Mississauga City Council's Expenses Shows Interesting Spending Items

Getting elected to serve on the municipal governing body of Canada’s sixth largest municipality is no longer a part time job. Whereas in generations past it was considered true public service in part because of the low salary that required politicians to have another job to sustain their income, today Mississauga city councillors get paid quite handsomely.

On top of that, they also receive a salary from serving double duty on the Region of Peel council. In some cases, like Mayor Bonnie Crombie and now Ward 10 Councillor Sue McFadden, extra pay comes from serving on bodies like the Peel Police Services Board. With more money at their disposal, you may be perplexed to hear that on top of all that income, they still get a generous office budget to use in their roles as public figures.

The 2016 Expenditure Statement is now available on the Mississauga city website, and it’s an extensive—not to mention expensive—read. From the period starting on January 1 to December 31 of last year, members of council, minus Mayor Crombie, had $314,800 at their disposal for their office expenses, community meetings, and other things they needed money for. While Mayor Crombie spent up to 77 per cent of her budget, which can be justified as she is the head of the city and has numerous functions she has to attend, the next highest spending councillor was Ward 7’s Nando Iannicca (at 84 per cent) and the lowest spender in 2016 was Ward 4 Councillor John Kovac (at 21 per cent).

But what I found intriguing were some of the various items members of council filed expenses for. They range from the mundane to somewhat excessive, but I just want to focus on the ones I found to be rather interesting things to spend taxpayer money on.

Here are some that stood out from the councillors’ expenses in 2016.

Mayor Bonnie Crombie expensed $470.81 to attend two Liberal Party events

Mayor Crombie attended the Liberal Party’s biennial convention in Winnipeg and later in 2016 attended the party’s Ontario chapter’s convention, both times as part of panels of municipal leaders discussing the role of cities in Canada. While mayors or municipal politicians appearing at political party conventions in Canada is not an unusual occurrence, as several other mayors have attended political party conventions as well, what is noticeable is that the fees for both conventions were paid for by Mississauga taxpayers.

You could argue that since Mayor Crombie was there to talk about Mississauga and to discuss municipal governance with her fellow mayors, one can consider that as being city business therefore the use of her office expenses to cover the fees to the Liberal Party were justified. However, the optics of the mayor of Mississauga, who by definition represents all the residents of Mississauga (not just the ones that voted for the Liberal Party), using her office budget in this manner might not pass the smell test for everyone. I doubt the people not inclined to support the Liberal Party would be very happy to hear their municipal tax dollars went to Liberal Party coffers via their mayor.

Mayor Crombie is free to attend political party conventions as she sees fit, whether they be Liberal, Conservative or NDP, whether she’s there on city business or not. But next time, perhaps she should pay for them out of her own pocket.

Ward 7 Councillor Nando Iannicca expensed $9,048 for International Conferences

Aside from Mayor Crombie, most of the other members of Mississauga city council did not file many expenses for conferences. The ones who did attend conferences were those who went because they were somewhat directly related to municipal business (i.e. the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Ontario Good Roads Association, or the International Crime Prevention Symposium).

The only councillor who came close to filing almost $10,000 in expenses for international conferences was Nando Iannicca. He attended the International Institute of Social and Economic Sciences (IISES) in Miami and the World Conservation Conference in Hawaii. Going through his expense reports since 2013, Iannicca has been regularly attending the conference at the IISES for a few years; most of them are in exotic locales like Miami, or Rome, or Venice. During past conversations with Insauga, Iannicca has expressed an admiration for the way the Europeans do things; perhaps a few times a year he likes to go there to unwind and get more interesting best practice ideas?

While it makes sense that he would go to a conference about conservation, as Iannicca currently is the chair of the Credit Valley Conservation Authority (CVC), the other ones don’t seem that much related to the affairs of Mississauga. And no other member of council seems to have expensed as much money other than the mayor to go globe-trotting on the taxpayers’ dime. Perhaps the good councillor should exercise some frugality on this front. But after almost 30 years in office, the voters have kept re-electing Iannicca, spending habits aside. I guess he knows something about the psyche of his voters that the rest of us don’t?

Should Mississauga city councillors use expense accounts to send donations?

I looked at Ward 6 Councillor Ron Starr’s statement and there is an entire section for donations that he marked off as ‘Other Expenses - Sundry” that added up to $1,240. They range from constitutent tributes to donations to the Royal Canadian Legion and the Mississauga Food Bank, both worthwhile initiatives of course. There are also a smattering of other donations scattered throughout the entire expense report for Councillor Starr, and he is not alone. Other members of council have used their expense accounts to provide various charities or other causes with some donations on behalf of Mississauga taxpayers.

This raises a more general question as to whether it is appropriate for city councillors to spend taxpayers money for causes that you, as the public taxpayer, may not necessarily be in favour of. To cite a recent example in Calgary, last week one of their city councillors got his fellow colleagues to narrowly approve $25,000 for Haiti’s reconstruction efforts after the 2010 earthquake (an issue this particular councillor had a deep passion for). One of his colleagues, who voted against the measure, asked why this councillor didn’t just use a crowdfunding campaign to raise money from Calgarians who wanted to make donations of their own accord. For full disclosure, this Calgary councillor spearheading this motion did donate $500 of his own personal funds, so at least he put some up some skin in the game.

I’m not saying anyone on Mississauga council has come close to putting up such a large donation at the expense of taxpayers, but is it still appropriate to use their office expenses for charitable donations when there are more creative ways to raise money? The money they have is from the residents and taxpayers of Mississauga, whom I say again, may not necessarily be in tune with whatever cause a particular councillor feels like donating money to.

Perhaps in the future, if councillors intend to donate money using their office expenses, they should look to doing a minor survey/online consultation to see if he or she could get solid support to do so…before doing so. If not, then the crowdfunding method should be seriously looked at as an alternative.

Ward 5 councillor Carolyn Parrish expensed $137.38 for community improvement item - “Cat Traps”

To start off, if you are unfamiliar with what ‘cat traps’ are, this is a sample video of one at work, doing what it does, trapping a cat.

As Councillor Parrish explained to Insauga via Twitter, Ward 5 has a serious issue regarding the proliferation of feral cats in the community. She says they have volunteers that trap them in special cages, take them to a free vet clinic to be neutered, and then return them in the two part “recovery” cage.

Once the cats get healthy, they are released so they can return to their dens, but that aspect of controlling the population of feral cats gets accomplished. Parrish said the volunteers in Malton are women who perform a valuable service, but they don’t have “hospital” cages and aren’t wealthy despite performing a valuable service. The $137.38 Parrish pitched in goes to buy as many cages as they can afford.

As you can see from the sample video, it’s not exactly a cheap piece of hardware. But still, quite an interesting (and kind of fun?) item to expense for a problem you may not have realized existed in Canada’s sixth largest city.

What is with all the 407 ETR charges??

I never understood why Mississauga city councillors use Highway 407 so frequently. Logically speaking, the only places members of council have to go to mainly are the Civic Centre, the Region of Peel building in Brampton, and a smattering of other locations based on the various roles the councillor is serving in (i.e. Councillor Iannicca’s meetings at the CVC). I highly doubt anyone has to use the 407 to get to Mississauga Civic Centre, and Thursday’s Regional Council meetings are in Brampton. They start around 9 am, and getting up there via the 410 is not that difficult; this comes from someone who drives up the 410 every day.

That means there are a lot of constituent and business meetings councillors go to and they use the 407 to get to them. But let’s remember: the tolls charged to the 407 go into a private consortium; the money does not go back into improving public services. Therefore, Mississauga councillors are paying some foreign company to go about their everyday business.

I’m done…until the 2017 Expense Report comes out.

Follow me on Twitter at @thekantastic

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