22 March 2006


Ottawa Ministers' Expense Accounts

Some time ago, a newspaper item stated that all federal cabinet ministers are now required to post their expense accounts online. So I go looking for this information. I go to the Government of Canada website http://canada.gc.ca/main_e.html and look around. There is a Search window. I type in four keywords
cabinet minister expense account
and click on Search. It reports
"2733 documents meet the search criteria".

Number 1 doesn't seem useful. I try the second hit:
2. Guidelines for Ministers' Offices - Part 10 of 19

The Search engine has reported several similar items
"Guidelines for Ministers' Offices - Part (xx) of 19.
All of them lead to an error message.

(Later update:– These error messages were first seen on March 22, 2006. The same result was seen on April 9, 2006, and again on January 25, 2007.)

Still looking for the cabinet ministers' expense accounts online information, I go down the list of items reported by the government search engine. Among the first 100, there are none that lead to any minister's expense account. Abandon that approach.

Go back to the beginning http://canada.gc.ca/main_e.html and try the A to Z Index.

Under E, there is no Expense Account item — nothing between Environment and Exports.

Under M, there is no Minister item — nothing between Milk and Money.

Under C, there is no Cabinet item — the first item is Cable Television.

They say that ministers' expense accounts are available online. Maybe they are, but they are very well hidden.

How do I find them?

I think (although I could be wrong) they post them every quarter or 6 months. Likely with the change in gov't some enterprising gov't worker disconnected the links to the old Minister's expense accounts, and the new ones aren't up yet.
This problem (hidden expense accounts) didn't originate with the change of government after the January 2006 election. The problem existed long before that. In May 2005, I wrote a letter to my MP describing this problem (it was the same then as now), but found that there was nobody in his office who understood the problem. I received a phone call from one of his assistants -- a pleasant, helpful, well-meaning fellow -- who offered to describe to me, over the phone, how to find these expense accounts online. He never quite grasped the real problem, that the navigation design of the government website is impenetrable and needs fixing.
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