Federal appeals court says it can’t hear NDP case on satellite-office expenses

The decision is a blow to the NDP, which is struggling financially

The NDP cannot turn to the courts to overturn a five-year-old order by a parliamentary committee to repay as much as $2.7 million in expenses the committee said were improperly claimed.

The committee that handles internal House of Commons administration said the money funded NDP offices in three cities outside Ottawa, which isn’t a legitimate use of MPs’ budgets for their parliamentary duties.

The decision is a blow to the NDP, which is struggling financially and would have loved to have the money for its next election campaign.

The Federal Court of Appeal said Wednesday the decision by the board of economy, a committee of MPs that oversees financial administration of the House of Commons, is protected by parliamentary privilege and therefore the courts cannot get involved.

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The NDP was seeking judicial review of the committee decision. The House of Commons sought to have the cases thrown out on grounds that it impeded on the Commons’ basic right to govern itself but a Federal Court judge rejected that argument.

Wednesday’s decision overturned that ruling and at the same time threw out the requests for judicial review and ordered the NDP to pay legal costs for the case.

“I would strike the four consolidated applications for judicial review on the basis that the Court does not have the jurisdiction to hear them,” wrote Judge Marc Noel, the chief justice of the Federal Court of Appeal.

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice, who was ordered to repay more than $122,000, said Wednesday the party is “disappointed” in the ruling.

“We expected a different outcome,” he said.

“We are still saying it was a political decision to hurt the NDP, the NDP caucus,” he said. “But we will look at all our options right now. No decisions have been taken about the possibility of going on to appeal that decision.”

Boulerice said most of the money has already been repaid but the party was hoping it would be reimbursed those funds if it won the case.

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The case involves a decision by the NDP in 2011 to pool parliamentary resources for MPs in Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto. The shared staff were considered employees of Parliament but worked in offices in those cities that were shared with the NDP’s own partisan staff. In 2014, when the Conservatives were in government, the board of economy ruled that plan was using parliamentary funds for party purposes, which is not allowed.

The original order affected 68 MPs but at least one, former NDP MP Dan Harris, was able to use documents to prove the staff member in his case was a legitimate parliamentary employee. His $140,000 bill was reduced to $0 in 2016.

The NDP has not yet responded to requests for information about how much was repaid or whether any other MPs also had their bills reduced or eliminated.

Since the last election, the NDP has struggled to raise money and in 2017, the most recent year full information is available, its liabilities exceeded its assets by more than $3 million. It also ran a $1.4-million operating deficit in 2017. Last year the party mortgaged its office building in downtown Ottawa for $12 million to help its cash situation.

After the 2015 election, when a majority of the 68 NDP MPs named in the case were defeated, the NDP sought an out-of-court settlement that would have seen the NDP’s parliamentary research budget reduced in lieu of having the MPs repay the expenses.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nixed that deal, saying it would condone an improper use of taxpayer money.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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