In recent days, when not fighting off allegations of voter fraud among other issues, Mr. Flaherty and the Harper Government have been telling Canadians to brace themselves for a tough budget as the government attempts to control their overspending habits, actions that are long overdue. In light of that, I thought that it was time to take a look at how much the man who is going to ask Canadians to make sacrifices for our future fiscal security, Mr. James Flaherty, costs Canadian taxpayers and whether he has shown some restraint in how many of our tax dollars he consumes.
Mr. Flaherty was first elected to the House of Commons on January 23rd, 2006 and has won three elections since that time. He represents the Whitby-Oshawa riding, located east of Toronto. He was appointed Minister of Finance during his first term in Ottawa by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a position that he has held since that time.
Let's start by looking at Mr. Flaherty's travel and hospitality expenses as Minister of Finance from December 2, 2010 to December 1, 2011 as proactively disclosed on the government's Department of Finance website:
You'll notice that Mr. Flaherty spent just under $100,000 for Ministerial travel during the one year period, down from the previous two years as you'll note in the next paragraph. He spent $76,534.13 on airfares alone, $13,960.12 on hotels and $5,647.17 on meals and incidentals. A couple of airfares standout; a fare of $5411.46 to fly from Ottawa to Regina, Kamloops and Vancouver and an airfare of $4833.55 from Ottawa to Calgary. As well, a one night stay in New York City set taxpayers back $566.80 and three nights in Marseille, France cost us $2050.02 or an average of $683 per night.
On top of his travel budget, Mr. Flaherty has spent additional $2200 in Canadians' tax dollars on "hospitality" including lunches with MPs (hey, bring a brown bag to work people!), working dinners etc as shown here:
If we look back to the 2009 - 2010 time period, over the December to December timeframe, Mr. Flaherty spent $145,278.59 on travel expenses alone and during the 2008 - 2009 time period, he spent $109,784.74, again, on travel expenses. In the past three years or just under half of his tenure as Finance Minister, Mr. Flaherty's Ministerial travel budget has totalled $354,954.31 or roughly 7 times the median annual Canadian household after tax income.
As far as government travel goes, in the 2009 Budget, the government instituted rules regarding the use of business class travel for all government staff as shown in this extract from Chapter 4 - Fiscal Outlook:
"As indicated in the Economic and Fiscal Statement, the Government will take a number of actions to limit discretionary spending by departments and agencies. Specifically, departments will be asked to freeze spending on travel, conferences and hospitality at 2008–09 levels for the next two years. Where possible, departments will be encouraged to explore less costly options, such as teleconferencing, and business class travel will no longer be allowed on any flight that is less than two hours for ministers, their staff and senior public servants."(my bold)
It's beyond me why, despite the above-noted directive, Canada's Ministers seem to spend extravagant amounts on airfares. Certainly, they want to arrive well-rested when flying overseas; here's an idea, why not fly one day earlier? An extra night in a hotel room is a lot cheaper than a business class ticket. As well, the government should mandate that all flights within North America must be in "cattle class" and should be booked well in advance, particularly since meetings with any Minister are rarely spur-of-the-moment, so advance booking savings should be in effect. This is an increasingly common practice in the corporate world. There is absolutely no need to spend $4833.55 to fly from Ottawa to Calgary and back. But, in Mr. Flaherty's defence, why conserve cash when it's not yours!
As we all know, each of Canada's 308 MPs are allotted money to cover the expenses of running a constituency office. Here is a screen capture showing Mr. Flaherty's MP office expenses for the period from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011:
Mr. Flaherty spent a total of $421,432.47 during the fiscal year. His MP travel expenses for himself and other designated non-employees totalled $33,777.70 for the year (keep in mind that his constituency is in Toronto) and he spent $20,188.01 of taxpayers' money on his accommodation and per diem for his residence in Ottawa, an average of $1682.33 per month. He also spent a total of $18,173.40 on ten percenters, those little white sheets of quickly recycled partisan propaganda that the Harper government was so fond of sending to Canadian households in an attempt to brainwash us.
Let's go back one year and see how much Mr. Flaherty spent in 2009 - 2010 to see if he reduced his expenditures compared to what he spent one year later:
Mr. Flaherty's total MP expenditures in 2009 - 2010 were $454,154.65 meaning that he actually reduced his spending in 2010 - 2011 by $32,722.18 or 7.2 percent. That said, in 2009 - 2010, Mr. Flaherty wasted another $28,417.14 on ten percenters bringing his total spent to $46,590.54 on merde in just two short years. That should be a personal embarrassment to a man that is preaching austerity. As well, Mr. Flaherty spent $25,468.00 on accommodations and per diem expenses while in Ottawa, an average of $2122.33 per month. His MP travel expenses which basically cover his costs for travelling between his riding (east of Toronto) and Ottawa for himself and designated travellers was a staggering $46,118.35 or $886.89 per week. Please keep in mind that this does not include his travel expenses as Minister of Finance.
In 2011, Mr. Flaherty enjoyed a base salary of $157,731 plus an additional $75,516 because of his position as a Minister for a grand total of $233,247. He also gets an annual car allowance of $2,122. Please note that this has been his compensation level for both 2009 and 2010 as well.
As I noted in my posting on Mr. John Baird, the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation has released a report entitled "CTF Report on MP Pensions: A Taxpayer's Indictment". In that report, the CTF has calculated that Mr. Flaherty is due to receive the following pension for his rather insubstantial years of service to Canadians (see the bottom of the capture):
If Mr. Flaherty hangs on until 2015, he collects $68,098 annually and if he can hold out until 2019, he collects an annual pension of $96,107. Basically, for 9 years of service in 2015, Mr. Flaherty collects $68,098 for the rest of his life. Remember that MP pensions start at age 55 and are fully linked to increases in the Consumer Price Index. As well, for every dollar that MPs contribute to their own pension, Canadian taxpayers have contributed $23.30 (you are most welcome, Mr. Flaherty). In case you weren't aware, Mr. Flaherty was born on December 30th, 1949 so he is eligible to collect his MP pension as soon as he leaves Parliament. Let's just think of it as a gold-plated thank you from Canadian taxpayers.
It will be interesting to see if Mr. Harper makes at least some sort of hollow gesture to reduce MP expenses by at least as much as he is reducing the across-the-board budget. Unfortunately, such cuts, if indeed they took place, would be meaningless in the grand scheme of things since Mr. Harper will be foisting an additional 30 MPs on Canadian taxpayers, a move that will cost us all an additional $18.2 million annually FOREVER according to the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation!