Tom Mulcair to hire staff in Saskatchewan with House funds
'We respected the rules every step of the way,' NDP leader says
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair maintains his party was not breaking the rules when it used House of Commons money to set up satellite offices in Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto.
"We respected the rules every step of the way," Mulcair told reporters following his party's weekly caucus meeting on Wednesday.
Mulcair, who was seen as an effective interrogator in the Commons during the Senate expenses scandal, will see the tables turned on him Thursday when he testifies about his party's use of parliamentary resources before a committee.
But the NDP leader was defiant on Wednesday, saying his party is not breaking the rules and that he intends to use his House of Commons budget to hire at least one more person to work for him in Saskatchewan, where the party has no MPs.
"I want to have someone on the ground. I'm allowed to do that. I can pay somebody a fee to represent me, to work for me, to do that work," Mulcair said on Wednesday.
The bylaws for the members of Parliament stipulate that the funds given by the House of Commons to MPs "may be used only for carrying out the member's parliamentary functions."
According to the NDP, parliamentary functions need not be conducted solely out of Ottawa.
"We have done something creative," Mulcair said.
The NDP leader said that hiring staff in Montreal, for instance, was "the most efficient" use of taxpayers' dollars — as opposed to billing for the mileage to and from Parliament Hill.
New bylaws pending investigation results
While the NDP is still using its parliamentary budget to pay for staff working in cities outside of Ottawa, those employees are now working from home rather than in satellite offices paid for by the party.
Mulcair insists that staff on the Commons payroll are not doing partisan work and that the party is complying with a ruling issued by the Board of Internal Economy last month.
The board passed a provisional bylaw, pending the results of an investigation, saying that staff on Commons payroll could no longer work side-by-side with staff paid for by the party.
"This amendment has the effect of preventing employees or contractors whose salaries or fees are paid using House of Commons budgets from working on premises owned, leased or under the control of a political party," said Andrew Scheer, the House of Commons Speaker and chair of the board in a written statement on April 8.
Conservative MP Joe Preston, who serves as the chair of the committee that will hear from Mulcair on Thursday, said the NDP leader has yet to provide the committee with the documents they requested from him.
"I do not know why Mr. Mulcair is having a hard time producing the documents to do that," Preston said on Wednesday.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he looked forward to hearing Mulcair's testimony at committee on Thursday but refused to say whether he thought the NDP had misused taxpayers' dollars.
"I think anytime there are allegations of serious misuse of public funds, the way there are right now, it requires some very clear answers."
"I look forward to Mr. Mulcair being helpful and fulsome in his answers tomorrow at committee because Canadians are very concerned over the appearance of misuse of public funds," Trudeau said.
With files from The Canadian Press