POLITICS
02/11/2012 11:09 EST

Gilles Duceppe Spending Scandal Brings House of Commons Under Fire

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OTTAWA -- After losing his seat in the last federal election, Gilles Duceppe will make his way back to Parliament on Monday -- but this time accompanied by his lawyer.

The former Bloc Quebecois leader and his counsel, Francois Gendron, will testify before the Board of Internal Economy in an effort to try to explain why the Bloc used House of Commons' funds to pay its director general Gilbert Gardner's six-figure salary.

While the Bloc insists it did nothing wrong in using their leader's office budget to pay Gardner's salary and other party officials, what is becoming increasingly evident is that if Duceppe breached the House of Commons' policy, the House itself violated Canada's Election Act by making an illegal contribution to the party.

The Board of Internal Economy spokesman, NDP MP Joe Comartin, refused an interview request Friday, but his staff confirmed they are well aware of the potential transgression.

According to the Canada Elections Act, staff from the House of Commons and MPs on the Board are on the hook for breaching section 404, which stipulates that only individuals can make a campaign contributions.

The Bloc Quebecois is also responsible for accepting the cash -- whether it is viewed as a donation or a contribution of free labour -- since it did not reimburse the funds.

The House would also have breached section 405 of the Canada Elections Act since it made a yearly contribution that was larger than the indexed limit of $1,000 (now $1,200).

And the Bloc Quebecois would have breached section 416, which states that only the chief agent of a registered party or someone they’ve authorized can accept contributions for the party and pay the party’s expenses. Since Gardner's position as a senior staff in the party is a political party expense, the chief agent would have contravened the rules there too.

The Duceppe saga is therefore not only embarrassing to the Bloc Quebecois but also to the House of Commons.

Elections Canada refused to confirm or deny that an investigation is taking place. But it pointed out sections of the act that may have been breached.

"There are sections of the Act that govern who can make a contribution, and who can pay for expenses," said Elections Canada spokeswoman Diane Benson.

"Over and above the limit is (also) an illegal contribution," she said.

Heather Bradley, a spokeswoman for House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer -- the person responsible for the conduct of the House -- said she was not aware that an investigation was taking place.

"I am not aware of anything related to Elections Canada," she wrote in an email to HuffPost.

"On Jan. 30th, the BOIE issued a statement saying it was looking into issues related to the use of House of Commons funds. They also said that they were inviting Mr. Duceppe to meet with them... and until they have done so, they will not be making any other comments," Bradley added.

Duceppe's hearing Monday morning will take place behind closed doors. His communication advisor has told reporters he won't make any public statements until the Board has issued its ruling.

If the Board's members, MPs from the Conservative, Liberal and New Democratic parties, however, discuss the possible violations of the Elections Act, the public will likely be kept in the dark.

All the Board's meetings are in-camera.

No one contacted last week could confirm if the House of Commons has ever been investigated for fraud.

A legal opinion, shared with The Huffington Post Canada, suggests that if legislators had wanted to ensure that the services of political personnel not be considered as a inadmissible or as a campaign expense, they would have specifically said so in the legislation.

In Quebec, for example, the similar law states that the services of a member of the National Assembly's political staff during a writ period are not considered a campaign expense. There is no such rule in Canada.

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