Penticton MLA willingly shares expense info

Penticton MLA Dan Ashton is trying to set the tone for collegues, promising to release the expenses for his constituency office.

Settling in to his new work as Penticton MLA, Dan Ashton is trying to set the tone for collegues, promising to release the expenses for his constituency office on a monthly basis.

“I really think it’s important. I think it should be followed by everybody,” said Ashton, explaining that he is accepting a challenge from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to make monthly financial information for his constituency office expenses available to the public.

“The office expenses, wages, what it costs to run an office, it will all be listed out. Here it is so people can see. It’s their dollars,” said Ashton, adding that the legislature overall is working in the same direction.

With a new office and staff, he felt it would be easy to establish a monthly reporting system.

“We’re brand new so it is very easy for us to start,” said Ashton, who caused a minor stir among other liberal candidates during the election, when he promised to pay the costs, up to $35,000, for a municipal byelection to replace him as mayor.

That promise is still good, he said, and he will be paying up “the minute the bill comes from the city” after the Sept. 7 byelection.

“I am assuming in September or October, I will be hearing from the city and make my way over there,” said Ashton, who is finding himself a busy man these days.

One of the biggest differences in moving from mayor to MLA, he said, is the number of people that come through his office doors.

“It’s because you represent so many agencies, that’s the difference,” said Ashton, on a break from the B.C. legislature, where he also has a lot on his agenda.

In addition to being named parliamentary secretary to the minister responsible for core review, Ashton sits on the treasury board and chairs the finance and government services committee, which will travel the province to gather input in advance of the 2014 provincial budget.

“It’s kind of like drinking from the fire hose to start. It was a full on, full court press,” said Ashton, adding that he had a big learning curve, heading straight from the election into the legislature to pass the budget.

The size of the legislature has taken getting used to, both in terms of physical space and people.

“You miss the people. It’s a big entity, the provincial government, going from a city or a regional district, where you literally know everyone on a first name basis,” said Ashton.

And while he has no problem finding his new digs in Penticton, Ashton admits it’s not  as easy in the B.C. legislature buildings.

“I still get turned around in the legislature,” said Ashton. At home in his riding though, he chose a familiar space, taking over retired MLA Bill Barisoff’s offices on Riverside Drive.

But while the location and the furniture are the same, Ashton indulged his love of hockey and asked local artist Glenn Clark if he would like to provide some of the decor, in his paintings of the 1955 World champion Vees.

“Glen’s a great artist and I am proud to be able to represent someone from Penticton here,” said Ashton. But though the art is new, the familiar office comes with memories as well.

“I do have the ghost of Mr. Barisoff looking over my shoulder,” said Ashton. He sometimes finds himself asking how Barisoff would have handled a situation.  “Bill did an incredible job for this area.”

While Ashton considered moving the office to downtown Penticton, he decided that the current location was more accessible for constituents in the Summerland and Peachland areas of the riding, where he also plans to open sub-offices.

Taking over Barisoff’s office meant there was little to do other than negotiate a new four-year lease with the owner.

“So it was a coat of paint, we lightened it up, refurbished it with some new art and inherited the furniture so it was zero cost for the taxpayers,” said Ashton.