OTTAWA — Quebec NDP MP Guy Caron could be forced to pay back thousands of dollars after an investigation found he and the NDP broke the rules banning the use of taxpayer resources for partisan activities.
UPDATE: On Monday, June 2, the Board of Internal Economy ruled the NDP broke the rules governing the use of Commons' resources. Liberal and Conservative MPs on the committee agreed with the recommendations of its non-partisan staff that the NDP had used taxpayer resources to send mail that was electoral in nature.
However, the Board stopped short of issuing any fines for now. It has asked staff to determine what the remedies could be: whether individual MPs had to be held responsible or whether the NDP or its leader's office could pay any potential fines. A decision could come as early as next week.
The NDP responded by calling the Board a "Kangaroo court." It said it had an email from the Clerk saying there were no rules governing addressed franked envelopes. The Speaker of the Commons Andrew Scheer told MPs at a committee last week that nobody from the NDP checked the rules surrounding mailings with him
New documents obtained by the Huffington Post Canada show the House of Commons administration has advised the board of internal economy that an NDP flyer sent by Caron to residents of the Montreal riding of Bourassa before a byelection contained “many elements of campaign (electoral) messaging as opposed to parliamentary functions.” Therefore the flyer was a breach of the laws governing Commons resources, House of Commons staff determined.
House of Commons by-laws ban MPs from using their office resources to support a political party, fundraise, solicit party members or engage in any election — either in support for or to campaign against any candidate.
The House staff also found that a pamphlet sent in two unnamed by-election ridings included the line: “Authorized by the registered agent for Canada’s NDP.”
This appeared to be a clear indication the document was sent in the context of an election and therefore is a breach of the law, staff wrote.
The revelations come hours before NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is scheduled to appear before a committee of MPs to answer questions about his party’s use of taxpayer resources for alleged partisan gains. The NDP is under fire for sending more than 1.9 million pieces of mail to 26 ridings over a five-month period. The party has also attracted attention for running satellite offices with parliamentary staff and party staff working side-by-side.
The documents obtained by HuffPost contain information sent to committee members by House of Commons administrators but originally prepared for the board of internal economy, an all-party committee that governs the Commons which has been probing the same issue for months.
Staff investigating the NDP mailings confirmed the party did not produce any of their large-volume mail using the Commons printing service — a violation of the rules.
The administration also raised concerns that the letters and pamphlets the NDP sent to two million Canadians include the www.ndp.ca address instead of the parliamentary web site of the MP sending out the mailing. Staff note that there are survey questions included in the mailing that ask people to make comparisons between national leaders, as well as several references to the 2015 election.
The Caron letter, for example, states: “Citizens now have an important choice to make. They must decide what type of representative they want to send to Ottawa to defend their interests.”
“This is clearly electoral in nature,” the advice from the Commons staff states. “This is particularly the case if the materials were being sent into ridings where there was a pending by-election call—as is implied by the reference to Bourassa.”
“Together these documents demonstrate an activity orchestrated on behalf of a political party for which House resources (envelopes and frank) were used,” the briefing note states.
“It would appear that the mailings were not messages from the individual Members as Members, but rather were prepared by and for the benefit of the NDP as a political party and to advance electoral purposes,” the note continues.
The House Administration finds there are at least another two by-laws broken, one banning MPs from using their resources to promote a political party and a second banning them from using their resources directly or indirectly for the benefit of a third party, in this case a political party.
Several sources, from the Liberals, Conservatives and House of Commons, have told HuffPost the board’s by-laws hold individual MPs personally liable for breaches of the law. That could mean Caron, Mulcair and several other MPs have to personally pay back thousands of dollars.
The documents also note that the board is having difficulty getting the NDP to hand over any documents about its satellite offices.
“If the NDP refuses to provide information, the Board will not have the information it needs, unless it can assess on its own how the funds were used, which is unlikely,” one note states.
Mulcair on Wednesday told reporters it was “completely false” that the NDP was not cooperating with the investigation.
“We’ve always given all the documents that have been asked,” he said.
The board has yet to finalize its findings or issue any recommendations. The advice included in the notes come from non-partisan House staff.
Also on HuffPost