All indications are, at least as reported widely in the news media, that the federal New Democrats have engaged in a scheme to use taxpayer money to help fund their party operations in Quebec and Saskatchewan.
The normally so sanctimonious Dippers have allegedly set up a satellite office in Montreal that violates parliamentary spending rules. The office housed both party workers and government-paid workers who are supposed to work exclusively on non-partisan constituency work. The Montreal office was also, allegedly, signed as an NDP office with its party logo.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, apparently, got all huffy when pressed by reporters. He insisted his party had done nothing wrong, and that duties were separated to ensure parliamentary staff only does parliamentary work and political staff does only political work.
As if to reinforce his case, Mulcair also said staffers who did constituency work and those that did partisan work were unionized and represented by two different bargaining units because of their job descriptions. He seemed to expect that this, of itself, was enough to prove the work was split appropriately between the two staff groups.
While Mulcair maintains his party has done nothing wrong and that the House of Commons approved the arrangement, House of Commons clerk Audrey O’Brien made it clear she was caught by surprise this March when she found out employees hired to work in Ottawa were, in fact, located in Montreal.
According to The Huffington Post, O’Brien wrote:
At no point was the House Administration informed that the employees would be located in Montreal or that their work would be carried out in co-location with a political party’s offices.”
When the Montreal office was set up in August 2011, Mulcair was Jack Layton’s Quebec lieutenant, so he’s very much in the forefront of those involved in this scheme. This is surprising because he’s a lawyer and obviously knows the rules better than most.
Controversy erupted earlier this year because of an NDP proposal to set up another satellite office, this one in Saskatchewan (see more here). Here’s an excerpt from my Apr. 10 blog entry:
The Ottawa Citizen reports that the ‘NDP has been operating a [sic] satellite party offices, staffed by people on the [House of] Commons payroll, in Montreal and Toronto and has been preparing to open another in Saskatchewan.’ And, according to that newspaper:
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has said the offices are designed to help MPs with outreach to their constituents and were approved by the Commons administration.
‘He has not explained why such an office would be necessary in Saskatchewan, where the NDP has no MPs, or why the job posting for that office listed campaign experience as an asset’.”
Yes, really! The NDP has no MPs in the province of Saskatchewan, but they want to have taxpayer-funded staff for “outreach to their constituents.” Saskatchewan constituents are already served by offices run by MPs elected in the various ridings in the province. The MPs are from other parties, but, once elected, they represent all constituents in their respective ridings.
MPs on the Procedure and House Affairs committee are scheduled to question the NDP leader at a hearing on Thursday. At that time, he’ll be expected to explain his party’s position.
Also at issue, according to The Huffington Post, will be the NDP’s use of MPs’ franking privileges, i.e., free letter postage. Apparently the Dippers have sent out for free close to 2 million pieces of mail in a five-month period last year, including some that were delivered during by-elections. Ouch!
Given what I’m reading in various media reports, the NDP seems engaged in a scheme to get Parliament to pay for partisan staff and activities. And most of the media outlets I’m looking at are not known to be unfriendly to that party. To the contrary, they often report quite favourably regarding Thomas Mulcair and issues related to his party.
I look forward to Mulcair’s testimony before the Procedure and House Affairs committee on Thursday.