OTTAWA — NDP MPs will be on the hook for several thousands of dollars each after a committee found the party misled the House of Commons about where its staff were working.
The Board of Internal Economy, which is made up of a majority of Conservatives and a Liberal MP and governs the administration of the Commons, said it was also turning over its finding to Elections Canada. The board’s spokesman, Conservative MP John Duncan, told reporters the board suspects the NDP used staff paid by taxpayers to work on its Bourassa byelection campaign, during the fall of 2013.
If the allegation is true, the NDP may have benefited from an unreported non-monetary contribution and could find itself in breach of the rules — something the party vehemently denies.
Duncan said the NDP’s election returns for the Bourassa byelection showed some of the people involved in running the party’s campaign were in fact House of Commons employees.
“They were working in the Montreal office and also referenced in the election returns as working in Bourassa,” Duncan said.
As far as Commons administration was aware, Duncan said, none of those employees had requested a leave of absence to work the election.
But NDP spokeswoman Valerie Dufour told HuffPost the allegations were “completely untrue.” She said that, as per Commons rules, the employees had banked overtime and were working the campaign as if they were on holiday.
The Huffington Post Canada has learned that three employees in the NDP’s Montreal office at the time also worked on the NDP’s byelection campaign. They were:
- David Patry, the director of media in Quebec
- Anne-Marie Aubert, a community outreach officer, currently on maternity leave
- Xavier Peich, a former employee who used to draft media press releases and other communications products
Receipts from the campaign returns from Patry and Aubert show they made several purchases during office hours on regular work days.
Patry, for example, expensed gasoline from Petro-Canada on October 30 at 10:24 AM before spending $17.53 on bracelets and baskets at a dollar store and then spending $777.23 at a printing and graphic shop at 1:13 PM.
Aubert placed thousands of dollars worth of printing orders for byelection flyers from the Montreal office where she worked, space that was set aside for House of Commons staff as well as party employees.
A message from the NDP’s official agent in Bourassa said Patry and Aubert were among eight individuals who had worked on the campaign but had not been paid. They were each given $525 to cover their personal expenses, such as per diems between October 22 and November 25.
Duncan told reporters he wasn’t sure how much money the 23 MPs, who pooled the resources together to pay for 19 to 28 staff in Montreal and Toronto, would have to pay back but said it was a “significant sum.”
He said he also wasn’t sure what the NDP’s parliamentary staff were doing in the Montreal office because the party hadn’t provided sufficient information. He said the board had ruled against the NDP because the party had not followed the rules about where employees should be working.
“The NDP has consistently disguised [and] misled the House of Administration as to where these employees were located,” Duncan said.
The board’s bylaws state that staff paid for by the Commons can work in Ottawa, or in a constituency office. It does not prevent third-party arrangements but it specifically bans partisan staff from working in offices paid by the Commons.
Duncan said the board had no plans to clarify the rules. He said the rules were already clear.
In a statement, NDP House leader Peter Julian insisted the party had broken no rules.
“[N]o public funds were spent inappropriately and employees at our regional offices were doing exclusively parliamentary work,” he said.
Julian said the work had been authorized by the House of Commons, although the clerk of the Commons, Audrey O’Brien said in email correspondence obtained by HuffPost that she had no knowledge the NDP staff were working outside Ottawa.
Julian called it a “partisan attack” by the Liberals and Conservatives that would suffocate the official opposition’s ability to carry out its parliamentary work.
Any money NDP MPs would have to pay would be on top of the $1.17 million in free mailing privileges the board ruled in June were wrongly used by the party to send almost two million mass partisan mailings to households in 26 ridings.
The Commons is expected to come up with a total amount and a payment plan in September.
Several staff members in the Montreal office are bracing for layoffs. Duncan said he was sympathetic to their unfortunate situation.
- With a file from The Canadian Press
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