Like babies, promises easy to make, hard to deliver

Paul Willcocks asked at his blog Paying Attention why MLAs don’t get more respect. He then proceeds to give a number of good reasons, including this:

“MLAs do have a high opinion of their own value. They can claim up to $19,000 a year for a capital residence if they’re from outside Victoria. That’s four times as much as a single disabled person gets in income assistance for shelter. Chong’s meal claims were just slightly less than a disabled person gets for all expenses except housing for an entire year. And MLAs increased their pay 34 per cent in five years, while the average wage in B.C. rose 12 per cent.”

Willcocks reminded us:

“MLAs have refused to reveal their expense claims – how much they get for food, housing in the capital and other costs. They promised disclosure last May. In July, it became a big issue when filings required by cabinet ministers revealed Ida Chong had claimed $5,921 in meal allowances – even thought she lived 10 kilometres from the legislature.

“But the good news was that the controversy forced MLAs to promise an end to secrecy by last September. . . It’s January. Disclosure was supposed to happen four months ago. In the real world, that’s a problem. There is no commitment on when taxpayers will get the facts.”
There is also a platinum-plated pension available to MLAs with as little as six years of part-time backbench service. To average British Columbians, retroactive employer-paid pension benefits on the scale arranged by BC Liberals for themselves in 2007 are similar to a major lottery win. The Tyee told us this:

A retroactive pension windfall worth an average of more than $800,000 per member will go to just 41 lucky MLAs, almost all of them BC Liberals!

Mr. Willcocks is too polite to draw a line between recent expense scandals of British parliamentarians and the refusal by BC MLAs to release expense details. British MPs did not want their expenses released either but whistleblowers relieved politicians of the decision by leaking full expense details to The Daily Telegraph newspaper. Even cynical old political observers like me were shocked at the breadth and boldness of the frauds.

Many resignations and repayments resulted and tainted politicians who did not leave public life voluntarily were sent packing by voters. Four are in the courts facing substantial jail terms. This was an all inclusive scandal, from lords to commoners, from lowly backbenchers to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.

A few bizarre British claims:

  • Conservative MP Sir Peter Viggers repaid £30,000 for gardening expenses, including £1,645 for a floating “duck island” in the pond at his Hampshire home.
  • Douglas Hogg, Eton-educated barrister styled Viscount Hailsham. Married to the independently wealthy Baroness Sarah Hogg, economist and former BBC governor. He claimed £14,500 for a housekeeper and £2,000 to clear the moat of his sprawling medieval estate.
  • David Heathcoat-Amory had to repay £30,000 he charged for gardening and cleaning, including £380 paid for horse manure.
  • Anne Cryer and son John, who were both MPs, each claimed parliamentary allowances for a flat owned by John Cryer’s sister and her husband, which they later sold for a big profit.
  • Lord Taylor of Warwick who actually lived in London is in court for claiming allowances and expenses because his main home was said to be in Oxford. He did not own that home nor had he lived in it for even a single night. His defence was that he thought cheating was acceptable because others made similar claims.
  • MP David Chaytor has been jailed for 18 months after claiming bogus expenses worth £22,650. Last week he was beginning his sentence at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London, where he was strip-searched, photographed and fingerprinted before being issued with prison clothing.
Since all promises are broken for a reason, we can safely surmise that BC Liberal MLAs have concrete reasons for backtracking on expense publication. In politics, good news hits the public forum with audacity while bad news faces hesitation, reluctance and objection. Citizens start with a sense of pessimism based on history and experience elsewhere and, if all we see is foot dragging, non-compliance and broken promises, is there any doubt about where this is headed?

 British entertainer Sue Perkins recently said that politicians:

” . . . backtrack quicker than a million moonwalking Michael Jackson impersonators.”

Jeremy Hardy spoke on the same subject, saying,

“. . . they fight, they fight tooth and nail before capitulating on all of their principles.”

Categories: Ethics, Truthiness

1 reply »

  1. Thanks for drawing our attention to Wilcox's column with your usual thoughtful insight Norm.

    One huge difference struck me though between what's occurred in Britain, and what the situation is in BC: Where are the whistleblowers in the civil service in BC?

    Scared? Too comfy? Too nice? Too apathetic? Are they all head-duckers?

    Or, perhaps they just don't care that gobs of money flow through to “our lawmakers” with no accountability or even transparency, while children and the elderly have their lifelines cut, and are left to fend for themselves?

    That level of apathy comes close to sociopathic tendencies. Has our society in BC lost compassion for our fellow human beings?

    Something massively wrong is happening in, and to, BC now.


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