POLITICS

MPs' Staff To Be Banned From Working On Campaigns On Taxpayers' Dime

05/27/2015 06:31 EDT | Updated 05/27/2015 07:59 EDT

OTTAWA — The Board of Internal Economy will soon ban parliamentary staff from using compensatory leaves or paid vacation to go work on an election campaign, The Huffington Post Canada has learned.

The board is likely to make the decision during its meeting next week. The Tories and the Liberals will band together against the NDP’s opposition, sources said.

As HuffPost reported Monday, Conservative and Liberal MPs are worried the NDP may use a loophole in the current Commons rules to help fund its election campaign using taxpayer resources.

The NDP, the only party with unionized staff, has between 525 to 550 employees who work on Parliament Hill and in constituency offices who can bank their overtime and then claim it during an election campaign. In 2013, at least three NDP staffers claimed compensatory leave while they worked on a byelection campaign in the Montreal riding of Bourassa.

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair accused the Conservative and Liberals of banding together behind closed doors to hurt the NDP because the party was riding high in the polls. The Tories, Grits and NDP are neck-in-neck in public opinion surveys at the moment.

This week, Board spokesman John Duncan announced new efforts to dock 68 current and former NDP MPs’ pay in order to refund expenses for improper satellite offices. The NDP is on the hook for more than $2.785 million for using Commons resources on satellite offices outside Ottawa and on partisan mailings that Commons administrators said broke the rules.

“This is Conservative and Liberals getting together trying to force the NDP to do something in response to something that was never wrong,” Mulcair said.

The Board of Internal Economy is a secretive committee made up of representatives from all three major parties. The Conservatives have four members, including the Speaker who acts as chair, the NDP have two MPs and the Liberals have one representative. In the past, decisions were reached by consensus but since the satellite office controversy that is no longer the case.

The current rules in the Members' Services and Allowances Manual allow staff to take compensatory leave while working on an election campaign during the writ period. But the Tories and Liberals feel the rules are outdated.

“Maybe it was the way that it was done in the past, but in today’s climate you can’t do this anymore,” one source said.

Heather Bradley, a spokeswoman for House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, said the policy currently in effect — and in effect at the time of the Montreal byelection — is that any election-related work performed by employees of MPs, house leaders or party whips, must be undertaken outside of normal working hours, such as evenings or weekends. Election work can’t take place in parliamentary or constituency offices and staff can do election-related work full-time only if they’re on compensatory or unpaid leave.

But the rules are not intended to allow parties to use Commons resources to beef up their electoral resources.

“Under no circumstances may Members and House Officers compensate their employees in any way for election-related work using House funds,” Bradley told HuffPost.

NDP spokeswoman Valérie Dufour told HuffPost that “everything” the NDP does is done in accordance ‎with the Members' Services and Allowances Manual “as always‎.”

She said NDP staff are subject to fair labour practices, including compensation for their overtime. “What they [other parties] do on their own time is their business,” she told HuffPost over the weekend.

But Conservative MP Randy Hoback, who brought objections to compensatory leave to HuffPost’s notice, believes the practice is an improper use of taxpayers’ resources that shouldn’t be allowed.

Staff don’t clock in or out, and the House of Commons doesn’t keep track of banked overtime, the Saskatchewan MP said. What’s to stop any or all MPs from backdating overtime for their employees and keeping them on the public payroll while they are out campaigning, he asked rhetorically.

“Nothing other than a moral conscience knowing that that is wrong and we shouldn’t do it. If you wanted to scam the system, you could scam the system, the way it is set up now."

Liberal deputy leader Ralph Goodale said, in his view, the rules in the Members' Services and Allowances Manual were never intended to allow staff to keep getting paid while doing partisan work on an election campaign.

“This is an attempt by one party to make use of the rules of the House of Commons in order to finance their political operation in a way that is just so brazen,” he said.

“The bloody rules ought to be fixed.”

With previous files

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