Politics

Trudeau Liberals spent $1.1M to move political staff

Documents tabled in the House of Commons reveal that it cost an estimated $1.1 million to move 49 aides to Liberal cabinet ministers to Ottawa. However, how exactly much of that money was spent remains a mystery.

Moving one Prime Minister's Office staffer cost taxpayers $126,669

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office had the highest costs to move political staff to Ottawa. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government spent an estimated $1.1 million to move 49 ministerial aides to Ottawa, but how more than half of that amount was spent is a mystery.

In a document tabled in the House of Commons, the government said it spent $373,921 to reimburse the cost of moving services and $52,777 on hotels, but there is little detail on how $685,118 was spent.

The Prime Minister's Office says that all of the spending and reimbursements followed government guidelines. However, it could not say what kind of expenses contributed to the $685,118 in unexplained spending.

Complicating the question is the fact that in their answers to a question placed on the order paper by Conservative MP Larry Miller, some departments supplied the estimates that had been provided by a relocation firm. When the question was posed on June 8, some ministerial staff members had not yet completed their moves to Ottawa. The actual tally could be higher or lower than the relocation company's estimate.

The Conservatives were quick to pounce during question period on Tuesday, portraying the moving bills as another example of the Liberal government's sense of "entitlement."

"With unemployment rising and families struggling to make ends meet, why did the Liberals think it was somehow OK to spend taxpayers' hard-earned money on these outrageous staff expenditures," demanded Karen Vecchio, Conservative MP for the Ontario riding of Elgin-Middlesex-London.

It is not known how much it cost taxpayers in moving costs for aides to former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains's office had the second highest estimated costs to move staffers. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Under the government's Treasury Board rules for ministerial offices, it is left to each cabinet minister's discretion to decide whether to reimburse costs associated with a political staff member relocating to Ottawa to work for the minister.

"Any benefits are negotiated between the minister and the individual," the guidelines read. "Any negotiated relocation assistance for those individuals is to be paid from the minister's own other operating budget."

Government guidelines also allow for a wide range of "entitlements" to be reimbursed, from flights for family members to house hunt to real estate transaction costs or shipping boats.

An analysis by CBC News of the response provided by the government shows that there appears to be a wide range when it comes to how Trudeau's ministers are exercising their discretion to reimburse the moving costs for political staffers.

While 10 ministerial offices didn't spend a cent to relocate any political staff to Ottawa, the Prime Minister's Office spent an estimated $220,564 to move five people to the capital, with one person reimbursed $126,669 for a move.

Former Conservative Treasury Board president Tony Clement said he was shocked by the tab for moving political aides. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The second highest tab was for the office of Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and economic development. According to the department's answer tabled in Parliament, it cost $150,971 to move two staffers — one of whom had expenses estimated at $113,799. The bill for Bains's office also works out to the highest average cost per staffer, amounting to $75,000.

Pauline Tam, director of communications for Bains, pointed out that the department's answer was based on an estimate provided by a relocation firm and at the time the question was posed, the two employees had not yet completed their moves. That is also why no expenses appeared in the categories of moving expenses and hotel stays, she said.

The third highest tab was at Global Affairs, which spent $146,067 to move nine aides to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion. A single employee accounted for $119,825 of that cost. Dion's staffers spent $33,683 on moving services and $6,635 on hotel stays, but no explanation is given for $105,748 in expenses that were reimbursed.

Dion's office has not yet responded to CBC News.

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau defended the government's spending, even though his own office didn't spend a cent to move political staff. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna's office spent $116,333 to move four staffers to Ottawa, with one staffer spending $75,894 of that amount. Spokeswoman Caitlin Workman said flights account for some of the $88,217 that is not explained by moving or hotel costs.

At the other end of the spectrum, it only cost taxpayers $1,943 in moving costs for one of Transport Minister Marc Garneau's staffers and $3,746 to move one of Revenue Minister Diane LeBouthillier's employees.

Former Conservative Treasury Board president Tony Clement was sharply critical of the moving expenses racked up by the Liberals.

"I can't recall having moving expenses like that. In fact, we were doing a wholesale review of moving expenses in various departments. So it's a bit shocking that these kinds of expenses are being expensed at this point."

But speaking to reporters on his way out of question period, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, whose office didn't spend a cent to relocate aides, defended the cost of moving political staff to Ottawa.

"We are proud of the diverse team of Canadians that we've recruited to Ontario. We will remain mindful of expenses in our government and prudent all the way through as we work on behalf of Canadians."

Elizabeth.Thompson@cbc.ca

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