Thomas Mulcair is set to make a rare appearance in front of a House committee to defend the NDP's decision to place party workers and parliamentary staff in "satellite offices" outside of Ottawa.
The Liberal and Conservative MPs on the procedure and house affairs committee, who used an order of the House to call the NDP Leader as a witness on Thursday, are planning to grill Mr. Mulcair on his party's controversial use of parliamentary funds.
Conservative MP Joe Preston said he wants the committee to do a "study on the spending of taxpayers' dollars, making sure it wasn't for partisan purposes." The Conservatives and Liberals are teaming up this week, hoping to eventually force the NDP to reimburse taxpayers for the salaries of the officials who were paid out of MPs' budgets.
After Mr. Mulcair's appearance, the committee is expected to call Audrey O'Brien, the clerk of the House, whose office has been involved in much discussion with the NDP on this matter since 2011.
In a long exchange with reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Mulcair battle-tested his lines as he defended his party's strategy to place parliamentary staff alongside party workers – inside offices paid for by the NDP – in Montreal and Toronto after the 2011 election. He acknowledged that the NDP broke new ground with its strategy, but said that the parliamentary staff did not engage in partisan duties.
"We have parliamentary staff that does parliamentary work. We have party staff that does party work – things like fundraising, things like memberships are only done by party workers," he said.
Mr. Mulcair was challenged by the media over a series of internal documents that suggest that the administration of the House of Commons was unaware that parliamentary officials worked in NDP offices outside of Ottawa. Mr. Mulcair fought back, stating that the NDP followed all of the rules that were in place at the time, and has adapted to new rules that now prevent these officials from working inside party offices.
"The only thing that was open to question was whether or not they were allowed to work in an office where the rent was being paid by the party. That was allowed before. It's no longer allowed. We respected the prior rules. We're respecting the current rules," Mr. Mulcair said.
Still, the Conservatives have also raised questions about the NDP's plans – which never materialized – to also place parliamentary staff in an NDP office in Saskatchewan. In an interview, Conservative MP Randy Hoback said the fact the NDP has no MPs in the province suggested that the staff would have been doing political duties.
"It appears they were going to office to co-ordinate political and partisan activities, rather than serving constituents that they don't have in Saskatchewan," Mr. Hoback said.
However, Mr. Mulcair said that he is allowed to "pay somebody a fee to represent me" in the province, in the same way that Conservative ministers have access to government offices and staff in all provinces.