 2017-18 first quarter
- Conservative Ron Liepert (Calgary Signal Hill, Alta.) – $140,817.85
- Conservative Todd Doherty (Cariboo-Prince George, B.C.) – $130,238.18
- Liberal Larry Bagnell (Yukon) – $125,879.91
- Liberal Jati Sidhu (Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, B.C.) – $125,573.19
- New Democrat Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby South, B.C.) – $124,316.21
- Conservative James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman, Man.) – $122,434.30
- Liberal John Aldag (Cloverdale-Langley City, B.C.) – $121,467.39
- Conservative Bob Zimmer (Prince George-Peace River, B.C.) – $120,854.21
- Liberal Robert Nault (Kenora, Ont.) – $119,464.72
- New Democrat Wayne Stetski (Kootenay-Columbia, B.C.) – $118,623.13
Lowest spenders (active members)
- Conservative Scott Reid (Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, Ont.) – $50,324.79
- Liberal Robert Morrissey (Egmont, P.E.I.) – $53,013.93
- Liberal Nicola Di Iorio (Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel, Que.) – $58,564.95
- Liberal Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Ont.) – $60,315.69
- Liberal Terry Sheehan (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) – $60,656.23
- Liberal Geoff Regan (Halifax West, N.S.) – $61,761.81
- Liberal Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.) – $64,165.21
- Liberal Ali Ehsassi (Willowdale, Ont.) – $64,679.21
- Liberal Stéphane Lauzon (Argenteuil-La Petite-Nation, Que.) – $65,101.98
- Liberal Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) – $66,595.19