Misleading and offensive

Dear editor:
Recently, the media has featured some reports concerning the travel and accommodation expenses of members of the Ontario Legislature.
Unfortunately, some of the media coverage left the impression that MPPs do not have to submit expense claims or receipts to substantiate their travel and accommodation expenses.
This is not true. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. I have been an elected member of the Ontario Legislature representing my Northwestern Ontario constituency for almost 11 years, and for all of those 11 years, I have submitted detailed expense claims every month as is required by the Legislative Assembly.
The expense forms show where I have travelled in Ontario, what the purpose of the travel was (whether for legislative business or constituency work), and also all of the relevant associated expenses incurred. Officials in the Legislative Assembly finance office examine the details of those expense claims each month.
Some of the media coverage focused on my MPP travel expenses between Toronto and my constituency in Northwestern Ontario, and compared these to MPPs with constituencies in downtown Toronto, close to the Legislature. Such a comparison is blatantly unfair and misleading. An MPP from downtown Toronto can walk to the Legislature while return airfare for me from Toronto to my constituency is more than $1,200 per trip.
A more valid comparison would be between my constituency travel expenses and the expenses of other MPPs from Northwestern Ontario, e.g. Port Arthur, Fort William, Lake Nipigon, and Kenora. Such a comparison shows that my expenses for travel to and from my constituency were very reasonable.
Some of the media coverage also tries to lump my travel costs as NDP leader together with my expenses to travel to and from my constituency. Such an exercise also is misleading. As leader of the New Democrats, I travelled to numerous communities across the province that are threatened with hospital closures, health and education cutbacks, and the local impacts of “downloading” by the Harris government.
In these times of serious health and education cutbacks, to endeavour to meet with health care workers, patients, teachers, parents, municipal leaders, and community groups is an essential part of an opposition leader’s job.
The travel expenses I incurred in communicating with this province’s people as an opposition leader are very reasonable when you compare them to the $3 million the Harris government has spent to send out three propaganda leaflets to households all across Ontario in the last month alone.
But of all the media reports, what upset me most was not the questioning about expenses, as I believe that elected officials must be accountable to the people of Ontario for any expenses they incur. Rather, it was the misleading accounts of our family expenses, and the insinuation that the MPP for Sudbury East is nothing but an appendage of myself rather than an elected official in her own right, that were most offensive.
For example, some of the media reports combined my travel and accommodation expenses as an MPP and NDP leader with the travel and accommodation expenses of the MPP for Sudbury East. While the MPP for Sudbury East is my wife, she is the elected representative of a constituency that is 1,000 km away from mine, and has her own very legitimate expenses for travel between Sudbury and Toronto and for her accommodation in Toronto.
As an MPP, she has the responsibility to deal with all of the demands of the job for her constituents.
The media would never try to combine the travel expenses and accommodation costs of two male MPPs who share accommodations so why such a test for the MPP for Sudbury East? As a matter of fact, if you compare the travel and accommodation expenses of the member for Sudbury East with other MPPs from Northern Ontario, e.g. Algoma Manitoulin, Timiskaming, or Sudbury, you will find the member for Sudbury East has the lowest expenses of all.
Finally, I would be willing to sit down with anyone who wants to examine my expenses in detail, both as an ordinary MPP and as a party leader.
I also would be willing to welcome reporters to my apartment in Toronto to show them first-hand how two people handle the challenging work of being members of the Legislature while being parents of two small children.
Sincerely yours,
Howard Hampton
NDP leader and local MPP