A pair of NDP MP frequent flyers say it’s time Parliamentarians looked at online voting to save taxpayers’ dollars.
Peter Julian and Kennedy Stewart say it only makes sense to use technology to trump geography in a country as big as Canada.
“I think it’s something we should consider, absolutely, especially in B.C. – there may be a variety of votes where it could be done using technology and I think we need to think about that,” said Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian.
“Right now, unless I’m in my seat in the House of Commons, I can’t vote on legislation, and in a country as vast and large as Canada, that’s not necessarily the best way to go.”
Julian was reacting to the figures in the recently released House of Commons Members Expenditure Report, which shows Canadian MPs filed over $123 million in expenses in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The report details MPs’ spending on travel, office expenses and other costs.
Julian had the most expenses of the trio of NDP MPs who represent New Westminster and Burnaby, with total expenses of $488,358.07. New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly was next at $446,553.25. Kennedy Stewart from Burnaby-Douglas was third with $441,340.73 in costs. That’s a total of more than $1.376 million in expenses for the three NDP MPs.
A big chunk of those expenses – $360,000 – was spent on travel. Julian was tops in this category among the three MPs, racking up over $126,000 in travel costs. Frequent trips between B.C. and Ottawa traditionally push the travel tab for all the province’s Parliamentarians sky-high.
But Julian said that bill to the taxpayer could be trimmed by using distance technology.
“There are some votes where every MP should be in his or her seat, but there are also some votes where we may be able to use technology,” said Julian.
“It wouldn’t just save on costs – it also makes a lot of sense in other ways.”
Julian said taxpayers would also save on MP housing allowances, living expenses and other costs like per diems. The reduced travel time would allow MPs to go the extra mile for their constituents at home and reduce the stress on their family lives as well.
Julian’s fellow frequent flyer Stewart agreed, saying a Commons Committee should look into ways to hold secure online votes in Parliament.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t have a committee look at it,” said Kennedy. “I think it’s worth looking at.”
Kennedy said MPs should still be required to attend crucial votes likes motions of confidence in the government in person. And making sure distance voting was secure from hacking would be critical.
But Kennedy thinks he might already have slipped the thin edge of the silicon wedge into Parliamentary proceedings. He’s put forward a motion (M-428) to develop rules that would allow online petitions to be submitted to the House of Commons.
“It’s a good test – if the House of Commons is willing to consider a minor change in technology, maybe we can move on to major changes,” he said.
Donnelly was out of the country travelling, but in an email response said he’s willing to spending 10-plus hours on a plane each week while the House sits to stay in touch with his constituents.
“It’s important to stay in touch with my community – just because we’re far away from Ottawa shouldn’t mean that British Columbians shouldn’t have access to their MP,” Donnelly’s email read.
Donnelly also stated that he and his staff work hard to ensure they keep costs down while doing the public’s business.
“For me, this lies in stark contrast to our Senators, who are not elected to represent anyone and yet who cost taxpayers $90 million dollars a year. That’s why the NDP is in favour of abolishing the Senate,” Donnelly wrote in his email.
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