Taxpayers spent $121,138 over the past four years on travel expenses for Linda Arnold, wife of North Okanagan-Shuswap Conservative member of Parliament Mel Arnold.
Figures now available on the House of Commons website show Arnold was the fourth-highest spender on “designated traveller” expenses.
And among his parliamentary colleagues from the Okanagan, Arnold was by far the largest spender.
“As a Member of Parliament, all of my expenses are scrutinized by Financial Operations Management, comply with Members Allowances and Services Policies, and have been under budget every year,” Arnold wrote in a brief statement emailed to The Daily Courier.
Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal MP Stephen Fuhr was one of 57 Canadian MPs who did not file any designated traveller expenses over the past term in office.
“I just choose not to use the program,” Fuhr said. “When my son or my partner fly out to Ottawa, I just pay for their travel costs myself.”
Fuhr said he’s not critical of those who do use the program, understanding that it helps to keep families of politicians better connected.
The vast majority of parliamentarians had designated traveller expenses of below $50,000.
Each MP is assigned a specific number of travel points that can be shared with a designated traveller. Often, but not always, the person is a spouse or a family member.
Dan Albas, Conservative MP for the riding that includes part of Kelowna and all of West Kelowna, Peachland and Summerland, had designated traveller claims totalling $9,398.
Richard Cannings, NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay, claimed $12,230 under the program.
In total, $4.5 million was spent on MPs’ designated travel over the past term in office. Todd Doherty, MP for Cariboo-Prince George, had the highest designated traveller expenses of all at $142,236. Of the five top spenders in Canada, four were Conservative and four were from B.C., due in part to the vast travel distance to Ottawa.
Canadian Taxpayers Federation federal director Aaron Wudrick recognizes that MPs who live far away from Ottawa will need to claim greater expenses than those in other nearby destinations to the capital.
“We are OK with there being a spouse/designated person travel allowance,” Wudrick said. “That said, we think MPs should take care not to abuse this expense by, for example, only flying economy class and avoiding last-minute bookings, where possible, which can be very expensive. It shouldn’t be viewed as “open season” on expenses. If an MP’s expenses, on anything, are far out of whack compared to a neighbouring MP, constituents will be right to ask why.”
Arnold provided no explanation as to why his claims under the program are so much higher than other Okanagan parliamentarians.
For his part, Fuhr joked that although he is a pilot and owns his own small plane, he still flies on commercial airlines when he travels back and forth between the Okanagan and Ottawa.
“I do have a little two-seater, but it’s certainly not something I could use to commute to Ottawa with,” Fuhr said. “Flying it, it’s more for stress relief than anything else.”
Following are the five MPs who filed the highest “designated traveller” expenses during the past term: