17 December 2007

Tom's ongoing expense claim travails

rideout toque
The Telegram's ongoing investigation into spending at the House of Assembly turned up another tidbit on deputy premier Tom Rideout, right, in Sunday's edition.

That's right on the heels of another expense claim story the Telly ran on Saturday starring Rideout.

Between 2004 and the middle of 2006, Rideout claimed travel outside his district of Lewisporte mostly to the west coast and to Baie Verte. in itself, that isn't unusual.

Members of the legislature will travel to parts of the province than their constituency on legitimate constituency business from time to time.  Some will do it quite a bit for legitimate reasons.

There are a couple of odd things about the travel Rideout claimed:

1.   Distances/costs don't match:  Rideout has a pretty simple explanation and apparently a standard charge for travel on a circuit.  You can see it set out with the same destinations and the same totals.

-  Except that Rideout's explanation covers a total bill of 1,050 kilometres per trip not the 3,000 plus billed per trip.

-  Except too that the one charge where the route would have been longer, the total claimed was less. That's the one that included a side trip to Bay de Verde, not the usual Baie Verte. The trip still took Rideout to Corner Brook.

2.  Odd claims:  The one in April 2006 where the information doesn't seem to add up/match up to the claim.

3.  Trips to Baie Verte. It's more than a bit unusual that Rideout found so much constituency business in his old neck of the woods.  After all, the guy is from Fleur de Lys and represented the Baie Verte-White Bay district from 1975 to 1991. Odd that he'd find so many trips to the Baie Verte peninsula and - if the Telly actually got all the claims for the period between 2004 and 2007 - nowhere else.

Now this travel and housing situation is most emphatically not a case of Rideout having some sort of special arrangement just like one that supposedly applied to Oliver Langdon. That argument offered by Kevin Aylward's former executive assistant misses the substance of the matter in order to come to a convenient conclusion in one example, and to a simplistic view in the second kick at it; namely things are so much better now that there are rules for everyone to follow.

Things have changed from the way they used to be. Yes, the house management committee meets in public whereas the one didn't let cameras in the room.

But one would be naive in the extreme or engaged in an effort to mislead the public if one tried to argue that, for example, the members of the committee didn't come to agreements on issues facing the committee before they get to the meeting.  The three government members of the commission surely met privately in advance of the most recent meeting and came to an agreement on how to respond to opposition party demands for more resources.  How else can one explain the similarity in their responses? 

In this specific case, though we have something else. Rideout's housing expenses clearly flouted the rules, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, despite the efforts to say otherwise, there were rules and guidelines before 2007 for expenses in the House of Assembly.

Rideout knew the rules or ought to have known them. After all, he sat on the House management committee that set the rules.  He sat next to Kevin Aylward, incidentally, the year that the committee approved the infamous rules that blocked Beth Marshall from auditing the legislature's books.

Rideout's travel, though, is another matter.  The same rules that applied to Oliver Langdon and Tom Rideout applied to every member of the legislature equally, like say Kevin Aylward. If Oliver and Tom didn't have to submit detailed claims for travel, Kevin didn't either.  There were no special arrangements on travel, at least as they have come to light so far.

In general, we can establish that it was acceptable for members of the legislature to claim expenses for constituency work done outside the specific district the member represented. Yet there are some curiosities in the Rideout claims, some variance from what one would expect to see in the claims to warrant some further digging. 

If the travel claims were all that turned up on Rideout, then the people of Newfoundland and Labrador would have nothing much to ponder.  There are so many questionable expense claims, though - large donations using public cash, holding donations from one fiscal year to the other, donating half his expense amount in a given fiscal year, renting a house from his district association vice president  - to warrant a more thorough review. 
Incidentally, Rideout's bravado - of the "I marched right down there and sorted this arrangement out myself" variety - doesn't really wash, heck it raises even more concerns.

You see, not only is Rideout a former premier and former opposition leader, he is today the deputy premier and the government house leader.  By any estimate, he is the senior government official on the House management committee overseeing how the rules are to be implemented.  he holds some of the most powerful and influential positions in the legislature and in the administration.

The range of questionable claims coupled with Rideout's apparent indifference to how serious the issues involved are suggest that Rideout is not up to the demands of the jobs he holds.  At the very least, Rideout ought to step down - or be removed - until a more thorough review of the matter can be conducted by an impartial third party.

After all, how can he sit in judgment of others with so many questions swirling around his own actions?


The Telegram
16 December 2007
Rideout defends travel claims
Deputy premier filed constituency charges outside home district
Jamie Baker; Rob Antle
Deputy premier Tom Rideout charged his taxpayer-funded constituency allowance with more than a dozen trips to the west coastin a 20-month period from 2004 to 2006, even though he represented the central Newfoundland district of Lewisporte at the time.
"My understanding of constituency allowance is that if I was invited to attend some function or be in some place as an MHA, then it didn't matter what district I represented - it would be a charge to my constituency allowance," Rideout told The Telegram.
"If I was invited to go to Baie Verte to take in their summer festival, if I chose to attend, that was a charge against the constituency allowance for Lewisporte."
At least eight of the trips took Rideout to Baie Verte, where he ran in the Oct. 9 provincial election.
Rideout stressed that there was no political aspect to those visits.
"Absolutely not. One was in October 2004 and I didn't run downthere until October 2007. (Then-Tory MHA) Paul Shelley was still the member when those expenses were charged, so I had no idea that Paul Shelley would have been resigning."
The MHA said there was no line on old expense claims for identifying the purpose of a trip.
After first being contacted by The Telegram, he matched up expense claims and his schedule. Rideout said he has explanationsfor all of the trips save two, but expects to have those shortly.
The purposes for those trips included:
Attending funerals;
Going to meetings in Corner Brook related to forestry matters,because the forestry office for the Lewisporte area is in Corner Brook;
Driving to Deer Lake from Lewisporte to catch flights to otherlocations for government business;
Some "co-mingling" of expenses with ministerial business. Rideout said he claimed mileage from Lewisporte and charged it to his constituency account and tagged airfare to ministerial meetings to his department's budget.
Rideout said he also attended Hockey Day in Canada in Stephenville on Jan. 7, 2006, because of local ties to the event.
The west coast trip claims abruptly stopped after Ed Byrne wasfired from cabinet in June 2006.
Byrne was the first casualty of Auditor General John Noseworthy's review of MHA constituency allowance spending.
But Rideout said there was no directive sent out to rein in out-of-district spending at the time.
"I don't recall that being the case," the deputy premier said."I don't think we were ever told that. I think that would be coincidental. I think in my case, you know, from the middle of 2006 on, if you were to look at my ministerial travel, I thinkyou would see I still had west coast travel but it would be easily defined as ministerial."
He cited an August aboriginal women's function as such an example.
Mileage claims
Most of Rideout's mileage claims were for set amounts that appeared to exceed the actual point-to-point distance.
For his west coast trips from the capital city, with a stop inhis district, Rideout generally claimed 3,086 kilometres - just about enough to drive from St. John's to Moncton, N.B., and back.
Rideout said most of his claims contained a good deal of "in-district" travel.
"I think I always put in a standard from St. John's to Lewisporte plus in-district travel of 1,050 kilometres," Rideout noted. "From St. John's to Lewisporte is about a four-hour drive (each way). In-district, if you're out there a few days, it's not much trouble to put a couple of hundred kilometres on goingfrom Lewisporte, Norris Arm, Birchy Bay to Boyd's Cove or whatever.
"The district one we used (was) pretty much a standard going back to 1999, and there was never any question by anybody who we submitted our claims to (at) the House of Assembly on that mileage standard."
On Saturday, The Telegram reported that Rideout spent $23,000 out of his constituency allowance to rent a house in Lewisporte from a local Tory party organizer for a 2-1/2 year period between late 2004 and early 2007.
House rules in effect at the time prohibited MHAs from charging taxpayers the cost of renting a home or apartment in their district - no matter who they rented it from.
Rideout justified the claims by saying his Lewisporte rental home contained an office - even though he also operated a rent-free constituency office in a government-owned building less than a kilometre down the road.
MHAs were permitted to claim a per diem of $53 without receipts for accommodations whenever they visited their constituency.
Rideout charged both - a monthly house rental of between $750 and $850, and $53 each day he stayed in Lewisporte.
He said he had permission to do so. But officials at the legislature told The Telegram they were unaware of the arrangement,and will address the issue with Rideout.
The Telegram obtained Rideout's constituency allowance claims for three fiscal years - 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07 - under the province's access-to-information laws.
jbaker@thetelegram.com rantle@thetelegram.com
Deputy Premier Tom Rideout represented the central Newfoundland district of Lewisporte between 1999 and October 2007.
But over a 20-month period - from October 2004 through June 2006 - Rideout charged his taxpayer-funded constituency allowance for more than a dozen trips to Corner Brook, Deer Lake and Baie Verte.
Those journeys took him hundreds of kilometres west of his district's boundaries.
Here is a listing of those trips:
Oct. 8-14, 2004 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Baie Verte-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Mileage claim: $972.09.
Dec. 30, 2004 to Jan. 9, 2005 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Baie Verte-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Mileage claim: $972.09.
March 23-31, 2005 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Baie Verte-Corner Brook-Baie Verte-Lewisporte, plus in-district travel. Mileage claim: $972.09.
May 26 to June 6, 2005 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Corner Brook-Baie Verte-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Mileage claim: $972.09.
June 10-12, 2005 - 980 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Corner Brook,plus in-district travel. June 17-19, 2005 - 860 km. Corner Brook-Lewisporte-Corner Brook, plus in-district travel. June 28-29, 2005 - 980 km. Corner Brook-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Total - 2,820 km. Mileage claim: $888.30.
July 7-26, 2005 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Grand-Falls-Windsor-Baie Verte-Corner Brook-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Total claim: $972.09.
Aug. 18-29, 2005 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Corner Brook-Baie Verte-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Mileage claim: $972.09.
Oct. 4-10, 2005 - 2,465 km. St. John's-Bay de Verde-Lewisporte- Corner Brook-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel.Mileage claim: $876.48.
Dec. 23, 2005 to Jan. 8, 2006 - 3,240 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Corner Brook-Lewisporte-Baie Verte-Corner Brook-Stephenville-Corner Brook-Lewisporte-St. John's. Mileage claim: $1,098.36.
Jan. 1-2, 2006 - flight from Deer Lake-St. John's-Deer Lake toattend a funeral. Total claim: $618.87.
April 12, 2006 - flight from St. John's to Deer Lake. Airfare travel claim: $423.97. Avis car rental, April 12-14, 2006. Total distance driven: 496 km. Rental claim: $148.04. This distance is not enough to take him to his district and back; there were also claims for a CanadianTire gas bar in Corner Brook, and the Baie Vista Inn in Baie Verte during the same time frame.
May 4-7, 2006 - flight from St. John's to Deer Lake to St. John's.
Airfare travel claim: $847.95. Avis car rental, May 4-7. Totalkilometres driven, 360 km. Rental claim: $222.07. This was notfor travel to his district; there is also a Holiday Inn chargein Stephenville for May 5-6. Hotel claim: $227.70.
June 1, 2006 - flight from St. John's to Deer Lake. June 7, 2006 - flight from Gander to St. John's. Airfare travel claim: $729.01. Avis car rental, Deer Lake to Gander. Rental cost: $675.41. Rideout also spent time in Corner Brook on this trip; there is a Canadian Tire gas bar receipt included in this time frame, although the exact date is illegible.
June 16-19, 2006 - Avis car rental, Deer Lake. 1,011 km. Rental cost: $222.07.
On June 21, 2006, Premier Danny Williams turfed Natural Resources Minister Ed Byrne from cabinet after the auditor general questioned Byrne's constituency claims.
There is only one subsequent claim made by Rideout for travel to or from the west coast - a July 6, 2006 flight to St. John's from Deer Lake for an emergency meeting of the Internal Economy Commission. That travel claim was specifically approved bythen-House Speaker Harvey Hodder.
Source: House of Assembly constituency allowance claims filed by MHA
Tom Rideout for fiscal years 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07.