NDP still using parliamentary resources to pay for staff outside Ottawa
Published Wednesday, May 14, 2014 4:31PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 14, 2014 6:14PM EDT
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says the NDP has respected rules “every step of the way” regarding satellite offices that use Parliamentary resources to operate.
During a news conference with reporters following his weekly caucus meeting Wednesday, Mulcair defended the offices, saying his party “has done something creative” by establishing them.
Staff at the Montreal office, for example, are doing important outreach work with Quebecers, who gave the NDP a record number of seats in the province in the 2011 election, he said.
“We respected the rules every step of the way,” Mulcair said. “We were open, transparent every step of the way. Of course our employees are allowed to work in Montreal. To hear the Liberals and Conservatives tell it, they should all be working here in Ottawa.”
The Conservatives and the Liberals have accused the NDP of misusing Parliamentary resources for partisan purposes, and misleading administrators over the issue. The parties referred the matter to the board of internal economy, the all-party body that oversees administration of the House of Commons.
Following the complaints, the board adopted a provisional bylaw that says MPs cannot use House budgets to pay staff who work out of offices “owned, leased or under the control of a political party.”
Mulcair said the decision to open the satellite offices came out of a discussion on how best to use government resources. Discussion turned to whether the party or Parliament should pay the rent on the offices, and the decision was made for the party to pay.
“We didn’t anticipate that they would start changing the rules and make it difficult and say the party couldn’t pay,” Mulcair said.
The employees are now working from home, rather than at the satellite offices, he said, to comply with the new rules.
While Mulcair maintains that the offices complied with House rules and the satellite offices were not hidden, documents released Monday showed that the House administration was unaware that the NDP staffers, who were approved to do constituency work in Ottawa, were working in a Montreal party office.
Questions were raised about nine staffers as early as 2011, when employment forms indicated they lived near Montreal. When asked where the employees would work, the deputy chief of staff for the NDP leader at the time said “in Ottawa.” Seven NDP MPs also said the staffers would work in Ottawa.
But Audrey O’Brien, clerk of the House of Commons, said there was no indication the staffers “would be located in Montreal or that their work world be carried out in co-location with a political party's office.”
Mulcair said Wednesday it was clear the staffers were in Montreal: they were given telephones with 514 area codes and had Quebec addresses.
Mulcair will answer questions about the issue Thursday during an appearance before the Procedure and House Affairs committee, which has asked that he also turn over documents, including the lease for the Montreal office.
When asked by reporters if he will turn over the documents, such as the lease, Mulcair would only say that: “We will be there to answer all the questions as I do with you every single day.”
Anne McGrath, the NDP’s executive director, later told CTV’s Power Play that documents will be presented to committee, but did not specifically say whether the lease will be included.
“There’s no reason not to comply with the request for information because, as we’ve said and as we are confident, we have done nothing wrong,” McGrath said.
McGrath accused the Liberals and the Conservatives of engaging in “a bit of a witch hunt” because they are worried about the NDP’s strong support in Quebec and “want to throw mud.
“It won’t stick, though,” McGrath said.
It was clear “all the way along” that the staffers were based in Montreal, she said. The party did not hide the fact that it had opened the office, she said, having held news conferences there at times. Cheques were sent there for payments, she said, and an Ottawa political paper announced the hiring of staff.
“Everybody knew what was going on,” she said.
Once the committee reviews all the documents and hears Mulcair’s testimony, McGrath said, “I think they’re going to regret this.”
With files from The Canadian Press