What a difference a year makes! As an RM Councillor, at this time last year, I was driving around trying to decide what roads needed to be cut to let the water through so that we didn’t lose large culverts and other infrastructure. Like many other places in the province, my RM was being hammered by Mother Nature for the third time in four years. We are still paying the bills for all of the washed out roads, culverts, bridges and other infrastructure. So it is with great relief to have none of that this spring and at least have our taxpayers know that there will no further infrastructure costs except what normal operations bring.
This is very important because with the transportation tie up of grains and oilseeds, money is going to be a lot harder to come by for many of our ratepayers. If things don’t turn around with the cash flow situation fairly soon, tax collection this fall may be a tough exercise indeed. Municipal government is always the first to feel the pinch.
Speaking of feeling the pinch, it seems that some members of the Sask Party government believe that spending tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money on some private R&R in exotic locations is just fine and dandy (until you get caught). I attended Question Period at the Legislature last Thursday to try and find out what the truth was with the Minister of Social Services’ travel itinerary last June. Question Period was not very enlightening as usual. The NDP Opposition would ask a few good questions and then go off on a tangent to no where. As usual, the Premier would step into the breech because his Ministers can’t handle the questioning and try and save the day for the Sask Party.
The Minister of Social Services by her own admission couldn’t tell anyone exactly what she was doing in Ghana. Supposedly she was speaking at a conference that she had to invite herself to. The one solid admission from the Minister was that she was staying with a “friend”. On her return to Saskatchewan, the Minister and the Cabinet Secretary from Saskatchewan stopped in London, England for four days of expensive hotels, chauffeured limousine services and a $200 lunch with another “friend”.
After all of this has come to light and much pleading of clerical errors, misconceptions on who was paying the bill and the Premier’s office doing a mad scramble there have been commitments made to pay back some of the taxpayers’ money. Why couldn’t the Minister simply stand up in the House on the very first day the revelations came about and simply admit that she had been wrong in using taxpayers’ money for what amounts to a personal holiday? There was a time in Canadian politics when ministerial responsibility actually meant something.
The really troubling part of this whole exercise is the role played by the Cabinet Secretary. This is where there must be a lot of questions asked in my view. Any of the Cabinet Secretaries that I interacted with as an MLA and Cabinet Minister would have told me to go and fly a kite if I had asked them to pick up a $200 lunch bill for a lunch I was having with a “friend”. Why this Minister was being staffed by the Cabinet Secretary is beyond my comprehension as he would have limited working knowledge of that Minister’s portfolio. In my view, he should not have been flying on junkets around the world in any case. I think it is legitimate to ask how many other lunches or favours has this guy picked up for other Cabinet Ministers or members of Wall’s inner circle. My hat does go off to whoever it was in the NDP’s research group that stumbled on to this little gem of taxpayer abuse. Looking at the Cabinet Secretary’s expenses is not the first place that Opposition members would be looking when perusing the province’s budget.
This whole sordid matter points to the need for the reform of our Legislative processes and the need for more transparency in the reporting of travel expenses. We have seen it in the House of Commons with an $18 glass of orange juice for a Federal Minister. We have seen it in the Senate of Canada with Senators racking up huge travel bills that were improper. And now we see it in our own provincial Legislature. The public must have full view of all MLA and ministerial travel and other expenses as a matter of course. Brad Wall promised in 2007 a more open and accountable government. It’s now 2014 Mr. Premier and it’s finally time to live up to your promises rather than scratching like a dog burying a bone to cover up your Minister’s personal holidays on the taxpayer’s credit card.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.