My opinion piece in the Parry Sound North Star Thursday, April 25, 2019
Problem With Archipelago Councillors' Expenses is One of Entitlement
Re: Archipelago councillors expense $88K on hotel rooms, more
Recent comments by one Township of the Archipelago councillor in an effort to ‘come clean’ about their involvement in questionable councillor expenses are troubling. Claiming that Ms. Bissonette’s article was ‘inaccurate and sensational’ is simply misleading and an obvious attempt to downplay the seriousness of the issue. In her article, Ms. Bissonette examined the expenses claimed by a few local municipal councils, and rightfully presented the comparably higher expenses claimed by Township of the Archipelago councillors.
Since this information is on the public record, albeit in the Archipelago’s case some level of search is required to find the expense statements within the council minutes online, I don’t see how the councillor can claim inaccuracy when everyone can cross reference her numbers.
In stating that the article is ‘sensational,’ perhaps the councillor was referencing Ms. Bissonette’s finding, and open revelation, that the majority of Archipelago councillors were expensing alcohol purchases on the taxpayer’s dime. Kudos to her for discovering this, since alcohol is not a separate line item contained in the public expense reports and most likely is absorbed within the accommodations and meals category.
In any event, she should be credited for challenging the council as a whole to ‘come clean’ about their individual alcohol expenses in 2018 (which most of them promptly did), so that these specific expenses could be presented to the taxpayers. Hopefully, these councillor-generated alcohol expenses are accurate.
The question then becomes: should alcohol be a permissible councillor expense? No! Councillors should not be expensing alcohol for themselves, and they should not be expensing it for other people to foster political support. (And they should not accept alcohol ‘gifts’ for fear of perceived later favouritism). I think that the recent Archipelago announcement that alcohol is no longer an acceptable expense indicates that they finally, and perhaps reluctantly, agree.
Why the change? Because Ms. Bissonette’s supposedly ‘inaccurate and sensational’ article brought pressure on them by facilitating public awareness.
We should then also ask a number of questions. How long has this been going on? What is the cumulative cost to the taxpayer if potentially 11 councillors have been consistently expensing alcohol for years? Does the practice go as far back as 1980 when the Archipelago was created? Where is the respect for the people who these councillors are trusted to represent, and what happened to being fiscally responsible in ensuring their tax dollars are properly spent? Were there no councillors present over the years who possessed the personal integrity to understand the inappropriateness of this practice? And how long would it have continued should Ms. Bissonette not written her article?
The problem is one of entitlement. When government thinks that they are unaccountable to the public, those councillors who are without integrity will try to take advantage. Since they would prefer that the public be kept unaware of their activities, they do not want people like Ms. Bissonette investigating and holding them accountable, and they will try to discredit them when they do. (Fake News of course).
Since “the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour,” we would be wise to also ask about the legitimacy of the other expenses claimed by the Archipelago council to ensure that there is not a pattern of inappropriate spending. Are the travel expenses legitimate? Are councillors claiming mileage AFTER they reach their work destination, or are they wrongfully claiming the drive from their residence to council chambers? Are they expensing hotel rooms all year despite being able to stay and drive from their Archipelago residence for at least part of the year? Are their meal expenditures legitimate?
There may be value in requesting more detail in all expense categories to ensure these additional expenses are acceptable, and we should have complete confidence that Ms. Bissonette is very capable in leading that investigation.
Healey Lake cottager,
Township of the Archipelago
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