Commons okays $2.4-million in committee travel over past year

Hummm, we wonder where all that money is going!!! Maybe stop staying at places that cost $500+ per night per room instead of standard hotel rooms like the rest of Canadians.

You just have to shake your head when they ask for $450K and then get approved for $2.4Million.


The Board of Internal Economy separately approved the Special Committee on Electoral Reform’s travel budget. It requested $540,000-plus.

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******************** The Board of Internal Economy separately approved the Special Committee on Electoral Reform’s travel budget. It requested $540,000-plus.  ******************

The House of Commons and a panel of MPs that reviews travel budgets for standing committees has approved a total of $2.4-million for committee trips in Canada and abroad since the Liberals formed government, a record of the expenses shows.

The bulk of the budgets and expenditures were approved from February to October 2016—a total of $1.8-million for committee travel devoted to a range of studies on social, economic, defence, and foreign issues.

Committee minutes show a panel of MPs that serves as the first vetting stage for travel by the 24 House of Commons permanent standing committees has since last Oct. 18 approved hundreds of thousands of dollars further. This came after the committee suspended new travel budget requests in September for the remainder of the year and imposed a requirement for the “rationale” of proposed travel in the winter and spring of 2017 and more detail on estimated costs for those requests.

The panel, the budget subcommittee of a supervisory House Liaison Committee comprised of the chairs of all Commons standing committees and the House co-chairs of standing joint committees, suspended new reviews on Sept. 21, the day it made its last budget decision for nearly a month when it approved a request from the Government Operations and Estimates Committee for $172,077 for committee members and staff to fly to Surrey, B.C., Edmonton, and Calgary, Alta., Yellowknife, N.W.T., Moose Jaw and Regina, Sask., and Winnipeg and Scanterbury, Man., for a major study of the future of Canada Post.

The Commons gave prearranged unanimous consent the next day to pass a government motion proposing the travel by seven members of the committee and staff to each of the destinations.

The Commons gave similar unanimous consent to the subsequent travel budgets approved by the liaison panel’s budget subcommittee for studies to be resumed in early 2017.

The budgets are first discussed and approved, or in rare cases rejected, in the budget subcommittee of the Liaison Committee, chaired by the chair of the entire liaison committee, Liberal MP Judy Sgro (Humber River-Black Creek, Ont.). The other members are three other government MPs and two official opposition MPs from the main committee.

Subsequent unanimous consent in the House of Commons is required for each travel budget approved by the committee.

Ms. Sgro’s office provided The Hill Times with spreadsheets listing $2,081,297 in committee travel budgets that have been approved through unanimous Commons consent, following approval of committee budget requests by the subcommittee of the liaison committee, and a further $311,537 in travel budgets approved by the subcommittee but still awaiting consent in the Commons.

A special Commons committee established to conduct a four-month review of electoral reform  budgeted a further $540,008 on travel to places across the country as it sought direct testimony from citizens. The Commons Board of Internal Economy approved the electoral committee’s travel budgets separately.

The head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation on Tuesday questioned the House of Commons trend toward more extensive committee travel.

The policy stems in part from a 2015 Liberal election position that a government under leader Justin Trudeau would widen consultation and interaction with citizens across the country, far from the capital, through the Commons network of committees.

“I’m all for consulting,” Taxpayers Federation federal director Aaron Wudrick told The Hill Times. “The point is they can do it via videoconference for a tiny fraction of the cost.”

Conservative MP Gord Brown, his party’s whip in the Commons, said the official opposition supports extensive direct consultation with Canadians.

“We don’t oppose committee travel, as long as it’s justified and unless there are difficulties within some of the committees,” Mr. Brown (Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, Ont.) said. “We’ve withheld consent on those until they work out some of the problems on the committees.”

“By and large, we have been supportive of committee travel. We think it’s important that committees get out there to meet with Canadians,” Mr. Brown said.

Recalling the past Parliament under the Conservatives, Mr. Brown and long-time former Liberal cabinet minister Don Boudria noted the NDP prevented committee travel in the final years of the previous Conservative government.

The NDP deployed an obstruction tactic, denying the required unanimous consent in the Commons. It began using the tactic in February 2014, in retaliation to the government’s refusal at the time to take its consultation on Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, cross-country.

“In 2011, the Conservatives got a majority, but two things played there that didn’t make for much committee travelling, or as much as could have been,” Mr. Boudria said in an interview.

“The Conservatives gradually, especially [then-prime minister Stephen] Harper, began to retrench, you know, like the walls were closing in around him, that’s just the way the guy felt,” said Mr. Boudria. “You could argue whether it was good or bad, but I don’t think it’s wrong to say that in the end he ran a pretty closed shop.”

And the NDP blocked committee travel, he noted.

“Pretty well the only travel they allowed at the time was for the Finance Committee’s pre-budget consultation, because that one is set in the standing orders [of the House of Commons],” said Mr. Boudria.

Committee studies under way in the Commons include a review of mental health and suicide prevention among veterans; the first parliamentary look at Canadian news media in three decades, by the Canadian Heritage Committee; an Industry Committee study of the Canadian steel industry’s ability to compete internationally; and an Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee review of suicide among indigenous peoples.

 

 

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