Local MHAs watch their spending
© Andrea Gunn photo
All three MHAs from the Exploits region spent within their individual limits this past year, according to recently released accountability and disclosure reports.
Last week, the House of Assembly released its accountability and disclosure reports for its members for the period of time from April 2011-March 2012.
The reports included everything MHAs claimed in that year period, meaning what taxpayer dollars paid for, right down to where they dined constituents and how much their phone bills cost.
And overall, the three MHAs that represent the Exploits region spent within their limits during the last year.
Nearly all the categories of spending are for necessities, like office rentals, cell phone bills, and travel allowances for going back and forth between their constituencies and St. John’s during House sessions.
Clayton Forsey, Exploits MHA, had the highest total spending of the three members in the region, with a total expenditure amount of $49,090.54, most of which as a result of higher office accommodation costs. Ray Hunter, Grand Falls-Windsor-Green Bay South MHA, was second in line for total spending, with $40,160.66. Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans MHA and Health and Community Services Minister, Susan Sullivan, had the lowest total spending with $33,830.40 in claims.
Though politician spending has been a source of constant scandal in federal and provincial politics over the years, from Bev Oda’s infamous $16 orange juice earlier this year to Newfoundland and Labrador’s audit scandal in 2006, it appears there’s nothing scandalous about this year’s numbers.
While all MHAs stayed within their spending limits on all fronts, there’s no question that some spent more than others.
Sullivan spent only $1,174.80 on inter and extra-constituency travel, for example, while Forsey and Hunter spent $4,410.03 and $6,308.47 respectively.
The members’ constituency allowance, which covers things like taking constituents out to dinner, has a limit of $2,655.00 – which doesn’t include regular meals while traveling on business.
Forsey spent only $508.38, just 19.1 per cent of that allowance, and likewise with Sullivan, who spent $684.5. Both claimed only a couple of Memorial Day wreaths and pizza parties for students in the region.
Hunter claimed $2,209.26 – 83.2 per cent of his constituency allowance. Included in his expenditures was a $100 dinner at the Keg, 10 meals at Swiss Chalet, and meals at several other restaurants in the St. John’s region amounting to $100 each, all listed as meals with constituents. His spending in this category is among the highest in the province.
The Advertiser spoke with Hunter to ask why most of his constituency allowance was used in St. John’s, not in his actual constituency. He said many people visit St. John’s for business, go to university there, or have family availing of medical services in the area, and that often people are busy and can only meet at lunch or supper time.
“(People will say,) ‘I want to meet with you,’ I’ll say, ‘fine where do you want to meet?’
Usually they say they’ve got an hour from 12-1,” said Hunter. “It’s easier for them and easier for me, and usually when I’m out there I’ve got to take advantage of all the time I can.”
He said when he meets with people in his own area they’re usually not as pressed for time, so often Hunter will meet them for coffee, which he said he doesn’t generally claim.
Hunter said he was actually unaware of how much he had spent, and when informed during the interview, said it was ‘nothing.’
“That’s pretty good,” he said, “I can remember first when I got elected when the Liberals were in power…when a minister would take you out for supper, you didn’t go to Swiss Chalet, you went down on Duckworth Street or Water Street where the meal was going to cost 5 or 600 bucks…I (remember) one night when I was at a restaurant I saw a minister spend a thousand bucks for one meal.”
For the full list of expenditures for all provincial MHAs, visit www.assembly.nl.ca.