NDP receives hopeful signal in Federal Court battle on satellite offices | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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NDP receives hopeful signal in Federal Court battle on satellite offices

May 27, 2016 - 12:19 PM

OTTAWA - The NDP says it has received a hopeful signal in its legal dispute over former satellite offices in Montreal, Toronto and Quebec City.

The Federal Court of Canada has decided to admit into evidence an affidavit that was challenged by the attorney general, the House of Commons Speaker and the board of internal economy, a closed-door Commons committee that polices spending.

The decision is a development in a much greater battle for the beleaguered party — a saga that continues to drain party coffers and internal energy.

The NDP, which strongly denies the offices were used for non-parliamentary purposes, is now relying on its own money to contest the board's decision to order 68 MPs to repay $2.7 million in parliamentary funds that went towards the operations.

"It is important to stand by our members of Parliament and former members of Parliament to help them defend themselves against this politically motivated vendetta targeting them personally," said NDP national director Karl Belanger.

"We think it is unfair and it goes against every principle of natural law and natural justice."

The Federal Court's recent finding on the admissibility of the affidavit is significant because it is the first time an outside body has weighed in and rejected arguments made against the NDP, he added.

"That's a huge setback for the (board's) case," Belanger said.

The affidavit, written by Prof. Maxime Saint-Hilaire at the University of Sherbrooke, argues the satellite spending issue is not a matter of parliamentary privilege.

It touches on a bigger legal question at hand: whether the court has the ability to pronounce on parliamentary matters.

The board, the attorney general and the Speaker are using taxpayer dollars to fight this issue, citing concern it could infringe on the constitutional independence of the House of Commons.

The board has yet to respond to a question about how much money has been spent on legal fees to date.

In March, The Canadian Press reported Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spiked an out-of-court settlement in the long-running dispute.

At the time, Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc was adamant Trudeau had nothing to do with it, despite multiple sources who said it was, in fact, the prime minister himself who put an end to negotiations.

The board of internal economy is the only body responsible for addressing the NDP's satellite offices and this misuse of public funds, LeBlanc said at the time.

He also insisted the Liberals never contemplated settling the matter out of court.

"We have always been of the view that the NDP misused public funds and should therefore reimburse taxpayers," LeBlanc said.

New Democrats say Commons administrators grossly inflated the amount of money contributed from their office budgets towards the salaries of satellite employees.

Former Toronto MP Dan Harris was originally ordered to pay more than $140,000, but late last year was effectively exonerated by the Commons' chief financial officer.

Ex-Montreal MP Isabelle Morin was also on the hook to repay $169,117 in salary paid to an employee, but her bill was reduced to below $30,000 because the employee worked most of the time in her riding office, not the Montreal party office.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who is poised to step away from the helm of the party once a successor is named in the fall of 2017, also faces a hefty bill of more than $400,000.

— With files from Joanna Smith and Joan Bryden

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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