Amarjeet Sohi Must Defend $800K Office Renos After Tories Trigger Debate

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OTTAWA — The Conservatives are hoping to embarrass the Liberal government by forcing them to spend hours debating pricey office renovations.

The official Opposition had a field day last month when they discovered the government had spent more than $835,000 on furniture and renovations for the office of Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi and his deputy minister.

Later Tuesday, the Conservatives planned to use parliamentary procedure to officially oppose that line item in the government's estimates, triggering an hours-long debate that will require Liberal MPs to stand up and defend it.

Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer said the parliamentary tool is often used to highlight something that has been in the news or a particular point of contention.

amarjeet sohi
Amarjeet Sohi speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 5, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

"We see a disturbing trend about Liberal spending and a return to 'entitled-to-entitlement' ways," said Scheer — a reference to an infamous turn of phrase once used by ex-Liberal MP and former Royal Canadian Mint CEO David Dingwall.

"This particular expenditure in the minister's office seems quite excessive, so we wanted to highlight it."

Sohi has said the expense was necessary because he had to set up an entirely new department, including space for political staff, a deputy minister and public servants.

Under the previous government, the infrastructure portfolio was part of the transport ministry.

Sohi's office defends spending

"Our commitments require a dedicated minister, a dedicated ministry, and a dedicated DM in order to deliver on the expectations of Canadians," Sohi told the House of Commons last month when questioned about the expense.

"We needed new spaces for our staff and new spaces for our DM and his staff, and that is what the investment is for."

Kate Monfette, a spokeswoman for Sohi, said the minister was planning to be in the House of Commons for the evening debate in order to defend the spending.

The sums first came to light when the government responded to an order paper question — sort of an access-to-information request for MPs — on how much each department had spent on renovating, re-designing and re-furnishing ministerial offices after the Liberals came to power.

"This particular expenditure in the minister's office seems quite excessive, so we wanted to highlight it."

The response revealed that $450,734 was spent on Sohi's office, including about $243,000 on furniture. Another $384,518 went to the deputy minister's office.

Scheer said the Conservative caucus objects to the Liberal government's 2016 budget for all sorts of reasons, but shining a spotlight on the office renovations is a way to get the issue to resonate more strongly with average Canadians.

"Sometimes it's these types of expenditures that people compare to their own small business, or their own home," Scheer said.

"And it can resonate a little bit more when they think, 'Jeez, $835,000 in office furniture, in renovations, that's a considerable amount of money.' You can buy a couple of nice houses in a lot of cities for that kind of money."

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