Travel Expenses

During Tuesday’s General Committee Meeting, CBRM council finally decided to scrap its $140/week ($7,280/year) travel allowance (described so regularly as “controversial” you’d be forgiven for thinking that was its official name).

Instead of simply collecting $140 each week no matter how many kilometers they’ve actually traveled, CBRM councilors will now be required to submit mileage claims (which some already do).

CFO Jennifer Campbell’s Issue Paper on the subject included the chart below, showing the policies in 15 municipal units including “all other Cape Breton municipalities, all municipalities whose geographic region exceeds 2,000 km2 (includes the 2 regional municipalities of HRM & Queens), as well as other voluntary respondents of the Association of Municipal Administrators of NS.”

Inverness and East Hants, although they provide a taxable travel allowance similar to the CBRM’s, are not nearly as generous: Inverness councilors get $170/month ($2,040/year) while East Hants councilors are paid bi-weekly “strictly for in-district travel and attendance at Council/Committee meetings.” Individual allowances are set based on the distance each councilor resides from the Municipal Office Building and the maximum yearly allowance is $2,951/year.

In Port Hawkesbury and Bible Hill, where councilors receive no reimbursement for travel, Campbell noted:

All local travel is deemed incidental to the discharge of duties and included in council remuneration/stipend.

Campbell considered the pros and cons of claimed mileage versus travel allowances (processing mileage claims takes more time and resources, travel allowances are inherently unfair because some councilors have much larger districts) before giving council three options:

CBRM travel expense options

Campbell recommended Option 3, which council ultimately adopted, but not before a discussion that included an amazing contribution from District 9 Councilor George MacDonald about the difficulties of submitting mileage claims when you have no idea what is considered an eligible expense.

And speaking of travel expenses, it just so happens I had already written a story about out-of-town expenses when I realized the local travel allowance was on the General Committee agenda, so I’m just going to segue right into it.


Out of towners

In 2017, the Nova Scotia Municipal Government Act (MGA) was amended and the following rules introduced for municipal expense reports:



(1) A municipality shall prepare an expense report for each reportable individual within 90 days of the end of each fiscal quarter.

(2) An expense report must

     (a) be posted on a publicly available website for the municipality; and

     (b) comply with the regulations.

(3) A municipality shall prepare a hospitality expense report within 90 days of the end of each fiscal quarter.

(4) A hospitality expense report must

     (a) comply with the hospitality policy of the municipality;

     (b) be posted on a publicly available website for the municipality; and (c) comply with the regulations.

(5) A municipality shall prepare an annual summary report that complies with any requirements prescribed by the Minister.

(6) A municipality shall file the annual summary report with the Minister by September 30th of each year


Previously in the CBRM, Mayor Cecil Clarke had posted his own expenses on the municipal website, and although it was never done in a particularly timely manner and the details included in the reports left much to be desired, it turns out the mayor’s reports were treasure troves of information compared to the system the CBRM has implemented to comply with the amended MGA.

The municipality now posts the required expense  information on the “datazONE,” the province’s open information portal, and although it should appear within 90 days of the end of the fiscal quarter, it doesn’t. (Whether that’s the fault of the CBRM or the department overseeing the information portal is an open question.)

I checked the portal on Monday, expecting to see July-September travel expense information, but it wasn’t there. I asked the Department of Municipal Affairs if there was any penalty for posting information late and — like magic — the information appeared on the website. (You can see it was updated on Monday 3 February 2020).

Better late than never, I guess.

But the expense reports, as you’ll see, are sadly lacking in detail: we’re given the costs of travel, accommodations, meals and training without any clue as to where the official or staffer traveled or when (other than what month) or why or what kind of training was received.


Into the datazONE

I’ve created two tables — one with January to September expense totals for CBRM’s council, the other for CBRM senior staff. If you prefer to harvest your own data, of course, you’ll find it on the datazONE (yes, that is how it’s spelled).

I also totaled the expenses for each councilor and staffer and turned the numbers into bar graphs so you can see at a glance who the biggest spenders are. (A note on the data: I’ve made charts for January to September 2019, which I’ve called Q1 to Q3 2019, but the municipality would call this Q4 fiscal year 2018-19 and Q1 and Q2 fiscal year 2019-20):

CBRM Council Jan-Sept 2019 Travel Expenses, Source: datazONE

CBRM Council Jan-Sept 2019 Travel Expenses, Source: datazONE

No real surprises there — Mayor Clarke racked up travel expenses worth $26,523.60 or 28% of all council-incurred travel expenses during the first nine months of 2019. Deputy Mayor Ivan Doncaster didn’t do badly either, with total expenses for the period of $16,420.98.

In terms of senior staffers, the mayor’s executive assistant, Mark Bettens, had the highest travel claims at $13,074.09 for the monitored period. This means he had higher travel expenses than any members of council other than the mayor and Doncaster.

There is no way to know if Bettens was traveling with the mayor, because no precise dates are given for any of their trips. For example, Clarke traveled somewhere in January 2019 (presumably by plane, as it cost $1,339.28) as did Bettens (also presumably by plane because his travel expense was a whopping $2,297.12) but there’s no way of knowing if their destination (and dates) were the same. To get that information, I’d have to FOIPOP the CBRM and (most likely) pay for it.

(On the other hand, if the mayor’s executive assistant is traveling without the mayor, it raises a bunch of other questions, like, why is the mayor’s executive assistant traveling without the mayor?)

During the Municipal Climate Change Action Plan (MCCAP) update earlier this month, one citizen participant suggested it was time to curtail business travel in favor of video-conferencing, arguing this could be just as productive as face-to-face meetings. To make such a decision, of course, we’d have to have some sense of what is being accomplished by staff and council in their travels and it’s hard to have that when you don’t know where they’re going or why.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. The MGA sets out minimum requirements for municipal expense reporting, but there’s nothing to stop a municipality from adopting a higher standard. The Town of Yarmouth, for example, seems to have a much better — and more timely — system for reporting expenses.

When I checked the town website on Monday, I found this December 2019 report for Mayor Pam Mood:



If that were our mayor, the data would not be made public until end-March 2020 (at the earliest) and it would not include the date or purpose of the travel, let alone the actual receipt for hotel accommodations, a list of meals consumed and a receipt for the conference registration fee.

The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) seems to have a mixed system: you can look up the expenses for the mayor or any councilor on the Halifax website but the data for the councilors doesn’t seem to have been updated since June 2019. Mayor Mike Savage, on the other hand, has more recent expenses posted:


You’ll note that both mayors report travels to events sponsored by municipal organizations — the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM) Conference in Halifax for Mood and a Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) event in Ottawa for Savage.

One of the chief arguments for these meetings is that they allow municipal leaders to learn from other municipal leaders. I’m sure representatives from the CBRM were also in attendance at that Halifax NSFM Conference (we’ll see the travel claims sometime after March 30).

If only they’d used the opportunity to ask other municipal officials about their travel expense policies.



A note on the following tables: I had to copy the data into excel spreadsheets to do the math and then turn the excel spreadsheets into tables. I have gone over all the figures twice and am quite confident they are correct, but if you find any problems, let me know:


CBRM Council Travel Expenses Q1-Q3 2019

[table id=115 /]



CBRM Senior Staff Travel Expenses Q1-Q3 2019

[table id=117 /]