With the House of Commons set to resume, the Liberals have launched a bid to get a secretive House of Commons committee to investigate UCP Leader Jason Kenney mere months before the Alberta election gets underway.
In a letter sent to Speaker Geoff Regan, chair of the powerful House of Commons’ Board of Internal Economy, Jennifer O’Connell, parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, asked for support from its members to launch an investigation into alleged misuses of housing allowances by Kenney while he was a Conservative MP.
While Kenney served from 1997 to 2016, an Ottawa-based lawyer with ties to the Liberal Party last week highlighted the $900/month housing allowance Kenney was claiming between 2013 and 2015, and argued Kenney should not have been claiming it. Kyle Morrow said travel records suggested Kenney spent little time in his claimed Calgary residence and that Ottawa should have been considered his primary residence.
Kenney denies any misuse of the allowances.
O’Connell, though, said the allegations warrant a full investigation.
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“The allegation that Mr. Kenney declared his primary residence to be the basement of his mother’s home at an assisted living facility in Calgary, Alberta, and that Mr. Kenney was very rarely travelling to Calgary from his home in Ottawa raises grave concerns about whether Mr. Kenney’s arrangement breached the rules,” she wrote in her letter to Regan.
“I urge the Board of Internal Economy, with support from the House of Commons administration, to investigate this matter, make appropriate recommendations, or seek appropriate penalties or reimbursements from Mr. Kenney, should the Board find that he contravened the rules.”
In a tweet posted shortly after the letter from O’Connell was announced, Kenney accused the Liberals of trying to “help out their Alberta NDP allies.”
Over the weekend, Morrow — an anti-bribery and corruption lawyer who ran for the Alberta Liberals in 2012 — posted screenshots of Kenney’s travel and expense reports during the years in question, which are public records.
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MPs are allowed to claim housing allowances if their primary residence is located outside of Ottawa.
That allowance is intended to cover the cost of accommodation for MPs when they have to be in Ottawa for work on Parliament Hill for weeks at a time before going back to their ridings.
Morrow pointed to travel records that suggest Kenney only travelled back to his Calgary riding four times between April 1, 2014, and March 31, 2015, and questioned whether he should have been claiming a residence in Calgary as his primary one when he went back there so little during that time.
However, House of Commons rules don’t mandate what amount of time an MP should be living in a residence outside of Ottawa in order to claim allowances for maintaining a secondary one.
Instead, paying taxes or having a driver’s licence from the area they claim is their primary residence will let them qualify for the secondary residence allowance.
Morrow also pointed out that in seven filings to Elections Canada over two years, Kenney claimed his residence was a one-bedroom unit in the Lake Bonavista Retirement Village in Calgary, where Kenney’s team said he lived with his mother.
Morrow questioned that claim.
“The floor plan for the unit on Lake Fraser Common SE clearly shows that the unit is a one bedroom unit. So, where exactly was
@jkenney sleeping? This is sounding a lot like Mike Duffy 2.0.,” he wrote on Twitter, and later said he had referred the matter to the Board of Internal Economy.
Kenney’s staff have argued the questions about his housing allowances are politically motivated.
The Alberta provincial election must be called before May 31, but no date has yet been set.
Polls suggest Kenney’s United Conservative Party holds a commanding 25 per cent lead over the New Democrats led by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
Those results are in line with repeated polling done over the past year, suggesting Kenney holds a strong lead.
It is not clear when O’Connell’s request for an investigation could be considered by the Board of Internal Economy.
No date has been set for a meeting of the committee but the House of Commons returns on Jan. 28.
The Liberals hold four of seven seats on the Board of Internal Economy.
The Conservatives hold two, while the NDP hold one.