A report into the office expenses of Campbellton-Restigouche Centre Progressive Conservative MLA Greg Davis says all his claims were supported by proper documents, but it leaves some unanswered questions about four months of rent payments in 2012.
The report suggests taxpayers didn’t pay anything extra for Davis’s rent problems this year — but also says the rookie MLA claimed some rent expenses in 2012, even after the PC Party of New Brunswick had already covered them.
The report was delivered to the Legislative Administration Committee (LAC) by legislative clerk Don Forestell on Friday afternoon.
Davis’s questionable expenses came to light last month when office furniture in his Campbellton-Restigouche Centre constituency office was briefly seized by sheriff’s officers for non-payment of $6,665, representing six and a half months of rent from September 2013 to March 2014.
The same day, the first-term Tory MLA announced via a press release that he would not run for re-election this fall.
The report says Davis had not claimed or been reimbursed for the unpaid rent, so the Legislature staff decided to pay the landlord directly out of the $40,000 budgeted to cover his office expenses.
“He was unable to pay the costs himself at this time,” the report states.
Legislature covered legal, bailiff, moving costs
The Legislature ended up paying another $1,028 for legal, bailiff and moving costs in getting Davis’s furniture released, but that’s the only extra cost to taxpayers this year.
It was a different story in 2012, however, when the Progressive Conservative Party covered $5,125, representing five months of office rent from February to June of that year.
The report says while the party made the payment in June, Davis had already claimed expenses and was reimbursed for one of the months it was covering.
Statement by Greg Davis
As I deal with my health issues, which I have tried to keep to myself, I want to thank those who have expressed concern and compassion.
I am very sorry that my illness has impacted my ability to manage my obligations in a timely manner.
It pains me to think that the implication has been made that I misused taxpayers’ money for any purpose.
I want to co-operate fully, be open, truthful and transparent.
I requested that the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly review any and all constituency expenses for the electoral district of Campbellton-Restigouche Centre since October 12, 2010 and release the findings publicly.
I will continue to support my constituents with the help of my constituency assistant and my colleagues.
In addition, one month after the PC Party paid the bill, Davis filed a claim and was reimbursed for three more months — April, May and June, the report states.
“Mr. Davis appears to have taken measures to ensure that the landlord ultimately received payment for the rental charges he was claiming from the Legislative Assembly,” the report says.
“In this instance he appears to have done so with the assistance of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick.”
The report says “it appears that both Mr. Davis and the party view this payment [of $5,125 by the party] for rent to be in the form of a loan to Mr. Davis.” It does not say whether Davis repaid the party.
Jean-Paul Soucy, the executive director of the PC Party, could not be reached for comment on Friday afternoon.
Liberal Opposition MLA Victor Boudreau says the report appears to establish that all of Davis’s claims and reimbursements were proper.
“It does seem there were no monies claimed inappropriately from the Legislature by the MLA in question,” Boudreau said.
But he added his party still has questions about that $5,125 payment by the PCs, as well as a $2,339 office expense from 2010 that the local PC riding association finally covered in 2012.
“Where we still have a few question marks is with the PC Party’s involvement, both at the provincial level and the local level. There were some loans and some invoices that were paid and the reporting of those doesn’t seem to be clear.”
Earlier this week Campbellton businessman John Van Horne told CBC News that in 2012, the local PC board agreed to pay him for the 2010 invoice of $2,339 after he tried repeatedly to get Davis to pay.
The report released Friday shows Davis claimed and was reimbursed $2,000 for Van Horne’s services in December 2010.
Flemming declines to characterize report
Meanwhile, Health Minister Ted Flemming, the senior government minister of the Legislative Administration Committee, declined to characterize the report at all, telling reporters he wanted to read it over the weekend.
“It’s there, it’s in the public domain,” he said after a 50-minute closed-door meeting where Legislature staff briefed the committee.
“I haven’t read it … I’m not going to answer questions on a document that long until I’ve studied it thoroughly and clearly.”
Speaker Dale Graham also hesitated to comment on the details. At one point he seemed to suggest the report’s findings were enough to clear Davis. “We’ve been told it is, yes,” he said.
But when a journalist asked if it meant there was nothing wrong, the Speaker said, “I’m not here to judge that.”
Graham said he planned to read newspaper reports to digest the document’s findings.
The report recommends in the future that the landlords of MLA riding offices be paid directly through direct deposit, rather than having elected members pay the rent and then claim it.
The report also notes that Davis often claimed for rent before paying his landlord, sometimes “several months” before paying.
A clear, overall picture of Davis’s expenses is complicated, the report says, by three factors:
He didn’t claim office rent at all for March 2012, March 2013 and the first half of September 2013.
The amounts received by the landlord “varied,” as recorded by the landlord.
- The “unknown timing and nature” of a $1,922 mistake by the landlord when he calculated the rent, an amount Davis still owes.
The LAC report that was released on Friday had been expected to be made public on March 25. But the report was delayed after the clerk's office received "new information" that needed to be included.
New Democratic Party Leader Dominic Cardy has called on the province's conflict-of-interest commissioner to look into the Davis matter.
A bill currently before the legislature would require all New Brunswick MLAs to publicly post all their expense claims online.
As it stands, all the public sees is the total amount of expenses claimed by MLAs, not the individual receipts. Only legislature staff get to review the breakdown of expenses.