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Storseth supports opening Parliament's books to auditor general

Westlock-St. Paul MP Brian Storseth says he would welcome the auditor general reviewing the expenses of Canada's MPs and senators.

Westlock-St. Paul MP Brian Storseth says he would welcome the auditor general reviewing the expenses of Canada's MPs and senators.

Parliament's Board of Internal Economy, comprised of representatives from four federal political parties, recently rejected Auditor General Sheila Fraser's request to review the financial records of both the House of Commons and the Senate. That would have allowed Fraser's staff to scrutinize everything from the travel costs of MPs like Storseth to what's being spent on office furnishings for our federal politicians.

“We have an auditor general who is fair and independent and honestly one of the most trusted people in Canada,” Storesth said.

Government House Leader Jay Hill is expected to propose a performance audit this week to the three other parties after the Conservative caucus met last week to discuss Fraser's request.

“I have no problem with the auditor general wanting to come in and take a look at expenses or the running of the House of Commons,” Storseth said. “Canadians have a right to know how their taxpayer dollars are being spent.”

He said he hasn't received many phone calls to his offices on the issue of Fraser's request. He said the issues he receives the most calls on relate to agriculture policy and crime.

The total budget of the House of Commons and Senate runs at $533 million annually, which covers staff, maintenance, security, and MPs' and senators' expenses.

“Our government has been one of the most open and transparent governments in history, and I think it's important that we continue to move forward in that, continue to make better access to information, continue to give Canadians better value for their dollar when it comes to reviews on bureaucracies,” Storseth said.

He said the Federal Accountability Act introduced in 2006 by the Conservatives has increased transparency in government. He added that MPs need to personally keep track of expenses. For example, an external agency is responsible for booking flights.

“You've got to stay on top of them to make sure they're booking the lowest possible rates,” Storseth said.

The Board of Internal Economy publishes individual members' expenses annually in a report that covers costs for staff, travel, advertising, telephones, printing, office and other expenses. Storseth's expenses, available from a government link on his website, were similar to those for other rural Alberta MPs in the government's 2008-2009 fiscal year.

Storseth, who has constituency offices in St. Paul and Westlock, rang up $225,408 in the staff and other expenses category for the year. The average staff and other expenses amount claimed by MPs was $237,014. The category covers staff salaries, office utilities, telephone expenses, furniture, and computer equipment. For Leon Benoit, the MP for Vegreville-Wainwright, staff and other expenses amounted to $260,055, while MP Brian Jean for Fort McMurray-Athabasca claimed $251,450.

The House provides travel expenses between Ottawa and an MP's constituency for up to 64 return trips per year. Storseth racked up $140,901 in travel costs for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Benoit claimed $100,672, while Jean rang up $92,949. The average amount claimed by MPs for travel expenses between their constituencies and Ottawa was $89,227. MPs are also covered for travel expenses incurred within their province and constituency. Expenses are typically higher for Western MPs because of how far their constituencies are from Ottawa.

MPs receive a printing allowance to communicate with constituents. Storseth claimed $35,170 in printing costs in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, less than Benoit's $62,848, and Jean's $74,513. Average printing costs for Canada's 308 MPs were $32,670.

Storseth spent $19,376 on Parliament-funded advertising for the year, about 35 per cent more than the average amount of $14,343.

Office leasing costs for Storseth hit $37,631, more than 50 per cent above the average of $24,643, reflecting the fact he has two constituency offices.

The local MP also tapped into $2,778 for office furnishings and equipment.

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