A Toronto-area Progressive Conservative MPP whose riding is a half-hour drive from the legislature is billing taxpayers for his second residence.
Last year, Tory finance critic Peter Shurman claimed $20,719, the maximum permitted, from a housing allowance that was set up to help representatives of far-flung constituencies pay for accommodation in Toronto. Mr. Shurman received the funds because he claims a home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. – about 150 kilometres away from his riding – as his primary residence. He uses the money to help pay rent on his Toronto apartment.
The move is permitted under provincial rules, which allow any MPP who lives more than 50 kilometres from the “seat of government” – the legislature – to receive the money. The law does not specify that the MPP must live in his or her riding. But Mr. Shurman appears to be the only MPP with a constituency inside the 50-kilometre radius using the money for a second home.
In an interview, Mr. Shurman said he bought the house in Niagara because he needs somewhere to retire. Asked why he decided to use it to charge the government for expenses, Mr. Shurman said he could not pay for two residences without assistance.
“Frankly, on the basis of … how we’re paid at the legislature, I can’t afford two houses,” he said in an interview. “I make $112,500 a year. Some people think that’s a lot of money. To do what I have to do, or any MPP has to do, it’s not very much at all.”
Mr. Shurman and his wife bought the house in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2008 for $660,000. He said they initially rented it out. When the tenants’ lease expired, he had it renovated and began spending time there. This summer, he said, he was there more than he was in Toronto.
He said he does not live in his constituency, suburban Thornhill, because his wife’s eyesight is poor and she is unable to drive. He said he previously lived in the area for 20 years and remains connected to it.
“I’ve served my constituents wonderfully, as evidenced by two re-elections, and I’m quite confident of a third,” he said.
Mr. Shurman said he cleared claiming his home with Tory Leader Tim Hudak. Asked whether he thought Mr. Shurman’s use of taxpayer dollars was appropriate, Mr. Hudak’s office did not provide comment.
The Tories, and Mr. Shurman in particular, have criticized the governing Liberals’ spending habits.
A list of expenses for the past fiscal year indicates that two other MPPs who represent ridings within 50 kilometres of Queen’s Park billed the government under the housing allowance. Neither of them, however, used the money to pay for a secondary residence, as Mr. Shurman did.
Tracy MacCharles (Pickering-Scarborough East) billed $874. In an interview, she said the money was used to cover four nights in a hotel while she was recovering from surgery. She had worked late and had to return to Queen’s Park early in the morning, she said, and it would have been unsafe to drive home. Greg Sorbara, former MPP for Vaughan, incurred a $468 expense to move belongings from Queen’s Park to his home when he resigned in mid-2012, the Premier’s office said.
MPPs who live within the radius can claim Toronto accommodation under “special or unusual circumstances” for individual nights. When an MPP resigns, the government pays to ship his or her property home.