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Cookies Yes, Fun Runs No: The Nitty Gritty of Political Expenses in Manitoba

March 14, 2020 8:15 AM | The Canadian Press

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Oatmeal Cookies

Double the oats oatmeal cookies in Concord, N.H. Oct. 28, 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matthew Mead)

WINNIPEG — Manitoba legislature members can have taxpayer-funded cookies at their constituency offices, but they are on their own when it comes to registration fees for some community events, such as fun runs.

Those decisions are contained in a report from the members’ allowances office, which governs what kind of expenses provincial politicians can get covered as part of their duties.

Most expenses are straight-forward — money to rent a constituency office and hire staff.

But some of the finer details are worked out by a commissioner of appeals.

The report shows that in one 2018 case, the commissioner ruled that registration fees for politicians who take part in fundraising runs and similar events should not be covered by taxpayers.

In another case, the commissioner told the office that cookies are eligible costs in constituency offices, where members of the public go for meetings.

“Members’ allowances requested the commissioner’s opinion as to whether cookies could be viewed as a typical office supply,” the report states.

“The intent is to have a package on hand to offer, with a cup of tea or coffee, while meeting with constituents. The commissioner advised that he believed the public would view this as a typical office supply, and therefore it is his view that it would be an eligible expense.”

The commissioner also approved a request in 2017 to cover the cost of a Remembrance Day wreath for a politician who wanted to take part in a Royal Canadian Legion ceremony but had no legions in their own constituency. The unnamed politician went to a ceremony in another area.

“It is a tradition and expectation that members participate in such events. Reimbursement of such an expense does not offend the spirit and intent of the (rules).”

The report, which was tabled in the legislature recently, also shows that a total of $2.2 million in severance allowances was paid out to former politicians between April 2016 and April 2019.

The report provides no details. But under the rules, the bulk of the money would have gone to politicians who were defeated in the 2016 election or who did not seek re-election.

Politicians who retire or are defeated are entitled to one month of severance pay for each year of service, although there is a three-month minimum payout and a 12-month maximum.

The 2016 election saw many longtime politicians defeated as the Progressive Conservatives swept the NDP from office. There were also a couple politicians who retired in the following two years and would have been entitled to severance pay.

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