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Andre Ouellet should be under the same rules as the rest of us Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 06 September 2004

Salesmen, executives, business owners, even journalists--we've all done it.

We've all claimed expenses from our employer for business trips, lunches and entertainment.

And there's a very simple rule. Keep your receipts. You have to document the amount and corporate purpose of each expenditure, or get dinged for income tax on what the company paid you.

It's easy to see why. Expenses are mostly tax-free, and companies would soon be paying everyone "expenses" instead of "wages."

So what's the deal with Canada Post's disgraced ex-president Andre Ouellet? Why could he claim $2 million worth of expenses without producing so much as a cab receipt?

Ouellet would just tell the Canada Post accounting staff how much to pay him in expenses, no questions asked. No receipts, no itemized list, no explanation. He called it the "honor system."

Ouellet was one of those freewheeling francophone swashbucklers who took over Ottawa in the 1960s and '70s. Chretien made him chairman of Canada Post in 1996, increasing the salary from $20,000 to $160,000. In 1999 Ouellet became Canada Post's president for $400,000, the highest salary in the federal service.

In addition to getting postal jobs for 83 friends and relatives, and intervening in the awarding of $63 million worth of Canada Post procurement contracts, he billed the corporation about $1,000 a day in expenses.

Maybe these were all legitimate, and didn't just go into some nice home along a Caribbean beach. But that's the point. Nobody knows, because he didn't produce any receipts.

He broke the cardinal rule of expense accounts. He didn't account.

And here's the worst part. Liberal cabinet minister John McCallum says this is none of his affair--even though he's the federal minister responsible (supposedly) for both the Canada Revenue Agency and Canada Post.

Well, he's wrong. It is his business, and he had better deal with it.

Canada has a system of "responsible government," meaning that the Crown (McCallum and the cabinet) must account to our elected representatives (Parliament) for the spending of public money. Canada Post is a crown corporation, and until Ouellet produces verifiable documentation, that $2 million remains our money, not his.

Rot of this sort now pervades large areas of the federal service, and we keep hearing of more. Multi-million-dollar computer programs that don't compute, multi-million-dollar advertising contracts that don't advertise, multi-million-dollar consultants' reports that don't report.

Andre Ouellet's expense claims are a black-and-white, blatant breach of the rules.

People shake their heads and wonder why people in Ottawa treat us like dummies. Take one guess. Because we let them. Instead of standing up and stopping it we tell ourselves it doesn't really matter, there's nothing we can do, we live in an "elected dictatorship," etc.

McCallum's irresponsibility reflects our own, and as soon as enough people speak up instead of just grumbling it will end.

So go on-line at www.smartenup.ca, and from there you can e-mail a signed letter to McCallum, Martin, the opposition leaders, and the heads of Canada Post, the Canada Revenue Agency, and the Privy Council Office.

It takes two minutes and does a lot of good.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
 
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.





 
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