Politics

Liberals fire back at Conservatives over staff relocation expenses questions

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger told the House of Commons the previous Conservative government spent $300,000 to relocate PMO staffers in response to continued questions about the $1.1 million the Liberals spent to relocate ministers' aides.

Privy Council Office figures list $300K in expenses to relocate staffers in Harper PMO over 10 years

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)

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger told the House of Commons the previous Conservative government spent $300,000 to relocate PMO staffers in response to continued questions about the $1.1 million the Liberals spent to relocate ministers' aides.

The Conservatives say the approval of $207,052 in expenses to move Trudeau's principal secretary and close friend Gerald Butts and chief of staff Katie Telford from Toronto to Ottawa as a failure of judgment on the part of the prime minister.

Two more senior Liberal aides — the chiefs of staff to Industry Minister Navdeep Bains and Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion — announced Friday they would pay back similar amounts.

Butts and Telford announced in a Facebook post Thursday night that they would repay part of the expenses they claimed. The statement said they felt $65,000 of the expenses were "unreasonable," including money they each received under the category of "personalized cash and incidentals."

Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen said it was up to Trudeau to deny those claims if they were inappropriate.

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"The prime minister's friends admitted that they claimed tens of thousands of dollars of inappropriate expenses, which the prime minister signed off on," Bergen said. "This clearly shows a lack of judgment on behalf of the prime minister. What other expenses is the prime minister hiding and defending?"

But a former chief of staff to Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, Guy Giorno, dismissed the suggestion that Trudeau's judgment was even at play. 

"The idea that Mr. Trudeau approved any specific item is ridiculous," Giorno said. "He would have simply decided that they were covered (under the relocation policy)."

Giorno said that when he relocated from the Toronto area to Ottawa to work in the PMO in July 2008, his relocation was approved and then the entire move and all associated costs were handelled by a third party relocation service that followed the government's policy for moving expenses.

In response to a request from CBC News, the PMO said Trudeau did not sign off on the expense claims personally.

Rather, he "approved of the use of the relocation policy," which was administered by staff in Privy Council Office Finance according to Treasury Board guidelines.

'Only took the Liberals nine months'

Chagger said the government was following a long-standing policy of reimbursing staff for relocating to work in government.

"The previous prime minister's office approved over $300,000 in relocation expenses including one relocation at a cost of $93,331," Chagger said Friday of moving expenses the Conservatives accumulated over 10 years in office. "Mr. Speaker, we know that these policies need to be updated."

Trudeau has asked the Treasury Board to create a new policy for relocation expenses, she said.

"Well, Mr. Speaker, it only took the Liberals nine months to rack up over a million dollars in expenses," Bergen responded.

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The Privy Council Office, or PCO, later clarified that the single relocation of a Conservative staffer cost $92,952.71 and straddled the 2008-09 and 2009-10 fiscal years. The person who claimed the expenses was not named.

Conservative spokesman Jake Enwright said current party staff don't know who it is.

"There are numbers that the Liberals asked non-partisan public servants to dig up for political reasons," Enwright said. "Presumably, the Liberals will have the details about these figures."

Giorno said PCO told him it would be Monday before they could get him information about his relocation expenses, which he said was "odd."

"If the $93K is me, why not just say so?" Giorno said in an email.

The PCO is the branch of the civil service that administers non-political aspects of the PMO.

When an agency or entity of the federal government, the RCMP or the Canadian Forces authorizes an employee to be relocated, Brookfield GRS, a third party contractor, manages the move according to three separate policies.  

Employees of the federal government fall under the National Joint Council IRP Directive, which lays out a long and detailed list of entitlements and rules for what can and cannot be claimed.

According to the NJC's website, charges that can be expenses range from business calls, shipping a car, childcare, house-hunting trip expenses, mortgage breaking penalties, legal fees, shipping a boat, kennel fees for pets and a host of other expenses.

The PCO provided the following information on the last 10 years of relocation expenses for the PMO staffers.

with files from David Cochrane and Catherine Cullen

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