Rona Ambrose, federal Conservative interim leader, sought and obtained an exemption to get taxpayers to pick up a $4,000 tab to break her lease and move into Stornoway, the party said on Friday.
Ms. Ambrose took over on a temporary basis from Stephen Harper on November 5, shortly after her party lost power in the Oct. 19 general election. The Alberta MP (Sturgeon River-Parkland) moved out of her secondary residence in Ottawa and into the official residence for Canada's opposition leader in mid-November.
"She claimed two months' rent of $2,000 per month for December and January, which was the penalty for breaking the lease," said Conservative spokesman Mike Storeshaw.
The Liberal Party – which has been under fire over the relocation costs of senior staffers after the election – quickly raised questions over the validity of Ms. Ambrose's expense claim. According to the Allowances and Services Manual for MPs, "lease termination costs" cannot be claimed by those who lease secondary residences.
"It will be up to the House of Commons to decide whether or not she has to reimburse it," Liberal MP Serge Cormier said after Question Period.
The Conservatives quickly released correspondence between Ms. Ambrose's office and the House administration to show they followed the rules.
"Finance Services will accept on an exception basis the lease termination costs (December and January rent) for Ms. Ambrose's old secondary residence," André Simard, the senior financial adviser for Members' Services in the House, wrote in December.
In recent weeks, the Conservative Party has been attacking top Liberal officials for the high costs of their relocations to Ottawa.
A spouse of a senior Liberal official, who moved to Ottawa from Toronto after the election, said political staffers choose which expenses they wanted to claim and "absolutely" had to submit receipts to access the government's generous relocation policy.
The Liberal, who wished to remain anonymous, said their family chose not to claim a bulk of the expenses offered up by the government policy, which kept their moving costs to under $20,000. The spouse said it was "ridiculous" what an employee could claim as expenses – including house hunting trips and a month's salary from a previous job.
The Prime Minister's Office has insisted that two of its top officials, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, did not know how high their respective moving costs had risen until the details were publicly released: $126,669 for Mr. Butts and $80,382 for Ms. Telford. A bulk of that money was for real estate and legal fees.
The two aides have since pledged to pay back or forgo almost $65,000 in expenses. The PMO has refused to provide details on "personalized cash payouts" the pair are forgoing, or whether the two aides were required to submit receipts. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently asked Treasury Board to create a new relocation policy.
The vice-president of Brookfield Global Relocation Services, the third-party company hired by the federal government to handle the moves, told The Globe and Mail this week that employees are briefed on relocation expenses and required to submit their own receipts, including for the "personalized cash payout."
The company later issued a clarification, saying receipts are not required in all cases to be reimbursed for "relocation benefits" – such as meals and incidentals, because a per diem covers those expenses. Receipts are also not required when a personalized cash payout is provided from unused funds in each employee's "personal allowance envelope" – which is tabulated according to a dense formula found in a government directive. It is unclear, however, if the envelope is calculated based on receipts already submitted to the company.
The Privy Council Office also says receipts are not required for all types of expenses claims that are part of the personalized cash payout.
The PMO on Friday deferred to Brookfield and PCO's comments and said everything is laid out in the directive. The directive doesn't specify that employees can be reimbursed for a month's salary, but it does say they can claim employment assistance.