Eight Ontario Progressive Conservative MPPs received allowances from their riding associations over the past four years for a variety of expenses including child care, entertainment and vehicle costs, raising new questions about how the party spends donations and taxpayer subsidies.
After the issue was first raised by the Ontario NDP, Global News combed through publicly available Elections Ontario data looking into the expenses incurred by all 124 sitting MPPs and discovered tens of thousands of payments made to select politicians between 2018 and 2021 that fell outside of the routine expenses claimed by riding associations.
While the vast majority of riding associations typically expensed items related to community events, personal protective equipment and even iPads for long-term care homes, eight PC MPPs received money for housing, meals and entertainment, according to the Elections Ontario filings, and some received an “MPP allowance” on top of their tax-payer funded salaries.
In a statement to Global News, the PC party defended the allowances given to all MPPs, but did not answer questions about the ethical nature of the expenditures or whether the members would be expected to pay back the funds.
“All riding association expenses are approved by the local riding association executive, audited by a licensed auditor, and all audited financial statements are reviewed and approved by Elections Ontario,” said campaign spokesperson Ivana Yelich.
Topping the list is Lisa Macleod, MPP for the riding of Nepean, who served as the former minister of Children, Community and Social Service and Tourism Culture and Sport earning a salary of $165,851 in 2021.
According to constituency association annual return filings made publicly available on the Elections Ontario website, MacLeod first received an “expense allowance” in 2017 along with a housing allowance of more than $12,000. Macleod then received $18,200 for “MPP expenses and allowance” in 2018, another $16,727 for “MPP housing/exp allowance” in 2019, and $9,500 for “MPP allowance” in 2020 from the association.
Mississauga East-Cooksville candidate Kaleed Rasheed, who served as the Associate Minister of Digital Government, was given a total of $23,000 in allowances from the PC riding association bank account.
According to public filings with Elections Ontario, Rasheed received $11,000 in 2019 and $12,000 in 2020 from the riding association while, at the same time, being paid more than $130,000 as an MPP and as chair of a legislative committee. The payments are simply listed as “MPP allowance” with no further breakdown of how those funds were used.
Another cabinet minister, Greg Rickford from the Kenora Rainy-River riding, expensed a total of $14,640 since 2019 that the riding association listed as “MPP expense allowance” and “MPP car allowance.”
Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin received an “MPP allowance” in 2019 and 2020 totaling $6,500, while Mississauga-Lakeshore MPP Rudy Cuzzetto was given a total of $5,631 since 2019 under a line item called “MPP expenses.”
Belinda Karahalios, who represented the Ontario PCs in Cambridge until 2020 when she was removed from the party by Doug Ford, was paid $1,139 by the riding association in 2019 for “MPP child care expenses.”
Among the eight PC MPPs, the biggest spender was Don Valley North’s Vincent Ke who charged the riding association $54,717 since 2018 on a range of expenses including nearly $30,000 in 2018 on “meals, food and drink,” another $12,000 in 2019 on “meals and entertainment” and more than $13,000 since 2018 on gas, parking and auto-related expenses.
Duff Conacher, founder of Democracy Watch, told Global News while provincial legislation allows riding associations to approve expenses for Ontario MPPs the payments don’t pass the smell test.
“MPPs have salaries that are in the top 10 per cent, earning more than 90 per cent of voters in Ontario and this is an obscure, secretive way of giving them more money,” Conacher said. “I don’t think donors donate to parties to have their money passed on to wealthy politicians.”
Conacher said, in comparison, members of Parliament are bound by ethics rules that forbid them from receiving top-up from riding associations — a rule he believes should extend to their provincial counterparts as well.
“MPPs have travel allowances and housing allowances if they’re outside of Toronto and that’s part of their pay, but to have another allowance on top of that is prohibited at the federal level and it should be prohibited in Ontario as well.”