House of Commons committee should close loophole on MPs’ travel, Liberal MP says

Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen is calling on the House of Commons to close a loophole that allowed MPs travelling to political party conventions to expense hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel costs in the past year.

In a letter to Speaker Greg Fergus obtained by CBC News, Gerretsen said the loophole is allowing some MPs to bypass a House of Commons rule that bars MPs from claiming travel expenses linked to partisan political activity, “effectively making it hollow and meaningless.”

While MPs can’t normally claim travel expenses for travel to partisan events, they can claim expenses for travel to a caucus meeting held at the same time and place as a party convention. MPs can claim expenses related to national caucus meetings because they’re considered part of their parliamentary functions.

That loophole has allowed MPs to charge $538,314 in travel, accommodation, meals and incidentals to Parliament since May 2023 to attend caucus meetings connected to party conventions, including more than $84,000 for “designated travellers.”

“We should all view it for what it is,” wrote Gerretsen, one of the Liberal members on the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE), which oversees the House of Commons and its spending.

“Effectively, because of the loophole to which I refer, taxpayers are paying the costs for Members and their designated travelers to attend a partisan event. This is unacceptable, and we believe the loophole should be closed.”

Gerretsen called for the issue to be discussed at the BOIE’s next meeting, set for Thursday. The Liberal Party has four MPs on the BOIE, plus the Speaker. The Conservatives have two MPs while the NDP and the Bloc Québécois each have one.

The NDP and the Bloc gave little indication Tuesday of whether they will support Gerretsen’s call.

“I would look at that recommendation and take a closer look at what that actually means and how we can ensure we do the best to make sure that taxpayer dollars are being used in a responsible manner,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said when asked about calls last week from advocacy groups to close the loophole.

Joanie Riopel, principal press secretary for the Bloc, said the party can discuss it when it’s presented to the BOIE.

Sebastian Skamski, director of media relations in Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s office, said Conservative MPs follow the rules as they exist.

“We look forward to discussing House of Commons expense rules for caucus meetings and considering proposals when they come to the table, at which point we will additionally propose changes that would ban taxpayer funding for luxurious Liberal caucus retreats outside of those held in government offices in Ottawa,” said Skamski.

Conservative delegate Patrick Wuori waves a flag.
Conservative delegate Patrick Wuori calls on the crowd prior to party leader Pierre Poilievre’s speech at the Conservative Party Convention on Friday, September 8, 2023 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The parties charged different sums to taxpayers through the loophole. CBC News found that Conservative MPs accounted for 79 per cent of the spending by MPs, billing their House of Commons office budgets for $426,283 to go to Quebec City in September 2023. Conservative MPs were the only ones to bill Parliament for spouses’ travel to a caucus meeting connected to a convention during the past year.

New Democratic Party MPs had the second highest total, billing Parliament $83,087 from their MP office budgets to send MPs and a dozen of their employees to Hamilton in October 2023. The Bloc Québécois, whose MPs are all located in Quebec, billed their MP office budgets $28,943 for travel to Drummondville in May 2023, while Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet charged $594 to his House of Commons leader’s budget, as did four of his employees.

The only party recognized in the House whose MPs did not file expenses for a caucus meeting connected to a convention in the past year was the Liberal Party.

Liberal MPs have, however, filed expense claims for stand-alone caucus meetings, like their September 2022 meeting in St. Andrews, N.B., which included expenses incurred by designated travellers.


Posted in CBC