Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said he did not know one of his Toronto-area MPPs was billing taxpayers for his second residence.
Peter Shurman, who represents suburban Thornhill, twice told the Globe and Mail that Mr. Hudak had signed off on his receiving the funds to pay for his Toronto apartment. But on Monday, Mr. Hudak flatly denied it.
“Did I approve these expenses? No,” he told a Queen’s Park press conference. “Was I aware he was billing all the expenses to the taxpayer? No.”
The Globe and Mail revealed last week that Mr. Shurman received $20,719 from a government housing allowance last year. The allowance was set up to subsidize Toronto accommodations for MPPs from far-flung ridings, but Mr. Shurman was able to access it because his primary residence is in Niagara-on-the-Lake, 150 kilometres from his constituency.
Mr. Shurman did not break any rules, but Mr. Hudak disapproved of his actions and stripped him of his position as party finance critic Sunday.
Mr. Hudak said he fired Mr. Shurman because the MPP refused to pay back the money.
“I wanted to say to him face to face: ‘Peter you have to pay your expenses back,’” Mr. Hudak said. “He said ‘no.’ He made his decision. I made my decision. He’s no longer finance critic.”
On Friday, Mr. Shurman agreed not to claim the allowance in future, at Mr. Hudak’s behest. He also apologized for previously telling The Globe that his MPP’s salary was “not very much.” He did not apologize for claiming the funds and said nothing about whether he would return them.
Mr. Hudak also shuffled Mr. Shurman out of his front-bench seat in the legislature. During Question Period on Monday, the first day of the legislative session, Mr. Shurman was seated two rows back. Tory Energy Critic Vic Fedeli had been moved to Mr. Shurman’s old seat, two places to the right of Mr. Hudak.
Mr. Shurman refused to comment as he left Question Period, remaining silent as a large group of reporters pursued him up two flights of stairs and across a hallway to his office.
The Tories have not named a replacement as finance critic, but are expected to do so within days.
Both the PCs and the governing Liberals are moving to tighten up rules around the housing allowance to ensure that only MPPs who represent ridings a substantial distance from Queen’s Park use it to pay for their secondary homes in Toronto. The two parties are trying to schedule a meeting of the Board of Internal Economy to rewrite the rules as early as this week.
“Those rules need to be changed, because the way it has been used doesn’t make sense,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.