Speaker says 'nobody' checked with him on NDP spending

New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair may face more questions on his party's assertion that his party got the green light to use its House budget to pay for a mass mail drop in the riding of Bourassa on the eve of the November 2013 byelections.

Testimony seems to contradict NDP claim that House gave the green light to satellite office scheme

Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer is scheduled to appear before the House Affairs committee alongside deputy House clerk Marc Bosc and Commons chief finance officer Mark Watters. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair may face more questions on his party's assertion that it got the green light to use its House budget to pay for a mass mail drop on the eve of last fall's byelections.

Appearing at the procedure and House affairs committee Thursday, Speaker Andrew Scheer disputed statements from NDP officials that his office approved the mailout in Montreal's Bourassa riding ahead of the November, 2013, vote.

Scheer also told the committee that his office hadn't given the go-ahead to use House funds to pay for staff to work in so-called "satellite offices" in Quebec and Toronto.

Both Mulcair and party officials have said that House administrators were fully aware that the staffers were working outside the parliamentary precinct. 

In response to a question from Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, Scheer said no one in his office had been asked about the mailout.

“Nobody checked with me, personally, or anyone in my office,” Scheer said.

Scheer, interrupted

New Democrat staffers responded to questioning by the lone Liberal committee member by pointing to a letter sent to Scheer’s office in April, 2013, which explicitly sought clarification on the rules for House-funded mailouts.

New Democrat MP Craig Scott was quick to object to Lamoureux's line of questioning, leading to a confusing back-and-forth in which it wasn't totally clear to which question Scheer was responding.

Scheer's office later had to clarify his answer referred to the Bourassa mailout and acknowledged the letter NDP staff emailed to reporters after the meeting. Scheer noted in his written response that the letter from NDP whip Nycole Turmel asked about a range of issues regarding House mailing privileges.

Lamoureux also brought up a quote from New Democrat deputy leader Megan Leslie, who said in April that the party had gotten "approval from the speaker" to set up the satellite offices. 

On Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for the leader told The Canadian Press that Leslie "misspoke."

In his objection to Lamoureux's questions, Scott reminded committee chair Joe Preston that Scheer has yet to rule on the New Democrats' contention that the committee can't investigate NDP spending.

New Democrat MP David Christopherson, meanwhile, warned his committee colleagues that if they continued down "the circus road," his party was prepared to retaliate with more procedural objections.

Preston eventually sided with the NDP and advised Lamoureux to stick to the estimates.

'In consultations' with House administrators

Earlier this month, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was questioned by committee members over allegedly 'inappropriate' use of House funds to pay for staff at 'outreach offices' in Quebec and Toronto, and a pre-byelection mail drop. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
In response to Scheer's comments today, a party spokesperson maintained the payments were arranged "in consultations and with knowledge of the [House of Commons] administration.”

Scheer appeared before the committee, with deputy House clerk Marc Bosc and chief financial officer Mark G. Watters, to take questions on the Commons budget.

Their appearance came just two weeks after Mulcair underwent a two-hour grilling over his party's taxpayer-funded "outreach offices."

The ongoing controversy over the NDP's allegedly "inappropriate" use of House resources wasn't on the official agenda, but that didn’t deter Lamoureux from making several attempts to bring it up until Preston put a stop to it.

Selling the silver(plate)

In any case, Lamoureux eventually switched to a seemingly less contentious topic: the decision to sell off silver-plated cutlery that once graced the tables of the parliamentary restaurant.

As Scheer noted, the cutlery in question had been in storage for 10 years, and as such, had little historic or sentimental value.

MPs only managed to get through one round of questioning before the meeting was cut short by an unscheduled House vote, which resulted in an appearance by Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand being postponed until the next meeting.

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski’s motion to continue the investigation into NDP spending is also scheduled to come up for debate next week.