OTTAWA - NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told a House of Commons committee the party broke no rules in the creation of taxpayer-funded satellite office in Montreal.
Mulcair maintained Commons staff had full knowledge the NDP intended to hire parliamentary staff to work in Montreal in 2011, issuing mobile phones with the 514 area code and sending cheques to addresses in Montreal.
“Every step of the way we were in discussion with pay and benefits of the House of Commons who sent the BlackBerry numbers for the Montreal phones, knew that they were working out of Montreal,” said Mulcair during a rare two-hour testimony before the Commons’ procedure committee.
All parties have taxpayer-funded parliamentary staff who can perform partisan activities, such as issuing press releases, but who are prohibited from party work like fundraising and membership drives.
Since 2011, the NDP has been housing some of those publicly funded staffers in an office in downtown Montreal to assist the raft of rookie NDP MPs elected in Quebec. But the office rent was paid for by the party, and also housed workers doing party work.
Both the governing Conservatives and opposition Liberals argue housing partisan and party workers in the same office amounts to a misuse of taxpayer funds.
“This was partisan activity taking place, being paid for by taxpayers and that’s a clear infringement of the rules and one that they have to answer for,” Conservative MP Blake Richards told reporters after the committee.
“We had a lot of questions that were left unanswered today. We need to have answers from the NDP and they must repay the money.”
But Mulcair and the NDP have a different interpretation of the rules. According to Mulcair, the satellite offices were above board until the Conservatives and Liberals moved to change the rules on April 8, 2014.
The NDP has since moved the parliamentary staff from the party office — but they remain on the public payroll. Mulcair said they’re still doing work out of their homes and his constituency office.