Politics

John McCallum tells House his department did pay relocation expenses, after all

Immigration Minister John McCallum stood up in the House of Commons Tuesday to concede that he made a mistake when he told Parliament his department had not paid costs to relocate staff to Ottawa.

Speaker says he can't find breach of privilege over Health Minister Jane Philpott's answer to 'limo' question

Health Minister Jane Philpott was cleared of misleading the House over her use of a luxury car service, while Immigration Minister John McCallum was forced to correct the Parliamentary record over moving expenses for a member of his staff. (Canadian Press )

Immigration Minister John McCallum stood up in the House of Commons Tuesday to concede he made a mistake when he told Parliament his department had not paid costs to relocate staff to Ottawa.

The official Opposition submitted a written question to the minister in June asking if he had used the government's relocation services to cover expenses associated with moving staff to Ottawa to work for him.

McCallum's office initially said staff relocation costs for his department were zero. But on Monday, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel produced documents revealing McCallum's office had picked up two months of hotel bills and half the cost of round-trip airfare from Thailand for the minister's director of issues management, Bernard Derible.

"Today I have received new information that indicates that relocation costs were incurred during the period and the total is $9,692.50," McCallum told the House before question period Tuesday. "I am correcting the record at the earliest opportunity and I also intend to file a supplementary response in the House at the earliest possible opportunity."

McCallum later explained that the moving costs were omitted over what amounted to an accounting error, where figures were put into the wrong column.

Camielle Edwards, a spokesperson for McCallum, told CBC News on Monday that Derible's expenses were not considered relocations expenses because he was a contract employee hired on a short-term basis to help out with the influx of Syrian refugees.

Edwards further explained Tuesday that covering half the cost of Derible's flight and his hotel bill were "standard practice."

Later Tuesday, McCallum told MPs those expense should have been disclosed in the order paper response.

In all, Liberal ministers disclosed $1.1 million in relocation expenses for staff in response to the order paper questions. Senior Liberal aides in the Prime Minister's Office and for two ministers have promised to pay back about $120,000 of that total.

Derible was offered a full-time position with McCallum's office after two months. He stayed in the hotel for another two months, but paid for the bills himself, Edwards said. She added that taxpayers did not foot the bill for moving costs when Derible settled his family in Ottawa in February.

No sanction in House for Philpott

Meanwhile, House Speaker Geoff Regan issued his ruling Tuesday on a complaint that Health Minister Jane Philpott misled Parliament when she responded to a written question submitted by Conservative MP Dan Albas.

That question had asked Philpott if and when she had rented limousines while on official business in Canada or elsewhere.

"With regard to government travel, for the period of Nov. 3, 2015, to April 22, 2016, the minister of health did not use rented limousines while on official business, within Canada or elsewhere," Philpott's department said in an answer tabled in the Commons in June, and signed by the minister.

It later emerged Philpott had used a luxury car service owned by a Liberal party supporter while in the Greater Toronto Area on March 31, billing taxpayers $1,700, and then again on July 12, when she billed $1,994 for the same car service. Philpott later apologized and said she would repay $3,703 in car service expenses.

Albas argued Philpot's answer to his written question breached his privilege as an MP.

But Speaker Geoff Reagen said Tuesday that while he was concerned about the written question process being undermined, he could not find that Philpott had misled the House.

"In this particular instance, based upon the evidence before me, I cannot conclude that (Albas) has been impeded in the performance of his parliamentary duties and, thus, I cannot find that a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred," Regan said.

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