Accommodation allowances for MLAs are still required, even though the legislature is not in session, Nanaimo-area MLAs say.
Figures obtained by the Times Colonist show taxpayers will fork out almost $1 million this year in MLA expenses for rental, mortgage and hotel costs while representatives are in Victoria on official business.
However, Premier Christy Clark's government announced earlier this month that there will be no fall session in the legislature this year, meaning MLAs will only sit in the chamber for a total 36 days.
That has some people raising questions on how the funds will be spent, or even if they are necessary. Speaker Linda Reid told reporters this week that she will be looking into the issue.
Most MLAs are eligible to claim a $1,000 per month capital city living allowance to cover the costs of staying in Victoria while outside their constituencies. However, they do not have to provide receipts to prove how the allowance funds are spent.
MLAs who rent or own property in the capital region can choose to claim up to $19,000, as long as receipts are provided. MLAs who stay in hotels can claim up to $17,000 a year, with receipts.
While some have questioned if representatives should be able to claim housing allowances while the legislature is not in session, Nanaimo MLA and New Democrat Leonard Krog said the governing Liberals are to blame for shuttering the chamber.
But, he said, MLAs still have business in Victoria, such as committee meetings or appointments with ministers that require them to stay in the city, meaning they need to arrange for accommodation.
"The thing is, you can't work on the presumption that there won't be a fall session," Krog said However, he said he also supports measures to ensure MLA expenses are properly disclosed and reviewed.
Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP MLA Doug Routley said MLAs from outside the capital region often need to enter rental agreements or lease agreements for an extended period of time.
"It's not up to us if the Liberal call back the legislature," he said.
"To say that there's no business to be done is absolutely ridiculous," he added.
That MLAs collect housing allowances while the legislature is not sitting "is just one more cost of that decision," he said.
Parksville-Qualicum Liberal MLA Michelle Stilwell backed the government's decision to cancel the fall session, pointing to the May election and a "rare" summer session.
But like Krog and Routley, she said MLAs are still at work and need to travel. She said a select standing committee on finance is touring the province, and she said a core review of the government is also underway.
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