Two of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's top aides billed taxpayers more than $200,000 in moving expenses, mostly for legal and real estate fees covering the sale of their million-dollar Toronto homes, The Globe and Mail has learned.
Gerald Butts, the Prime Minister's principal secretary, and Katie Telford, his chief of staff, were reimbursed for moving their families from Toronto to Ottawa, a source told The Globe.
One move cost almost $127,000, while the other was more than $80,000, although it's not clear which expenses were associated with which aide.
Profile: Trudeau's principal secretary Gerald Butts
Profile: The PMO's chief of staff Katie Telford
In total, five employees at the Prime Minister's Office were paid more than $220,000 to relocate to Ottawa when the Liberals took office last fall, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons this week.
Kate Purchase, the Prime Minister's communications director, defended the expenses, noting the government has had a relocation policy for public servants and ministerial staff since the 1970s. She said the current policy was in place under the previous Conservative government since January of 2011.
"Some people across government, and in the PMO, moved from rental to rental, others sold their homes and moved their families to Ottawa," Ms. Purchase said in an e-mail.
"In the case of the two larger numbers for the PMO, the vast majority of the costs had to do with real estate and legal fees. There were much smaller moving logistic (i.e moving company) fees associated as well."
Ms. Purchase would not confirm the names of the two staff members with the highest costs, but The Globe has learned they are Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford.
Public land records show Mr. Butts sold his million-dollar Toronto home for $630,000 more than he paid for it, while Ms. Telford made close to $500,000 on the sale of her $1,005,000 Toronto home earlier this year.
Rules for moves are outlined by Treasury Board policy for ministers' offices and a document called the National Joint Council Relocation Directive, which applies to public servants and staffers. The directive says eligible moving expenses include real estate commissions and legal fees.
A spokesman for Treasury Board President Scott Brison did not answer questions about whether the policy would be changed.
Conservatives have been highly critical of the moving expenses, repeatedly attacking the government this week in Question Period for refusing to divulge details.
"The Prime Minister personally signed off on $220,000 in moving expenses for his own political staff. The chief responsibility of the Prime Minister is to be honest and forthright with Canadians in the House. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about these expenses. They are wrong," Alberta Conservative MP Blaine Calkins said.
Although there is no publicly available information about relocation costs under Stephen Harper's government, one former aide said such expenses were rarely approved.
"I can confirm that our government's practice with respect to moving expenses was very different. They were infrequently covered at all, and at a much lower level than appears to be the case currently," Rachel Curran, Mr. Harper's former policy director, said in an e-mail Wednesday.
One Conservative source said Mr. Harper's PMO capped moving expenses at $30,000 for chiefs of staff, and under $10,000 for senior aides.
In total, the Liberal government spent $1.1-million moving 47 political staffers to Ottawa. Two other employees – at Global Affairs and Innovation – were reimbursed nearly $120,000 and $114,000, respectively, to relocate.
With research from Rick Cash