OTTAWA – The NDP has been ordered not to use parliamentary resources to pay for staff in satellite party offices.
Sources say the board of internal economy, the all-party body that sets the rules for MPs’ spending, has decided that the House of Commons must be the ordinary place of employment for anyone whose salary is paid by the Commons; they cannot work in offices leased or owned by a political party.
The NDP has been operating satellite party offices, staffed by people on the Commons payroll, in Montreal and Toronto and has been preparing to open another in Saskatchewan.
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.
Both the Conservatives and Liberals have complained that the setup amounts to Parliament paying for partisan NDP field organizers.
Three Conservative and one Liberal members of the board voted Monday to immediately end the practice, said sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to say anything publicly before the board’s decision is announced Tuesday.
The two NDP members defended the offices but were out-voted.
New Democrats took to Twitter late Monday to argue that rival parties are changing the rules retroactively only because they’re miffed they hadn’t thought to set up satellite offices themselves.
Noting that the new rules would only apply until the next election in 2015, they predicted that the Tories and Liberals would set up their own offices immediately afterward.
However, sources said the new rules were put in place only for the remainder of the current parliamentary session as an interim measure meant to put an immediate stop to the practice. Stricter, permanent rules are expected to be adopted after Commons administration finishes a thorough investigation of the NDP’s satellite offices, they said.
Among other things, the board may yet decide to demand that the NDP reimburse the Commons for the resources used to staff the offices.
While the NDP has claimed the offices were approved by the administration, sources said Commons clerk Audrey O’Brien told the board that was not true.
The board also decided Monday to send more details to Elections Canada about partisan flyers sent by New Democrat MPs, using their free parliamentary mailing privileges, into four ridings that were engaged in byelections last fall.
Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand last week said that such missives do not constitute a campaign expense as long as they were mailed before the byelections were called — which Mulcair insists they were, although some arrived in mailboxes after the writs had been dropped.
However, Conservative and Liberal board members believe Mayrand may think differently when he realizes how blatantly partisan the mailings were.