NDP Leader Tom Mulcair testifies at committee over offices controversy

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is testifying before a House of Commons committee about allegations the party has been improperly using its parliamentary budgets to pay staff in satellite party offices outside Ottawa.

OTTAWA — NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is testifying before a House of Commons committee about allegations the party has been improperly using its parliamentary budgets to pay staff in satellite party offices outside Ottawa.

The Conservatives last month employed an obscure procedural manoeuvre to pass a motion in the Commons ordering Mulcair to explain his party’s use of parliamentary resources to the procedure and House affairs committee.

It’s the first time in Canadian history that an opposition leader has been ordered to testify at a committee, according to the Library of Parliament.

The grilling was prompted by Liberal and Conservative complaints that New Democrats were improperly using their Commons budgets to pay staff in satellite party offices in Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto and to send bulk partisan mailings into four ridings that were in the midst of byelection campaigns late last year.

The secretive all-party board of internal economy is still investigating the satellite offices but, in the interim, has issued a new bylaw forbidding the used of Commons budgets to pay employees who work in offices paid for by a political party.

Mulcair disclosed this week that the staffers in the satellite offices — 10 in Montreal, two in Quebec City and two in Toronto — are still on the Commons payroll but are now working from home to comply with the new bylaw.

The board also asked Elections Canada to investigate the bulk mailings. The independent watch dog responded that it had no authority over mailings posted before the byelections were called — which the NDP insists was the case, although some arrived in mailboxes after the writ had dropped.

The board has sent Elections Canada more details about the mailings and asked that the agency take another look at the matter.

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