POLITICS

NDP Satellite Offices Front And Centre Of New Tory Attack

07/28/2015 12:18 EDT | Updated 07/28/2015 12:18 EDT

OTTAWA — The Conservative party has launched a new website aimed at naming and shaming some of the 68 current and former NDP MPs who, in total, owe taxpayers $2.7 million for inappropriate party expenses.

The site, www.payitbackndp.ca, is the latest push by the Tories to embarrass and pressure the New Democrats into repaying public money diverted from its MPs’ House of Commons budgets to set up staff in offices outside Ottawa.

In a somewhat inaccurate YouTube video, the Conservatives ask: “Have you heard about the NDP using $2.7 million dollars from taxpayers to hire partisan campaign staff?”

While the NDP were found to have used taxpayers money inappropriately, there were no findings that the parliamentary employees hired to work in satellite offices were paid campaign staff.

“Let me walk you through it,” a voice says, about to explain the somewhat complicated arrangement.

“Members of Parliament — MPs — are given budgets to hire staff in Ottawa to assist all Canadians in their ridings.

“In this case, a group of NDP MPs decided they wanted to share some Ottawa staff. Nothing nefarious right?

“Well, not so fast. It turns out the NDP was actually taking that money — taxpayers’ money — your money — to hire NDP campaign staff to work in a party office in Montreal. And they lied about it!

“It gets even worse.

“The NDP tried to use the same scheme to get taxpayers to pay for their political campaign staff in Saskatoon. The nearest NDP MP is five hours away in Edmonton!

“Before they were caught red-handed, 68 NDP MPs had already managed to siphon off $2.7 million dollars. $2.7 million taxpayers dollars meant to assist taxpayers. And they used it to pay for party operations. So what do you think? Is this the kind of change you want the NDP to bring to Ottawa? Sign the petition and tell the NDP to pay back the money. Pay it back now!”

The website and the YouTube video, which is also available in French, may be a sign that the Conservatives are feeling some pressure from the NDP and its leader, Thomas Mulcair.

The NDP is leading most public opinion surveys. And recently, the NDP had an online hit attacking Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government over ethics. Now, the Tories want to make sure voters remember the NDP aren’t pure either.

“Our message to career politician Thomas Mulcair and the NDP is simple - pay back the $2.7 million you owe taxpayers,” said Conservative party spokesman Cory Hann.

While the Tories are still spending big bucks attacking Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on TV, this is the most visible attack the Conservatives have mounted against the NDP in more than a year. The Tories ran radio ads attacking Mulcair after he won the NDP leadership in 2012 suggesting he’d impose an expensive carbon tax and “under Mulcair, you’ll pay more.”

While the ad misleads the public about the work NDP staffers did, it is true the NDP set up a scheme to fund staff to work in locations outside Ottawa in an apparent breach of the rules. The NDP said its employees were doing parliamentary work – such as template press releases and helping manage communications – and were not engaged in partisan work. But the party acknowledged parliamentary staff worked side by side with party staff in a location rented by the NDP.

Several NDP employees working out of the satellite office in Montreal also actively worked on a Montreal byelection campaign. But the party said those individuals were on accumulated overtime — something that Commons rules allow.

It is also true the NDP tried to set up an office in Saskatchewan, a province where it has no MPs, and where its claims staff members would be doing parliamentary work seem somewhat dubious.

When the matter was raised in the media, the Board of Internal Economy — a committee that meets behind closed doors and consists of four representatives from the Conservative party, including the chair Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, two NDP MPs and one Liberal — sought some answers.

Minutes of a meeting, obtained by The Huffington Post Canada, show that when the NDP was questioned about the location of its pooled employees, party staff misled the House of Commons administrators and said staff were working in Ottawa. In an email, the clerk of the House, Audrey O’Brien, said that “at no point” was the House informed that the employees would be “located in Montreal or that their work would be carried out in co-location with a political party’s offices.”

The board ruled the NDP had broken Commons bylaws and demanded that the 68 current and former NDP MPs who diverted their office budgets to pay for the pooled employees, their cellphones and expenses, return the money to the House.

The NDP called the board a “Kangaroo court” and said it wasn’t given a full and fair hearing. It asked the Federal Court to pronounce itself on the matter, while still negotiating with the board. Sources told HuffPost that the NDP wanted to pay 10 cents on the dollar but the board decided that wasn’t enough.

This spring, board spokesman John Duncan, a Conservative, said the House would start clawing back money from NDP MPs’ expense claims, or severance payments from retiring MPs or those who may lose their seats.

It is unclear whether any MP has so far seen an expense claim returned without receiving reimbursement. The House of Commons did not return calls for comment. The NDP refused to say whether its members had yet been sanctioned.

The NDP court challenge isn’t expected to be heard before 2016.

Here is the complete list of refunds the board is seeking from current and former NDP MPs:

  • Robert Aubin: 30,158
  • Paulina Ayalu: 29,280
  • Tyrone Benskin: 31,888
  • Denis Blanchette: 31,888
  • Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe: 29,842
  • Françoise Boivin: 24,498
  • Charmaine Borg: 22,807
  • Alexandre Boulerice: 122,122
  • Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet: 24,259
  • Tarik Brahmi: 22,953
  • Ruth Ellen Brosseau: 30,959
  • Guy Caron: 64,916
  • Andrew Cash: 1,288
  • Sylvain Chicoine: 31,069
  • François Choquette: 24,216
  • Former MP Olivia Chow: 1,288
  • Raymond Côté: 31,064
  • Anne-Marie Day: 35,430
  • Pierre Dionne Labelle: 26,812
  • Rosane Doré Lefebvre: 29,551
  • Matthew Dubé: 30,727
  • Pierre-Luc Dusseault: 26,805
  • Mylène Freeman: 30,301
  • Réjean Genest: 21,380
  • Jonathan Genest-Jourdain: 31,788
  • Alain Giguère: 28,794
  • Sadia Groguhé: 29,836
  • Dan Harris: 141,467
  • Now Independent MP Sana Hassainia: 26,754
  • Pierre Jacob: 31,051
  • Matthew Kellway: 1,288
  • François Lapointe: 30,364
  • Jean-François Larose: 15,299
  • Alexandrine Latendresse: 31,888
  • Hélène Laverdière: 24,216
  • Hélène LeBlanc: 27,866
  • Laurin Liu: 29,845
  • Hoang Mai: 30,739
  • Christine Moore: 31,793
  • Dany Morin: 28,152
  • Isabelle Morin: 169,117
  • Marc-André Morin: 25,690
  • Marie-Claude Morin: 30,023
  • Thomas Mulcair: 7,440
  • Pierre Nantel: 14,911
  • Peggy Nash: 1,288
  • Jamie Nicholls: 30,740
  • José Nunez-Melo: 31,700
  • Annick Papillon: 29,266
  • Now Bloc Québécois MP Claude Patry: 14,081
  • Ève Péclet: 27,111
  • Now Independent MP Manon Perreault: 22,009
  • François Pilon: 31,874
  • Anne Minh-Thu Quach: 30,727
  • Francine Raynault: 27,952
  • Jean Rousseau: 142,548
  • Romeo Saganash: 35,600
  • Craig Scott: 1,288
  • Djaouida Sellah: 29,841
  • Rathika Sitsabaiesan: 1,288
  • Mike Sullivan: 1,288
  • Philip Toone: 31,069
  • Jonathan Tremblay: 30,739
  • Nycole Turmel: 15,161
  • NDP House Leader: 189,714 (Amount to be shared between Joe Comartin, Nathan Cullen and Peter Julian)
  • NDP Party Leader: 408,573 (Amount to be shared between Turmel and Mulcair)
  • NDP Whip: 35,633 (Amount to be shared between Chris Charlton and Turmel)

Total: $2,749,362


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