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BC Liberal, Weaver Clash Over MLA Meal Allowance

‘Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,’ says Green leader.

By Andrew MacLeod 11 May 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

If the BC Liberals want to stop Capital Region MLAs from collecting money for meals when the legislature is in session, they should support ending the payments for any MLA who owns or rents a property in Victoria, says Green Party leader Andrew Weaver.

“I would love to see this legislation extended across to all people who actually have a kitchen in the place they live here in Victoria, because that’s what’s fair,” Weaver said. “I get the cynicism out there, but those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar, a BC Liberal, introduced a private member’s bill Wednesday that would make the seven MLAs from the Capital Region, all either NDP or Green, ineligible for the up to $61 a day MLAs can claim for meals.

Milobar said the change would be consistent with a Capital City Living Allowance provision that only provides housing money to MLAs from outside the Capital Regional District (CRD).

“Right now if you live in the CRD you don’t qualify for the living allowance for housing, and this is saying that when we’re in session the per diem rule should be the same where you don’t qualify for that as well.”

He pointed out that Agriculture Minister Lana Popham and Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean, both of whom live in the CRD, don’t claim the meal allowance while the legislature is sitting. “It can be done.”

Private member’s bills seldom pass, but this one generated significant discussion, especially among those it would affect.

Weaver, who represents Oak Bay-Gordon Head, pointed out that a large number of BC Liberal MLAs take advantage of a policy that allows them to claim up to $19,000 a year if they rent or own a property in Victoria.

“Frankly, I would suggest that there is some abuse happening, and I would take a good hard look at the BC Liberals who bought condos here,” Weaver said. “I don’t want to name names, but there’s a ton of them. They’re living in condos here and they’re claiming a full $61-a-day per diem, day in day out, for food.”

If taxpayers are paying for an MLA to buy or rent a property in Victoria, he or she is just as able to eat breakfast before coming to work or pack a lunch as a local MLA, he said. “What’s the difference? There’s no difference.”

According to their most recent financial disclosures, BC Liberal MLAs who own homes in Victoria include Marvin Hunt, John Yap, Mike Bernier, Ralph Sultan and Jordan Sturdy.

More than a dozen other BC Liberals receive payments to either rent or own a property in the capital: Dan Ashton, Donna Barnett, Shirley Bond, Doug Clovechok, Dan Davies, Eric Foster, Greg Kyllo, Linda Larson, Michael Lee, Mike Morris, Ellis Ross, Michelle Stilwell and Jackie Tegart.

Legislature records show that all of them claimed amounts for meals last year while the legislature sat.

MLAs from outside the Capital Region can claim $19,000 a year for rent or mortgage payments or up to $17,000 for a hotel, with receipts. They can also opt to claim $12,000 a year, with no receipts required.

Milobar has been staying in hotels. Between April 1 and Dec. 31, 2017, he was reimbursed $7,593 for hotels in Victoria and another $3,102 for meals.

Milobar said it’s reasonable to treat people from outside Victoria differently from those living in the capital full time. “When you’re coming in and out of town for in session, you’re here for four days on and then you’re gone again, arguably your kitchen set up is not quite the same in terms of a fridge, in terms of the rotation of foods and things of that nature. You’re not here all year.”

He said the constituencies his bill applies to are already designated as different since they are not eligible for the housing allowance.

Weaver said the BC Liberals’ main objective with the bill seems to be feeding a narrative about politicians abusing perks ahead of the fall referendum on electoral reform. “The BC Liberals clearly didn’t think this one through.”  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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