Senior PMO staffers Gerald Butts and Katie Telford to return $65K in 'unreasonable' moving expenses

Two senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office have released a breakdown of the $200,000 in moving expenses charged to the taxpayer, saying they will pay back more than $65,000 in charges they decided were "unreasonable."

Top PMO staffers release detailed breakdown of moving expenses charged to taxpayers

Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, senior staff in the Prime Minister's Office, said they will repay more than $65,000 in moving expenses in a statement issued Thursday on Facebook that provided a breakdown of taxpayer-reimbursed expenses. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Two of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's most trusted advisers are repaying more than $65,000 in "unreasonable" expenses after the Liberal government controversially approved $207,052.11 to cover the cost of moving the pair from Toronto to Ottawa. 

Trudeau's principal secretary Gerald Butts posted a statement on Facebook Thursday evening, saying that his initial claim of $126,669.56 and Trudeau's chief of staff Katie Telford's claim of $80,382.55 contained unreasonable charges. 

"Katie and I feel like we owe people an explanation after the news stories involving our families over the last couple of days. Here's our best shot at it," said Butts. 

"While the rules were clear and we followed them, we both know that's not always enough," Butts added. 

"In the interests of living the government's and team Trudeau's values of transparency and accountability, we are releasing a breakdown of both our families' eligible expenses," he said, "refusing or refunding payment for a significant portion of them, and taking full responsibility for the whole series of events that led to this point."

Telford claimed:

  • Moving logistics: $10,735.50
  • Real estate commission, fees and employer taxes: $44,149.40
  • Personalized cash payout and incidentals: $23,373.71
  • Administration fees: $1,577.94
  • Travel: $546

Butts claimed:

  • Moving logistics: $14,636.39
  • Real estate commission, fees and employer taxes: $47,103.56
  • Personalized cash and incidentals: $20,799.10
  • Land transfer tax, legal fees and insurance: $25,141.31
  • Temporary rental lodging (apartment): $18,247.60
  • Administration fees: $468.60
  • Travel: $273

The statement goes on to say that both staffers now consider the "personalized cash and incidentals" they charged were inappropriate and will be reimbursed in full. 

In addition, Butts said he would also be reimbursing part of the land transfer tax he claimed that was "over and above what would have been the cost of the tax on a home at the average house price in Ottawa for 2016."

In a separate email to CBC News, Butts said the portion of the land transfer tax he would repay would be $20,819.52.

In total, Telford will pay back $23,373.71 and Butts will pay back $41,618.62.

The statement signed by both staffers notes that releasing a moving expenses breakdown for PMO staffers has never been done before. They also say that they will not be asking other staffers to pay back their moving expenses, "nor will we call on members of previous governments to do the same."

Following the Rules

"We take full responsibility for this having happened and because of that we are sorry," Butts wrote. "We've learned a lot of lessons over the past few days, and we commit to continuing to improve transparency in the future."

Blaine‎ Calkins, Conservative critic for ethics, said Trudeau still needs to explain to Canadians why he gave taxpayer money to his two staffers in the first place, and called the prime minister's judgement into question. 

"The fact is, Conservatives caught the prime minister's friends with their hands in the cookie jar. They would have gotten away with this without Conservatives acting as the taxpayers' watchdog," said Calkins.

"This outrageous abuse of public funds is unacceptable and taxpayers won't stand for it," he added.

The Facebook post said Trudeau has asked the secretary of the Treasury Board to create a new policy to govern relocation expenses across government.

This latest expenses scandal to envelop the Liberals was the subject of heated debate in the media and in the House of Commons Thursday as Trudeau was challenged to defend the spending while Canadian families in the oilpatch remained out of work. 

Earlier this summer, Health Minister Jane Philpott was forced to repay expenses she claimed for an Air Canada executive lounge membership and for hiring a luxury car service owned by a Liberal supporter. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was also forced to defend spending of $6,600 on photography at the Paris climate change summit.