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The Globe and Mail

How do you spend $126,669 to move house? Only the Liberals know

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday, September 21, 2016.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Political expense scandals are unpredictable organisms. They have lives of their own.

Like former Conservative cabinet minister Bev Oda, you can see your career end because you expensed a $16 glass of orange juice. Or, like the current Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, you can live to fight another day after blowing $6,600 on self-serving photographs of you attending a major international conference.

Sometimes a spending gaffe, even a small one, is the last straw. And sometimes the world moves on after the money is repaid and the spendthrift apologizes. It isn't easy to design an algorithm to precisely predict what will sustain the public's outrage, or fail to.

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But you can still apply a rational eye to the subject. So, on that note, how in the world did one person spend $126,669.56 to move to Ottawa to work in the Prime Minister's Office? Where was this person moving from? Mars?

Profile: Trudeau's principle secretary Gerald Butts

Profile: The PMO's chief of staff Katie Telford

Not quite. The Globe and Mail has learned that this extraordinary expense, along with another submitted expense for $80,382.55, covered the moving costs of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's two most loyal aides, principal secretary Gerald Butts and chief of staff Katie Telford.

Both moved from Toronto to Ottawa this year, selling their homes in the process. Sources now say the figures are so high because the two Trudeau loyalists were reimbursed for the real estate and legal fees related to the sale of their homes.

These are enormous sums. A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office has defended them on the grounds that they are in line with the "current rules."

But the "current rules" are not the final word. The Prime Minister had the option of not signing off on such large amounts for such an unusual benefit.

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And one can hardly argue that Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford, who have worked with Mr. Trudeau for years, had to be induced with economic incentives to take their jobs in the PMO. They weren't about to say no to the opportunity to work for the man they helped elect, were they?

The decision to allow two personal allies and friends to bill for such huge amounts is a demonstration of poor judgment. This is not a glass of orange juice. This is way more than that.

Editor's Note: The initial version of this editorial has been modified to identify the PMO staffers who expensed moving fees.

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