January 16th, 2019

Set expense limits for former GGs

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on November 7, 2018.

Canadian taxpayers should rightly be wondering why they are still footing the bill for office expenses for former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, who has claimed more than $1.1 million since she left Rideau Hall.

After all, Clarkson completed her term more than 13 years ago, back in February 2005.

But that didn’t stop her from claiming $114,803 in the most recent fiscal year alone. And that’s relatively modest compared to the $169,098 she billed in the fiscal year 2007-08.

How can this be? It’s all par for the course under a program initiated in 1979 that allows former GGs to claim administrative expenses related to their former role – for the rest of their lives.

There’s no limit on how long they can dip into this well, and there’s also no apparent limit on how much they can claim. Nor is there any transparency or accountability built into the program.

If an expense program with no transparency, no limits and no accountability sounds like a bad idea, that’s because it is.

Sensibly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this week after the National Post reported on Clarkson’s latest expense filing that the government will review the program. He acknowledged that “Canadians expect a certain level of transparency and accountability.”

That’s a good start. But the review should not stop there. It should also examine putting limits on how much can be expensed each year and on how many years governors general can claim costs after their time in office is over.

As it now stands, former GG Edward Schreyer, who finished his term way back in 1984, is still eligible to claim expenses. So are former governors general Michaelle Jean (2010) and David Johnston (2017).

It’s a sweet deal that flies under the public radar because expenses are published in public account documents only if a claim exceeds more than $100,000 in a year. Anything less than that isn’t even publicly reported.

So far, only Clarkson and the late Rom┼Żo LeBlanc have expensed more than $100,000 in a single year. In his case it was for the two fiscal years between 2007 and 2009 (he died in June of that year). In her case it’s for nine of the 12 fiscal years since she left office.

How much other former GGs have claimed remains unknown, although a spokesperson for the Governor General’s office, Natalie Babin Dufresne, says all “have made use of the program.”

Further, although they must enclose original receipts and invoices when submitting claims for reimbursement, the program does not require former GGs to publicly detail what they spend the money on. In fact, Clarkson’s executive assistant told the Post the expense claims are a “private matter” between the former GG and Rideau Hall.

Really? Public spending is never a private matter, and as someone who faced occasional criticism for excessive spending while she was in office, Clarkson should know that better than most.

This is not the first time the program has raised hackles.

Back in 2011, after the Star’s Bruce Campion-Smith reported on the issue, former NDP MP Pat Martin made a point that still stands: “To have an administrative assistant for the rest of your natural born days should not be part of the compensation package for anyone.” Indeed.

That isn’t to say former governors general shouldn’t be able to claim some administrative expenses for a few years after their appointment ends – on top of their generous pensions (Clarkson’s is $143,816 a year).

After all, as Babin Dufresne explained, they are “regularly solicited to support various causes, take part in important events and undertake official activities.”

There is some public benefit in that. But it has its limits – and so should this program.

An editorial from the Toronto Star

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