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Lunney claims the highest expenses among Island MPs

Nov 12 2011

Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney spent more than $162,000 on travel, meals and accommodation in the last fiscal year, more than any of his five Vancouver Island colleagues, government documents show.

The Conservative MP charged taxpayers $162,121 under member's travel - which includes $25,850 for accommodation and meals - for the year ending March 2011.

"I don't feel I have anything to apologize for on my expenses," Lunney said. "We're working on austerity measures here. I'm not booking business cabin all the time now."

Lunney's member travel expenses were tens of thousands of dollars above those of his colleagues. Driving up his costs, Lunney's wife, Helen, visits Ottawa about once a month, he said. She volunteers while there. Members are allowed to claim the expenses of dependents.

"And I'm back and forth every chance I get because the people I represent are out here," said Lunney, from Nanaimo.

By contrast, former Liberal Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Keith Martin, in his last year in office, maintained his reputation for having the lowest travel expenses of any member of Parliament on the Island.

Martin's travel budget cost taxpayers $71,750 - including $24,722 in per diem expenses which includes accommodation and meals. All six MPs spent between $23,000 and $26,000 on per diem expenses.

"I had the lowest or amongst the lowest travel expenses amongst MPs west of Ontario for 17 years by booking low-fare, economy-class tickets instead of business-class tickets," Martin said.

However, Martin racked up the second highest cost of the six Island MPs for employee salaries and service contracts.

Martin charged taxpayers $257,819 for employee salaries and service contracts. NanaimoCowichan NDP Jean Crowder spent the most at $259,583.

Members determine the salary for their employees up to the annual maximum salary limit, which was $80,900 in fiscal year 2010-2011.

"I hire good people to do great work and I believe they deserve to be paid fairly in order to be able to take care of themselves and their families," said Martin.

Gary Lunn, then minister of state for sport during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, racked up the highest hospitality and events budget at $5,683, followed by Martin at $4,487.

For the overall member expenditures - including everything that falls under the categories of employee salaries and service contracts, travel, hospitality, advertising, printing and offices - Lunney again had the highest tab of the six Island MPs at $512,238. Martin's was the lowest at $409,842.

The overall individual member's expenditures were released in the federal government's public accounts last week.

Lunney said he has brought his expenses down from the 2009-2010 report when he placed in the top five for highest travel expenses among B.C.'s 36 members. In 2010-2011, he is ranked No. 13.

"I used to book business but I don't [as much] anymore and that's reflected in my costs this year," Lunney said. "No one wants to be No. 1. ... Canada is going through austere times and we're all tightening our belts."

Crowder had the highest expenses by far, under her travel budget, for employee travel. She racked up $22,002, followed by Savoie at $14,131.

Savoie, deputy speaker, said she had a lot of staff turnover this year and last. For example, this past week her legislative and communications assistant in Ottawa flew to Victoria to better understand the region, she said.

Savoie said she too books business class less often now and, instead, tries to obtain such seating through complementary upgrades for frequent flyers.

"I really feel it is important to stay in touch with people in your riding and be accessible and I've tried to do that," Savoie said.

The Victoria MP said she's happy to discuss her expenses with anyone who has questions. "I don't feel there's anything to hide."

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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