OTTAWA — The body that administers the House of Commons is moving to reactivate a court challenge launched by the NDP against a ruling by the Board of Internal Economy that dozens of its MPs improperly used parliamentary resources for partisan purposes.
The board’s lawyer, Guy Pratte, wrote to the Federal Court on May 29 requesting resumption of the legal proceedings (Read the letter below). Last fall, the NDP had asked for judicial review of two board decisions. One dealt with a decision to seek reimbursements from 23 MPs for $36,309 for contravening bylaws relating to almost two million pieces of partisan mailings in some 26 ridings.
Another found that 68 current and former NDP MPs should reimburse $2,749,362 for improperly using their office budgets and the NDP caucus research budget to fund employment, pay for cellphone bills and travel expenses for parliamentary staff working out of party offices outside Ottawa.
The board tried to throw the NDP’s case out by arguing that the Federal Court had no jurisdiction to hear the case and determine the issues in the application. The board is the governing body of the Commons and is made up of representation from the Conservatives, NDP and Liberals.
But the court challenge was instead suspended on Nov. 24, 2014, while the NDP and the board tried to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.
Sources told HuffPost, however, that the board scoffed at the NDP’s proposal to repay the reimbursements at a rate of 10 cents on the dollar.
After months of discussions, the board decided in late May that it would start collecting money from MPs directly. Beginning on July 1, 68 current and former NDP MPs will see their hospitality claims, per diems and travel expenses denied, with the expected reimbursements directed to the Commons coffers, board spokesman John Duncan said. MPs who are not re-elected or won’t be running on Oct. 19 will see part of their separation and pension payments clawed back.
In his letter, Pratte says that in light of recent development he is requesting a scheduling of a case conference to establish a timetable for the “next steps.” He wants the NDP to file its evidence in response to the board’s motion to quash the case, any cross-examination planned, as well as the scheduling of the hearing for the motion to close the case. He also wants all the NDP applications joined together and dealt with at once.
NDP spokesman Kiavash Najafi told HuffPost on Monday that his party asked for fast-tracking in February. “[W]e still want it fast-tracked. The government has refused to fast-track it.”
Duncan, the board spokesman and Conservative whip, said, however, that the NDP had done nothing to move its court case. “I think the record would indicate that,” he said.
“It’s really in the lawyer’s hand,” Duncan added. “This has gone on since February of last year. This is like a year and a half, and it’s time to move forward, and so all of this is just moving towards a July 1st collection date.”
“As far as I can determine, the House administration has full authority to proceed.”
With files from the Canadian Press
Read the letter to the Federal Court:
Also on HuffPost