04/08/2015 14:51 EDT | Updated 06/08/2015 01:12 EDT

Liberals seek probe of NDP MPs' allegedly improper use of riding offices

OTTAWA - The secretive body that ordered New Democrats to reimburse almost $4 million in allegedly misspent parliamentary resources is being asked to investigate a new allegation of improper spending by NDP MPs: the use of taxpayer-funded constituency offices to campaign for re-election.Liberal MP Marc Garneau wants the multi-party board of internal economy to conduct a thorough investigation into what he believes is a "widespread and apparently co-ordinated" use of riding offices to stage door-to-door canvassing blitzes.In a letter sent Wednesday to House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, the board's chairman, Garneau says at least 43 New Democrat MPs have used their riding offices to organize "day of action" canvassing — and more intend to do so again later this month.Garneau says the days of action appear designed to "identify supporters" and are thus "inherently electoral in nature" — a suspicion he says is underlined by the fact that NDP candidates have simultaneously conducted identical canvassing blitzes in ridings not currently held by the party.He also points to a video message late last year from NDP national campaign director Anne McGrath, in which she explains that the days of action are designed to build the NDP's ground organization and use their "incumbent advantage" to win the coming election."While all parties have volunteers that knock on doors and identify potential supporters, that activity must be funded strictly by party resources and not parliamentary funds," Garneau says in the letter.Deputy NDP caucus chair Ruth Ellen Brosseau counters that New Democrat MPs are simply doing their jobs."Our days of action are legitimate activities that enable MPs to discharge their parliamentary functions and communicate with their constituents — which is allowed and expected under House rules," she said in a statement to The Canadian Press, accusing the Liberals of using the secretive board to once again conduct a partisan vendetta against the NDP."Of course, communicating with Canadians is not something Liberals care about — they only care about smearing the NDP and ganging up with the Conservatives behind closed doors to attack New Democrats."Constituency offices are funded by the House of Commons. Under members' bylaws, any funds, goods, services or premises provided by the Commons to an MP are to be used only for carrying out parliamentary functions.While some partisanship is allowed, the rules specifically forbid using Commons resources for "activities related to a member's re-election" or activities designed to support or oppose a political party or individual candidate.Garneau says notices of NDP day of action events show that MPs used their constituency offices to co-ordinate canvass materials and as the gathering point for teams of canvassing volunteers.Moreover, he says it appears in some cases that constituency office staff were used to organize the events and that would-be volunteers were encouraged to call constituency office phone numbers to sign up for canvassing.As well, he says party organizers are listed as the hosts of some day of action events staged out of constituency offices, violating another rule which forbids anyone other than an MP's employees to make use of premises provided by the Commons."These activities are clearly contrary to the members bylaw," Garneau says in the letter.The board of internal economy has previously ruled that New Democrat MPs improperly used parliamentary resources to pay for mass partisan mailings and staff in satellite party offices. For those two alleged violation of the rules, it has ordered the MPs to reimburse almost $4 million.New Democrats, who dismiss the board as a partisan "kangaroo court," have so far refused to repay any money and are challenging the board's rulings in court.