A Liberal MP is calling on a secretive committee that governs the House of Commons to investigate expense claims made by Jason Kenney, the former Conservative cabinet minister now gunning to become Alberta's premier.
Jennifer O'Connell, who represents the Ontario riding of Pickering-Uxbridge, released a letter Thursday urging House Speaker Geoff Regan to use his capacity as chair of the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE) to initiate a probe. The all-party body oversees MP expenses.
O'Connell said "troubling" allegations have been raised about Kenney's "possible misuse" of the Travel Status Expenses Account, which allows MPs to claim living expenses in Ottawa while keeping a residence in their riding.
"The secondary residence allowance exists so that Members of Parliament can both fulfill their Parliamentary responsibilities as legislators in the House of Commons, and remain present in their constituencies to help and support the Canadians they represent," O'Connell wrote. "However, it is important that this allowance be used fairly and properly.
"The allegation that Mr. Kenney declared his primary residence to be the basement of his mother's home at an assisted living facility in Calgary, Alberta, and that Mr. Kenney was very rarely travelling to Calgary from his home in Ottawa raises grave concerns about whether Mr. Kenney's arrangement breached the rules."
O'Connell was referencing a series of recent tweets from Ottawa-based lawyer Kyle Morrow, who highlighted flight records to question how much time Kenney spent in Calgary between 2013 to 2015.
Morrow suggested that the former MP's primary residence was actually in Ottawa and wondered why he was entitled to $900 per month in subsidies while "listing his address in Calgary as a senior's retirement home."
Question: Why did Jason Kenney (@jkenney) only travel to his riding four times if he was actually living in his riding? Michelle Rempel, Rob Anders, Devinder Shory and Joan Crockett traveled to their ridings 20 times, 21 times, 24 times and 26 times. #hoc #ableg #cdnpoli https://t.co/AxXFQUAeV0— Kyle Morrow (@kylemmorrow) January 20, 2019
Kenney represented Calgary ridings in the House for nearly 20 years. He made the jump to provincial politics in 2016 and now serves as the leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party. He fired back by saying he was fully compliant with parliamentary rules.
Kenney's staff also noted Morrow was a "failed" former Alberta Liberal candidate, suggesting the inquiries were politically motivated.
In an interview with CBC Radio this week, Kenney noted that he spent so much time travelling as a senior minister in Stephen Harper's government that he would joke that his real home was an airplane.
"I was in Ottawa, I think, about 140 nights a year,'' he said. "I was on the road or in Alberta the rest of the time. I was living a lot of the year, frankly, in hotels."
Watch a clip from CBC News:
Kenney noted that there is no requirement for MPs to live a certain amount of the year in their riding because that wouldn't be feasible for everyone, especially busy ministers. MPs can qualify for a second residence by showing ties to the area they represent, such as paying taxes or a driver's licence.
Kenney said he rented part of his mother's home in a retirement village so that he could assist her when possible.
"That was a relatively short-term period when I was living with my mom in that bungalow until we were able to get her into assisted living and I was able to get my condo completed.''
In a lengthy post on Facebook last Saturday, Kenney said he has been a proud resident of Alberta for nearly three decades, with primary residences in Edmonton and then Calgary.
While some might mock, I make no apologies for helping my parents. I am not embarrassed to say that my home was in the same dwelling, even if in a separate suite. I owe everything to them.Jason Kenney
He also shed some light on his previous living arrangement with his mother.
"Following my father's passing, my mother moved into a detached bungalow unit that is part of a retirement community. To be clear, it wasn't part of a nursing home, but an independent, freestanding house," he wrote.
"Not wanting to leave my widowed mother entirely alone, I also rented the finished basement of the bungalow so that I could assist her and provide company while in Calgary. Eventually, I purchased the Calgary condo that I continue to live in today.
"While some might mock, I make no apologies for helping my parents. I am not embarrassed to say that my home was in the same dwelling, even if in a separate suite. I owe everything to them."
Kenney has been a thorn in the side of federal Liberals, primarily because of his voracious opposition to the the government's carbon pricing plan.
The UCP leader has pledged to scrap Alberta's carbon tax if he wins a spring provincial election and join with other conservative premiers, such as Ontario's Doug Ford, to fight Ottawa's imposition of a price on carbon on provinces and territories without a suitable plan to reduce emissions.
He also apologized last May for telling the Calgary Sun that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the "political depth of a finger bowl" and "can't read a briefing note longer than a cocktail napkin."
On Thursday, Kenney took to Twitter to say he was "not at all surprised that the Trudeau's team is looking to help out their Alberta NDP allies," saying federal Liberals would rather have an Alberta government that acts as a doormat.
Not at all surprised that the Trudeau Liberals are looking to help out their Alberta NDP allies. We all know the Liberals would rather have an Alberta Govt that continues to act as doormat for Justin Trudeau, as opposed to a UCP Govt that will actually stand up for Albertans. https://t.co/2U06iMPWoP— Jason Kenney (@jkenney) January 24, 2019
But the relationship between Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has strained in recent months over the federal government's inability to complete the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
This is not the first time O'Connell has turned up the heat on Kenney. When the UCP leader appeared before a finance committee last May, O'Connell grilled him on his views about climate change and whether or not he just says things for "political attention."
Watch the exchange:
O'Connell, who serves as parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, is not a member of the BOIE. Liberals hold four seats on the committee (including one held by Regan), while Tories hold two and New Democrats hold one.
In her letter, O'Connell urged the BOIE to investigate the issue and "make appropriate recommendations, or seek appropriate penalties or reimbursements from Mr. Kenney, should the Board find that he contravened the rules."
MPs will return to Ottawa Monday.