For the first time ever, the provincial government has released MLA travel expenses. The expenses released are for the first six months of this fiscal year, April 1 to September 30, 2012.
The biggest spender was New Democrat Robin Austin (Skeena), who billed $53,606 during the period, followed by Liberal Bill Barisoff (Penticton), the speaker of the house, whose expenses were $46,410, and Norm MacDonald, Columbia River Revelstoke, who billed $45,332.
MLA Bill Bennett, from Kootenay East just to the south, billed $26,800 in travel expenses. Katrine Conroy, Kootenay West, billed $30,482.
Macdonald says his travel expenses are high due to a number of reasons, one of them being the location and size of the Columbia River Revelstoke riding.
“Golden is about as far away from Victoria as you can get; there is no airport near, so any trip to Victoria involves driving as well. It’s a huge riding, five and a half hours to cross by car and obviously you want to visit as many residents as possible.”
Macdonald also travels as the NDP Forestry critic to many meetings and industry events.
“Right up until August 15, I was on the Forestry Committee which visited many communities across the province. I travelled from the end of the session all they way through.”
Macdonald explained that the actual committee travel is not charged to the MLA’s individual travel expenses, but the travel to the starting point did.
For instance, he said, most trips began in Vancouver, but Macdonald had to get from Golden to Vancouver.
“There is not a lot of consistency on the way expenses are listed,” he said. “For instance, when is a Minister a Minister, and when is he or she acting as an MLA? Those expenses are reported differently.”
However, Macdonald says, given the huge expense of moving a committee around the province, committee recommendations should be given more than a cursory glance.
“It means that committee work like that of the Forestry Committee has to go somewhere, which it hasn’t yet. At such a cost, recommendations must be acted upon.”