Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty
Credits: Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)
TORONTO -- Even though it amounted to only really changing a phrase, Government Services Minister John Milloy told us with a suitably grave face Tuesday that they were taking "strong action" to close a "serious loophole" in the rules around the ability of MPPs to expense housing allowances.
Their new Members Accomodation Allowances Act -- crafted after "extensive" consultations with all three parties -- will only allow MPPs to claim a Toronto housing allowance each year if their riding is located more than 50 kilometres away from Queen's Park.
The old rules permitted MPPs to expense their Toronto digs if their principle residence, as well, was more than 50 kilometres away from the Pink Palace on University Ave.
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Even though Milloy insisted, several times, that this new legislation had nothing to do with any attempts by his party to ride on the coattails of the federal PC Senate expense scandal, he just had to mention that "incident" of several months ago with PC MPP Peter Shurman.
Shurman was bumped by PC Leader Tim Hudak from his finance critic job when details emerged the first week of September that he had claimed a housing allowance for two years for renting an apartment in Toronto because his full-time residence is now in Niagara-in-the-Lake.
Although Shurman had not violated any rules, Hudak warned him to pay back the money or lose his finance portfolio. Shurman refused to do so, claiming he'd run the expenses by his party leader.
Milloy kept insisting he wasn't playing politics but managed to mention Shurman's name, at least six times.
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He also said he was "unaware" of any Liberals doing the same thing.
When my colleague Antonella Artuso asked about the fancy Rosedale pile former premier Dalton McGuinty lived in and was reported in 2004 to use his taxpayer-funded housing allowance to help pay for -- suggesting there were others who "massaged" the rules -- Milloy denied knowledge of this and said he believed that situation ended.
Attempting to get back to his agenda -- that is, PCs bad, Liberals squeaky clean -- Milloy then reiterated that this was about "closing a loophole" and ensuring the spirit of the law is not violated anymore.
Bad, bad Mr. Shurman.
And so the mention of McGuinty disappeared like a ghost, much as he has from Queen's Park, leaving this province deeply in debt.
I, however, decided to play sleuth. By the end of Wednesday, I not only found that lovely three-storey pile McGuinty called home for nearly nine years but apparently that "stately renovated detached" home on a "family-friendly dead end street" with its "custom cook's kitchen," a walkout to a deck and yard, five bedrooms and finished basement -- according to a recent real estate listing -- just sold on Sept. 17.
The purchase price was $1.7 million.
The home was bought by the Ontario Liberal party for $995,000 in early 2004 -- meaning they made more than $700,000 on the deal (money which I suspect will be put to good use with an election looming). This year's tax assessment on it is more than $1.4 million.
I did not get any of that information from the newly transparent, open and accountable Liberal government at Queen's Park, mind you.
Christine McMillan, vice-president of communications for the Ontario Liberal party, would not even confirm the house had been sold and did not respond when I requested comment from McGuinty.
She would only say, in an e-mail, that the former premier did not "claim rent or property taxes" on his housing allowance and "not one penny" of legislative assembly funds (in the way of rent) came back to the Ontario Liberal party.
Still, McGuinty did manage to charge taxpayers an average of $11,778 per year, not exactly chump change, for the last five years for his Toronto housing allowance, according to Ontario legislature documents.
Zita Astravas, a spokesman for Premier Kathleen Wynne, told me Wednesday -- via e-mail -- that he was entitled to expense utilities, telephone costs, the use of a cleaning woman, cable TV rental, furniture rental, moving expenses and contents insurance to Ontario taxpayers on top of that free Rosedale house.
While charging this stuff certainly didn't violate any rules, one wonders if this is far more offensive, considering what McGuinty earned and that he had a free house, for heaven's sake.
Or was it just yet another sign of his complete disrespect for taxpayers?
I guess when it comes to paying attention to the "spirit" of the rules, the Liberals feel that doesn't apply to them.
Pretty scary thought.