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Conservative Member of Parliament Candice Bergen asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Nov. 16, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Deputy Conservative leader Candice Bergen says she sees no problem with MPs using their taxpayer-funded office budgets to hire their in-laws – revealing a divide within Conservative ranks on where the House of Commons ethical bar should sit.

“I have no desire to hire my in-laws, but if somebody feels that their in-laws would make a good employee, I don’t feel it’s a huge issue," Ms. Bergen, a veteran Conservative MP from Manitoba, told reporters on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, The Globe and Mail reported that Andrew Scheer, Saskatchewan MP and former party leader, employed his sister-in-law for 13 years and his sister for four years. Both jobs fell within the rules governing MPs, but on Tuesday Mr. Scheer announced that he had terminated his sister-in-law’s job and his sister stopped working with him in 2012, when the rules changed preventing MPs from hiring their siblings.

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Mr. Scheer’s office defended his decision to hire his wife’s sister, Erica Honoway, on Monday. At the time The Globe also reported that Ms. Honoway employed Mr. Scheer’s wife, Jill Scheer, at her interior decorating company. Mr. Scheer’s office announced Ms. Honoway was let go on Tuesday after Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole told reporters “Canadians want and deserve better, and I am going to expect that from my team.”

Andrew Scheer employed sister while he was speaker and deputy speaker of the House

Conservative leader O’Toole says Scheer’s hiring practices don’t meet his ethical bar

Mr. O’Toole was tight-lipped about his Tuesday evening meeting with Mr. Scheer, only telling reporters on Wednesday that it was “informative.”

Conservatives gathered Wednesday morning for a caucus meeting with some MPs and senators in Ottawa while others, including Mr. Scheer, tuned in remotely.

On his way out of the meeting, Mr. O’Toole said his message to Conservatives was: “We’re a government in waiting, we have to act like that.”

Most MPs heading into the caucus meeting agreed with Mr. O’Toole, while others declined to comment.

Alberta MP Shannon Stubbs, who was in Mr. Scheer’s inner circle when he was leader, said Canadians expect "elected representatives would avoid that kind of decision.”

“Probably it’s the right thing to not hire your in-laws and to avoid both the perception and actually the decision,” she said.

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Taxpayers cover the costs for a $370,500 base budget for all MPs to hire staff and cover other office costs. The total budget is higher for MPs who have densely populated constituencies, geographically large ridings or represent ridings that are in remote areas.

The House of Commons governs itself with MPs setting their own rules through the board of internal economy. Its next meeting is scheduled for Thursday. The Liberals have said they will raise Mr. Scheer’s hiring of Ms. Honoway at the board. The Conservatives have also asked that the board review the case of former Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi, now sitting as an independent. She resigned from caucus last week after the CBC reported that she hired her sister to work in her constituency office.

At issue is the definition of family that is used in the House of Commons members by-law. It prevents MPs from hiring their parents, spouses, siblings, children, children-in-law and grandchildren but not their siblings-in-law.

Ms. Bergen said she doesn’t think those rules need to change. But her colleague, Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus, disagreed. No matter the definition of family in the rules, Mr. Paul-Hus told reporters, when he was elected in 2015, it was made clear to him that he shouldn’t hire any family.

“When we arrived in 2015, it was clear, you can’t hire your family,” Mr. Paul-Hus said in Ottawa on Wednesday. “So I don’t know why – if there’s something in the rules, we must change [it] as soon as possible because we’re not supposed to.”

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