Liberals cry foul as opposition parties billed taxpayers half-a-million last year for ‘parliamentary duties’

'There is an unavoidable difference for an MP that needs to fly from rural Alberta to Quebec City to attend a caucus meeting than an MP that drives from Toronto to London to do the same,' said a Conservative Party spokesperson.

Liberals cry foul as opposition parties billed taxpayers half-a-million last year for ‘parliamentary duties’
CPAC
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A Parliamentary loophole allows members of Parliament to expense taxpayers for travel to party conventions and caucus meetings.

Since May 2023, MPs have billed taxpayers $538,314 for travel, accommodation, meals and other costs, including more than $84,000 for travel by “designated travellers” tied to caucus meetings.

Conservative MPs racked up 79% of spending last year, or $426,283, as first reported by CBC News

Sebastian Skamski, director of media relations for the Opposition Leader’s Office, justified the costs and said all Conservative MPs complied with Parliamentary rules.

Under House of Commons rules, MPs cannot charge expenses related to partisan political activity, except for national caucus meetings, which are considered part of their parliamentary duties.

If a party holds a national caucus meeting at the same time and place as its party convention, MPs, their employees and “designated travellers” can charge travel, two nights of accommodation, meals and other expenses to attend the meeting.

Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon criticized the Conservative Party for exploiting the “loophole” last year.

“Let's state the obvious here,” he said. “They're travelling to attend a national convention of the party, an intensely partisan event.” 

Skamski contends Conservative MPs followed the rules, partially attributing the bill to accommodate MPs who live in far, remote areas.

“There is an unavoidable difference for an MP that needs to fly from rural Alberta to Quebec City to attend a caucus meeting than an MP that drives from Toronto to London to do the same,” said Skamski.

Conservative MPs attended a caucus meeting for its Québec City convention that included $331,699 for travel, $71,408 for accommodations and $21,053 for meals and other expenses.

In contrast, the Bloc Québécois, whose MPs all reside in Québec, billed Parliament $28,943 for travel to Drummondville for a caucus meeting last May for a convention. 

Skamski told Rebel News the size of a caucus also fluctuates costs. “Notably the NDP, which has a caucus 1/5th the size of ours, spent nearly $90,000 on expenses to attend their national caucus meeting ahead of their convention in Hamilton,” he said.

New Democratic MPs billed Parliament $83,087 to send MPs and a dozen of their employees to a caucus meeting connected to a convention last October. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did not claim any expenses, but a staff member did.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet did not file an expense claim for their respective meetings.

The Liberals, meanwhile, did not file expenses for a similar caucus meeting last May, as Parliament was sitting at the time. 

MacKinnon told CBC News the Liberal Party also did not take advantage of the clause for a Montreal convention in 2014. 

“We knew that that loophole existed,” he said, “that caucuses were fine, conventions not fine and that Liberals wouldn't play that game of conveniently scheduling a caucus meeting around a party convention.”

MacKinnon also said they welcome discussions on closing the “loophole.”

“As far as we are aware, there is no proposal on the table regarding House of Commons expense rules for caucus meetings,” Skamski said.

“If one were to be brought forward, we would of course consider it and additionally propose changes that would ban taxpayer funding for luxurious Liberal cabinet retreats outside of those held in government offices in Ottawa,” he notes.

Liberal MPs and staffers have billed the House of Commons, and subsequently taxpayers, over the years for travel to caucus meetings outside Ottawa that were not associated with a party convention, claimed the Conservative spokesperson.

During the Liberal 2023 caucus retreat in London, party MPs expensed $231,636 in costs so far to Parliament. Skamski told Rebel that costs for 26 MPs remain outstanding and are expected to increase the total further when tabulated.

The total bill to taxpayers as of writing is $314,552, excluding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s security and private jet, as well as $16,576 billed for spouses and other dependents.

Skamski said that, unlike the Liberals, the Conservatives have often held their caucus retreats in Ottawa, resulting in no additional costs to taxpayers.

“Justin Trudeau is in no position to lecture anyone and pontificate on the subject after spending over $1.3 million on so-called ‘affordability retreats’ which resulted in life becoming less affordable for Canadians,” he told the publication.

Additionally, the Liberals spent $428,258 for their 2022 caucus retreat in New Brunswick, where 21 MPs brought “designated travellers” at a cost of $43,292.

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