House Of Commons Launches Study Of Controversial Travel Spending Rule | CBC News

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The House of Commons has launched a study of a clause in its spending rules that has allowed MPs travelling to caucus meetings connected to party conventions to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses over the past year.

Clause in rules has allowed MPs to bill Parliament for $538,314 over the past year

Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen convinced the Board of Internal Economy to study the rules on MPs’ expenses for attending caucus meetings. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)The House of Commons has launched a study of a clause in its spending rules that has allowed MPs travelling to caucus meetings connected to party conventions to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses over the past year.

Officials are also being asked to recommend ways the rules can be tightened up or improved.

Members of the Board of Internal Economy, which oversees the operation of the House of Commons and its spending, adopted a proposal from Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen to examine the exception to the general rule that prohibits MPs from claiming expenses related to partisan events, such as political party conventions.

“I’m hoping that we could perhaps give some direction to the staff here to go back and perhaps make some recommendations on how we can tighten up these loopholes,” Gerretsen told the board, which is composed of MPs from the four parties recognized in the House of Commons.

Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer took exception to the suggestion that there was a loophole in the spending rules, saying the provisions were agreed to by all parties in 2011.

“He’s characterizing this as a loophole, but quite the opposite, it wasn’t a loophole,” said Scheer, who served as Speaker at the time and was a member of the BOIE. “It was a conscious decision that the board made to put some rules around caucus meetings and travel.”

Scheer urged House of Commons officials to also study the cost of caucus meetings held outside of Ottawa that aren’t held in connection with a party convention.

While the Conservatives, New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois have all held caucus meetings alongside party conventions, the Liberal Party decided in 2014 not to take advantage of that clause in the rules. It has, however, held caucus meetings outside Ottawa and its MPs have claimed travel expenses for those meetings.

Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer says that the committee should examine the cost of caucus meetings held outside of Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)”There are regularly caucus meetings for national caucuses outside of Ottawa in the form of retreats,” said Scheer, citing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of expenses claimed by Liberal MPs to travel to the party’s last few caucus meetings outside Ottawa.

“If the Liberals are going to characterize that as a loophole, clearly those are also loopholes that the administration should consider and come back with options for changing the rules on that as well.”

CBC News has reported that a clause in the House of Commons spending rules has allowed MPs to charge $538,314 in travel, accommodation, meals and incidental to Parliament since May 2023 to attend caucus meetings connected to party conventions, including more than $84,000 for “designated travelers,” often MPs’ spouses.

Under the House of Commons rules, MPs generally cannot charge expenses related to partisan political activity such as party conventions or fundraising events. But MPs can claim expenses related to national caucus meetings, which are considered part of their parliamentary functions.

If a party holds a national caucus meeting at the same time and place as its party convention, MPs, their employees and designated travelers can charge travel, two nights of accommodation, meals and incidentals to attend the caucus meeting — effectively subsidizing their travel to the convention at the same time.

Conservative MPs accounted for 79 per cent of the spending by MPs, billing their House of Commons office budgets for $426,283 to go to Quebec City in September 2023. Conservative MPs were the only ones to bill Parliament for spouses to travel to a caucus meeting connected to a convention during the past year.

Conservative delegate Patrick Wuori calls on the crowd prior to party leader Pierre Poilievre’s speech at the Conservative Party Convention on Friday, September 8, 2023 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)New Democratic Party MPs had the second highest total, billing Parliament $83,087 from their MP office budgets to send MPs and a dozen of their employees to Hamilton in October 2023. The Bloc Québécois, whose MPs are all located in Quebec, billed their MP office budgets $28,943 for travel to Drummondville in May 2023, while Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet charged $594 to his House of Commons leader’s budget, as did four of his employees.

While MPs agreed on asking House of Commons staff to study the rules, they criticized what they called the political tone of Gerretsen’s letter and his reference to a loophole.

NDP House leader Peter Julian defended the practice, saying holding a convention at the same time as a caucus meeting can help MPs incorporate a party resolution on an issue like pharmacare into their work on Parliament Hill.

Julian said he is also concerned that Liberal MPs used their travel budgets to come to Ottawa for Parliament but it also allowed them to be in Ottawa for the weekend of their party’s last convention.

Julian said the rules should not stop parties from holding caucus meetings in various parts of Canada.

“To suggest that we only encourage party conventions and caucus meetings that are held in the National Capital Region does a disservice to the vastness of this land.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC’s Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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