The federal New Democrats are questioning the integrity of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer after they say he allowed the Conservatives and Liberals to join forces to make a "partisan" finding that could require the NDP to repay taxpayers for the cost of letters it sent to Canadians.
Mr. Scheer said in a statement released Tuesday that the Board of Internal Economy has determined that the mailings, which were sent out around the time of by-elections last year and charged to the House of Commons, "were prepared by and for the benefit of the NDP as a political party and to advance electoral purposes, and are therefore in contravention of the by-laws." Mr. Scheer is the chair of Board of Internal Economy.
Peter Julian, the NDP House Leader, told a news conference that "the partisan rule of the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy was further entrenched today as the Conservative majority united with the Liberals to politically attack the New Democrat Official Opposition for having followed the rules."
Mr. Scheer has given the New Democrats until June 13 to provide samples of other mailings. It will then determine the appropriate remedy, he said.
The New Democrats say they have no idea how many pieces of mail are being discussed, or how much money might have to be repaid, because board has yet to set the parameters. Some media outlets have reported that as many as 1.8 million pieces of mail are being called into question.
But New Democrat MPs say their party has done nothing that other parties have not also done. They pointed to mailings of both the Liberals and the Conservatives that have not attracted similar scrutiny.
In a statement, the New Democrats said they are concerned that "the integrity of the Speaker's chair – and the democracy it protects – is at risk" and that they were "saddened to see the Speaker put in a position where the institution he represents can no longer protect all Members' rights and defend our democracy."
Mr. Julian said the NDP conducted extensive consultations with the House of Commons and Mr. Scheer's office to ensure that the party's mailing program met the applicable rules. Mr. Scheer told a Commons committee last week that he had not been asked about the mailings by the New Democrats but later admitted he had been consulted.
Mr. Julian said the "unprecedented move" by the Board of Internal Economy to find in a closed-door meeting that the mailings violated the rules "confirms that, under Stephen Harper's Banana republic Conservatives, due process and the rule of law are secondary to political gamesmanship."
But John Duncan, the Conservatives' Chief Whip and one of the spokesmen for the Board of Internal Economy, said he believes the board has acted appropriately in forcing the New Democrats to repay the money.
"We've been eight months at this process, and we continue to make sure that we're doing this in a thorough and fair way," Mr. Duncan told reporters on Tuesday morning. He took issue with attacks on the Speaker who cannot respond in his own defence.
The NDP "should be accepting responsibility instead of impugning everybody else, including the Speaker. And I do believe at this point they should be apologizing to the Speaker who they know darn well is in no position to defend himself. That would demean his office."
With a report from The Canadian Press