POLITICS

House Financial Officer Won't Say How Sanctions Will Bite NDP MPs

05/28/2015 06:06 EDT | Updated 05/28/2016 05:59 EDT
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The non-partisan official charged with keeping the House of Commons' books balanced is staying mum on what, if any, action will be taken to recoup $2.7 million in expenses related to NDP satellite offices in Montreal and Quebec City.

"That matter is before the board of internal economy right now," Chief Financial Officer Mark Watters told the House affairs committee Thursday morning.

"The board is dealing with that matter, and I think — that's going to be my answer on that. I have nothing further to add."

Watters, who was testifying on the main estimates alongside House Speaker Andrew Scheer, was responding to a question from Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux.

Lamoureux asked if he could confirm the House would begin to reject expense claims from the 60-odd MPs who pooled money from their respective office budgets to pay for the now-closed outposts.

Disputes over MP expenses rare, says House official

Although he shied away from specifics, Watters was willing to explain how such disputes are generally handled.

When an MP is determined to be in arrears — that is, if an office budget expenditure isn't approved — "you'll probably get a call from the chief financial officer … which usually results in the payment of a cheque," he said.

"In the rare times that [happened] in the past, that's what we've done, and typically, the payment has been made," he added.

Watters stressed the NDP's situation is far from par for the parliamentary course.

"In fact, I've never been faced with this situation since I was appointed chief financial officer of the House in August of 2011," he noted.

Earlier Thursday, Conservative whip John Duncan, who serves as chief spokesman for the board, seemed fairly certain the House would start rejecting expense claims July 1 — 90 days after the MPs were officially notified that they would be expected to repay their share of the money.

"This has been a long process that has gone on for many, many months," Duncan told CBC News.

Duncan wasn't able to say exactly how those MPs had been notified.

"My understanding is that House administration has been dealing with individuals," he said.

"I'm not House administration, I'm just told they've gone through the process they need to."

Rural MPs could be hit hard: Conservative whip

Duncan predicted that "multiple expenses" could be refused, and suggested NDP MPs in rural ridings could be hit particularly hard.

"During recesses … generally, the expenses would be higher, because we're in our ridings, we are driving from event to event and from place to place," he noted.

"Particularly in rural ridings, you could often be more than 150 kilometres from home, which means you may be doing overnighters, that kind of thing. There are significant expenses that occur during times when we're not sitting."

Duncan also suggested there was nothing stopping the NDP from picking up those expenses on behalf of the MPs on the list.

"My expectation is that might be what transpires," he said.

So far, there's little sign that the party is preparing to back down.

In response to a request for comment from CBC News, NDP caucus spokeswoman Valerie Dufour offered the following statement:

"We are bringing this partisan decision of this kangaroo court to the Federal Court. We are hopeful that the principles of natural justice and fundamental rights will be upheld by the Court."

The "partisan decision" to which Dufour refers is last spring's ruling by the board, which concluded the pooled funds that went to defray the cost of the offices constituted an inappropriate use of parliamentary resources.

The Federal Court case is expected to be heard later this year.

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