The committee that oversees House of Commons spending says the Opposition New Democrats owe a “significant” sum for salaries improperly paid to aides who worked out of satellite party offices in Quebec.
That sum will be on top of the $1.17-million in free mailing privileges the board ruled in June was wrongly used by NDP MPs to send almost two million mass partisan mailings to households in 26 ridings.
John Duncan, a Conservative MP and spokesman for the multi-party committee, says the latest dollar figure has yet to be determined, but he expects it to be a “significant number” since the wrongdoing dates back to 2011.
“The rules are clear and it is clear, once again, that the NDP has broken the rules,” Duncan told a news conference on Parliament Hill.
The NDP used parliamentary resources to pay for offices that were not properly authorized, he said, adding Commons administrators are being asked to prepare various options to ensure the recovery of the funds.
NDP whip Nycole Turmel said earlier Tuesday that her colleagues have done nothing wrong. She blames Conservatives and Liberals on the board of internal economy for indulging in a partisan witch hunt against the NDP.
In April, the board changed the rules governing the work of parliamentary staff, deciding that taxpayer-paid employees must not work from offices paid for by political parties. Since then, NDP staff members working for MPs in Quebec have been moved out of party offices and now work either in the constituency office of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair or from home.
The New Democrats contend that the fact the rules were altered at all is a clear indication that nothing prevented staff from working in satellite offices prior to the change.
The NDP have said the House of Commons administration knew the satellite offices’ staff were based outside Ottawa because it had their home addresses and provided them with cellphones with local numbers. The party said the satellite offices in Montreal and Quebec City helped Quebec MPs – who pooled their budgets to pay for the staff – communicate with the public and organize news conferences on parliamentary files.
The Speaker of the Commons, Andrew Scheer, and House administration have contradicted NDP claims that they approved the mailings or the use of MPs’ office budgets to pay staffers in satellite offices. Conservatives and Liberals have pointed to internal correspondence that suggests the NDP told House of Commons officials the staff would be working in Ottawa.
In June, the board ordered $36,000 paid to the House of Commons and $1.13-million to Canada Post for the partisan mailouts. The NDP vowed to challenge the board’s verdict in court.
With reports from Daniel Leblanc and The Canadian Press