Letter to the Editor
This week, the Government tabled a response to a formal question that I asked regarding the costs that were incurred to relocate staff for Ministers and the Prime Minister to Ottawa following the election last fall. The answer that I was provided with demonstrates a truly remarkable abuse of taxpayers’ dollars. These expenses are out of line and should never have been approved.
The documents that were provided to my office show that the Government spent close to $1.1 million to move 49 staffers to the Ottawa area following the election. They reveal that about $373,921 of that money was spent on moving services and $52,777 was spent on hotel rooms. However, that leaves $685,118 in expenses that are unexplained.
The costs get more troubling when you look to the expenses for two individual staff members in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The response from the Government shows that two individuals in the PMO billed taxpayers for more than $200,000. It has since come to light that these are the Prime Minister’s two top aides, his Chief of Staff, Katie Telford, and his Principal Secretary, Gerald Butts. These two staff members received these payouts even after they turned huge profits from selling their Toronto homes – Ms. Telford made close to $500,000 on her home while Mr. Butts brought in about $630,000 for the sale of his.
When asked about these payouts in Question Period, the Government House Leader repeated that they were simply following the rules that were previously in place. Now, the rules in place for relocation expenses in the Treasury Board Guidelines allow for discretion amongst individual Minister’s offices for relocation expenses. This is well and good and indeed some Ministers had very reasonable expense claims. However, what the guidelines do NOT do is promote the abuse of taxpayers’ money simply because staff are eligible for some support. The guidelines clearly state that: “A minister may, at his or her discretion, reimburse the relocation expenses of appointees who accept employment”. Therefore, the Prime Minister, at his own discretion, felt that his two top aides who recently turned massive profits on their homes in Toronto should receive a payout from taxpayers to move to their new jobs which pay them both more than $100,000 per year. So much for standing up for the middle-class!
Furthermore, when in Opposition the Prime Minister and other members of his Government were outraged when Nigel Wright wrote a check to reimburse taxpayers for unacceptable expense claims. While the repayment was inappropriate and did not go through the proper channels, at least it was an attempt to reimburse the taxpayer. What we are seeing here from this Government is a willingness to access any sort of entitlement at any time without any regard or respect for the hardworking Canadians who pay their taxes.
Political staff have always come and gone to and from Ottawa. It is a simple fact that if you want to work on Parliament Hill then you are going to need to live in Ottawa. This doesn’t mean though that taxpayers should be on the hook for your personal aspirations. For example, I have had a number of staff work for me who have had to move to Ottawa – including several who have moved from my riding. None of these staff ever expected to be given a handout for their move to Ottawa. It’s just plain common-sense.
Canadians are already fed up with the “I’m entitled to my entitlements” sentiment that this Government has shown time and time again. I will continue to push for more transparency and would urge the Government to use a little more common-sense when they are given the chance to throw around handouts “at their discretion”.
Larry Miller, MP Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound