OTTAWA — The secretive committee of MPs that governs the House of Commons will hold its first public meeting Thursday.
The Board of Internal Economy has long been criticized for its in-camera nature. The committee oversees MPs' budgets and spending, security and building management, and adjudicates human resources issues, such as allegations of wrongful dismissal and of sexual assault and harassment.
During a meeting in May, for example, the four Liberals, two Conservatives and lone New Democrat on the board agreed for undisclosed reasons to reimburse the legal fees of an unidentified member of Parliament.
Board handles harassment issues
At its meeting in April, the board tentatively approved the payment of legal fees for three unidentified members of Parliament involved in a legal action. It also approved the legal fees and the undisclosed cost of a settlement for another MP involved in legal action. In no case did the board's minutes provide any details about the nature of the issue.
In May, the board also discussed the Annual Report on the House of Commons Policy on Preventing and Addressing Harassment for 2016-2017 — pushing publication to the end of the following month when it could be tabled with other year-end reports.
That report said that while 19 cases were opened by the Commons' Chief Human Resources Officer, 13 were inquiries for information and, of the remaining six cases, only two were formally investigated. One case was resolved outside the harassment policy, one was resolved informally and two were "deemed not receivable as the complaints did not meet the policy's definition of harassment."
Of the two cases formally investigated, the report concluded that there was "no harassment in either case."
The board will not hold all its meetings in public. Under new legislation passed in June, it will still hold closed-door sessions to discuss internal and sensitive matters, such as harassment allegations, security, employment, staff relations or tenders, or if the members of the board present at the meeting unanimously agree to go in camera, House of Commons spokeswoman Heather Bradley told HuffPost Canada.
Last spring, the board made several decisions regarding MPs' spending.
- It approved a "request for exception" to allow an MP to charge "certain hospitality expenses" to a miscellaneous expenditure account;
- It denied a request for undisclosed reimbursement of undefined hospitality expenses for an MP(s);
- It denied reimbursement of travel expenses for an MP's child;
- It denied permission for an MP to claim as a 2016-2017 charge advertising expenses incurred in 2015-2016.
None of the MPs was identified.
The board is the final arbitrator of MPs' spending. Acting on behalf of the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals, it has refused to allow the auditor general to investigate MPs' books.
These issues will likely still be handled in-camera, as they are in the Senate through its committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, which also holds meetings partly in public.
Government House Leader Bardish Chagger declined to say what may or may not change under the new practice.
"I am pleased that the Board of Internal Economy will be having its first open meeting this week," she simply wrote in an email.
Committee denied Bloc request for more funds
The open meetings may shed more light on board discussions and decisions — such as how each party votes. In February, for example, the board denied a request by the Bloc Québécois for extra funds to support its activities in the Commons.
The Bloc has 10 MPs in the House. The Parliament of Canada Act and the by-laws of the board state parties must have 12 or more members to receive the additional salary bumps for a party leader, House leader, whip, deputy whip and caucus chair. The board also funds the caucus research units of "recognized parties" with 12 or more members. It refused to make an exception for the Bloc.
In 2014, the NDP urged the board to hold open meetings after the Conservatives and Liberals ruled that the New Democrats had broken the rules by opening taxpayer-funded satellite offices outside of Ottawa without explicit permission from the House. The board also ruled the NDP had flouted the rules on sending overly partisan bulk mail.
The NDP argued that the board's decisions were politically motivated. The case is currently in front of a federal judge.
Earlier on HuffPost: