NDP MPs ordered to repay $1.17M over improper mailings
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, June 11, 2014 2:59PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 11, 2014 10:01PM EDT
A House of Commons committee is ordering New Democrat MPs to repay $1.17 million in taxpayers’ money over mailings sent out across the country that the committee determined broke Parliamentary rules.
The Board of Internal Economy, the secretive committee that oversees House of Commons spending, decided Wednesday that $36,000 is owed to the House administration, while Canada Post is owed $1.13 million.
“The bylaws are clear. Members of Parliament are accountable for any use of House resources,” committee member and Conservative whip John Duncan told reporters in announcing the decision.
The committee’s decision will be provided to Elections Canada, which is also investigating the mailings, he said.
Last week, the committee found that the NDP broke the rules when it used taxpayer-funded resources to send out nearly two million mailings across the country, CTV News reported.
After a months-long investigation, the board concluded the letters were partisan, “prepared by and for the benefit of the NDP as a political party to advance electoral purposes.” The mailings included the party logo and website.
The party sent at least 1.8 million pieces of mail to homes in 26 ridings using House of Commons postage.
Under so-called franking privileges, MPs can send postage-free mail to constituents. However, they cannot use parliamentary resources for campaign purposes. Some of the mailings were sent to ridings where byelections were about to take place.
House administration has been “directed” to seek the $36,000 directly from MPs who sent the mailings, Duncan said Wednesday. The NDP has been given a deadline to repay the House, reported CTV’s Deputy Ottawa Bureau Chief Laurie Graham. If they do not comply, the House can recoup what it is owed by taking the money directly from MPs’ budgets.
Meanwhile, Canada Post will have to work with individual MPs to recoup the money it is owed. The committee cannot compel MPs to repay Canada Post, Duncan said.
The $1.13 million owed to Canada Post is “associated with the use of franking privileges,” he said.
Under to the Canada Post Corporation Act, letters between citizens and various politicians, including the House and Senate speakers and MPs, can be sent free of charge. MPs can also send up to four sets of flyer mailings to their constituents free of charge each calendar year.
MPs that send more than four sets of flyer mailings in any calendar year are given a “deeply discounted postage rate.”
In a statement to CTV’s Richard Madan, Canada Post said it will “review the decision” by the committee and declined to comment further.
Earlier in the day, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said his party would not willingly repay any funds if ordered to do so.
Duncan, also earlier in the day, said that the House could recoup the money it is owed by garnishing the budgets of MPs.
Shortly after Duncan announced the committee’s decision, NDP House Leader Peter Julian told reporters that the party will challenge the decision in court.
“We believe that we have followed the member's bylaws and the Canada Post Act, and we will now have to fight this process -- by a partisan secretive body that is dominated by Conservatives -- outside of Parliament," Julian said.
He decried a process that does not include the presentation of evidence, witness testimony or an opportunity for the NDP to defend itself.
"None of this will hold up in a court of law,” he said.
Julian did not directly answer when asked whether MPs will repay the money.
Instead, he accused the Conservatives of using their majority on the committee to exempt their own mailings from investigation, “and invent their own rules about what might be appropriate and what’s not.”
The New Democrats have said repeatedly that they did nothing wrong and are the victims of a “Kangaroo court.”
The party said last week that it checked with Commons administration before sending the mailings and followed the rules.
Mulcair said earlier Wednesday he expected Liberals and Conservatives on the committee to join forces and order that his party repay the funds.
"We're not going to be surprised -- we're taking it for granted, frankly, that they're going to come out against us," Mulcair told reporters on Parliament Hill following Wednesday's weekly caucus meeting.
He criticized the committee and its investigation, saying "there's no process, no right to be heard, no right to educe evidence, no right to see that the rules are applied equally to everyone.”
The party will not repay the funds voluntarily if ordered to do so, Mulcair said.