NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair will be forced to testify before a Commons committee — and the TV cameras — to explain his party’s use of House resources after the Conservatives pulled a fast one on his New Democrats Thursday morning.
Tory MP Blake Richards rose in the House to seek unanimous consent for a motion to have Mulcair appear before the Procedure and House Affairs committee, no later than May 16, 2014, to explain the “Official Opposition’s improper use of House of Commons resources for partisan purposes.”
Conservatives and Liberals accuse the NDP of using Parliament-funded staff to operate “satellite offices” in Quebec City and Montreal, as well as Saskatchewan where the party has no MPs. Mulcair, however, insists his party is following the rules.
As you may have guessed, the New Democrats did not give their consent to Richards’ motion.
But here’s where things get interesting.
Labour Minister Kellie Leitch then stood up and asked that the motion be placed before the House.
According to Standing Order 56.1, when unanimous consent for a motion has been denied (as it was in Richards’ case), a cabinet minister — and only a cabinet minister — can request, without any prior notice, that the Speaker immediately put the question to the House “without debate or amendment.”
Members opposed must rise to their feet, and if there are 25 or more MPs against the motion, it is withdrawn.
But the NDP did not have 25 members in the Commons, so Scheer declared it passed.
Richards told The Huffington Post Canada only about a dozen NDP MPs stood up.
“It wasn’t even close,” he said.
A former staffer in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition suggested the NDP was caught napping.
“I can’t begin to tell you how shambolic it is that the NDP didn’t have 25 members on House duty at all times,” the person said. “That practice exists precisely because of [the rules] the Tories used.”
Nathan Cullen, the new NDP finance critic and former Opposition House leader, did not answer specifically why the party didn’t have 25 MPs in the House Thursday morning. There are 99 NDP MPs although Mulcair was not in Ottawa Thursday.
This is the first week on the job for Cullen’s successor, Peter Julian, who is now in charge of the NDP’s tactics in the Commons.
Cullen said the “serious” move of asking a party leader to testify before a committee is something that would normally be negotiated between House leaders.
“Mr. Mulcair is looking forward to testifying,” Cullen said. “We also look forward to the prime minister doing the same thing.”
If the Conservatives are throwing stones, they are doing so from glass houses, he added. The NDP also has questions about how the governing party operates, he said.
The Conservatives, along with the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois, are concerned New Democrats are bending House rules to fund partisan outreach offices outside Ottawa and abusing their free mailing privileges by sending out NDP flyers in unheld ridings.
HuffPost reported this week that the NDP had sent close to two million pieces of mail in some 26 ridings across the country during a seven month period in which four byelections were held.
The NDP argued it had sent no mail during the byelections but Scheer was concerned enough to ask Elections Canada Monday to investigate whether any of the partisan mailings should count towards the party’s election spending cap.
In 2012, the Board of Internal Economy determined that former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe wrongly used his parliamentary budget to pay a partisan political staffer for more than six years.
But the committee also ruled that it would be impossible to reimburse taxpayers because the rules weren’t clear enough at the time the money was spent.
With files from Althia Raj