September 30, 2016 - 12:00 PM
OTTAWA - Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose is denying a media report that says she claimed additional accommodation expenses while she was also living at Stornoway, the taxpayer-funded official Opposition leader's residence in Ottawa.
"This report is completely inaccurate," Ambrose said Friday in a telephone interview from Jerusalem, where she was accompanying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the funeral of former Israeli president Shimon Peres.
Ambrose was responding to an early version of a story published online by the Huffington Post, which cited House of Commons records showing Ambrose, who became interim Conservative leader last Nov. 5, had claimed $9,692 in secondary residence expenses from January to March, a period when she was already residing at Stornoway.
Ambrose refused to say anything more on the subject during the interview, which had been agreed to and scheduled earlier in the week.
The Conservatives provided a breakdown of the interim leader's expense claims for a secondary residence — common for MPs and senators who represent ridings far from Ottawa but need to be near Parliament Hill throughout the year.
In the case of Ambrose, the expenses were actually incurred last fall, and include four months' rent at the $2,000-a-month condo where she used to live in Ottawa.
That includes October and November, when she was still living there, and the $4,000 she paid to cover December and January in order to break her lease when she moved into Stornoway, a 34-room home on Acacia Ave. in the tony Ottawa neighbourhood of Rockcliffe Park.
"Ms. Ambrose does not charge taxpayers for a secondary residence while living at Stornoway," her spokesman, Mike Storeshaw, said in an email Friday.
"The only secondary residence charge to taxpayers while Ms. Ambrose and her family have resided at Stornoway is a small penalty of two months' rent for breaking a lease, and for which the House of Commons explicitly provided an exception."
The expenses policy does not normally allow MPs to claim lease termination costs for their secondary residences, but the Conservatives provided an email from the House administration showing they made an exception.
The Huffington Post has since updated and clarified its story to include those details.
The amount also includes $869 for a three-night stay at a hotel in November, which the Conservatives say was for when her partner, J.P. Veitch, and his two children came to visit her before Stornoway was ready.
The expense report also shows that Ambrose had claimed $2,491 in per diems, which the party said was to cover the cost of food while she is at Stornoway, which comes with a private chef.
The Conservatives have been going hard after the Liberals in recent weeks for a series of stories about expenses, including the revelation that taxpayers shelled out $1.1 million to move about four dozen political staffers to Ottawa after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won the election last fall.
That included $207,000 for top aides Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary and close personal friend, and Katie Telford, the prime minister’s chief of staff.
The pair have since said they will reimburse a combined total of about $65,000.
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016