The Conservative governing body is asking why the expenses filed to it by the office of former leader Andrew Scheer are roughly $700,000 over their usual amount.
Multiple party sources tell Global News the usual expenses submitted from the leader’s office to the Conservative National Council sit in the range of about $200,000 per fiscal year – but that in its last financial statement, Scheer’s office expenses came in at over $900,000 for the last fiscal year.
The expenses were discovered by a member of the National Council who noticed while at a meeting that they appeared to be substantially higher than expected.
One source with direct knowledge of that meeting said the explanation given by the party’s executive director was vague and attributed the spike to “higher than expected pre-writ expenses.”
The pre-writ period was from June 30 until the writ dropped on Sept. 11. It is a new period created by electoral law reforms last year that sets tighter limits on political advertising, partisan activities and spending in the months directly before an election.
Internal party sources are now questioning what they describe as a lack of transparency on what is being expensed and why the expenses increased so dramatically.
The Conservative National Council and the Conservative Fund — the party’s fundraising arm — are holding a conference call on Wednesday night to discuss the matter, with sources on the National Council questioning why Scheer’s office would not have flagged party officials earlier if it anticipated having higher costs.
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“Much like any party leader, the leader of the Conservative Party is required to undergo a significant amount of travel for partisan events and activities,” said Cory Hann, spokesperson for the party, when asked about them by Global News.
“These costs increase leading up to an election year.”
He continued, noting: “In the case of the 2019 fiscal year, leading up to the election campaign, the party ramped up activities which is reflected by this line item.”
A Conservative official said the money was spent covering costs for media training for Scheer, travel for staff, flights and hotels for Scheer, audio visual equipment and room rentals for events.
As partisan activities, those are not covered by the House of Commons budget for the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition.
Global News pressed for more details from the party, specifically asking whether the $900,000 in expenses included things like child care for the Scheer children or for any other personal expense for Scheer or his family.
Hann said the party would not be providing any more information.
He also did not answer whether the $900,000 expenses were in line with the election-year expenses submitted by former party leaders in 2015 and 2011.
Multiple sources who have worked in past offices of the leader of the official Opposition said things like entertainment, wardrobe for the leader and any other costs related to purely partisan activities were also among the kind of things expensed in the past, as well as even vacation expenses for a leader’s family.
Two sources also expressed skepticism that the quantity of media training Scheer participated in would have been enough on its own to contribute to the increase in expenses.
Global News also asked whether Scheer’s salary top-up as leader or any cost of living differentials were part of the expenses but the party would not answer.
Scheer’s office also declined to comment on the rise in expenses, saying this was a matter for the party.
The party has not answered questions on who signed off on the $900,000 expenditure.
The news comes on the heels of the revelation last week that the Conservative Fund – the party’s fundraising arm – had been reimbursing Scheer for the cost of sending his four school-age children to private school.
Anger exploded within the Conservative ranks early last week as the news spread internally that the party had been using donor money to help Scheer send his children to private school.
Sources attributed the anger about those payments to Scheer’s sudden resignation after he had spent more than a month insisting he would stay on to lead the party in the wake of his election defeat.
Scheer said in a speech in the House of Commons that the decision was made in order to spend more time with his family.
He has not addressed questions on why he was using donor money for private schooling when Ontario has the option of both publically funded secular and Catholic schools.
But that controversy has prompted the party to bring in a forensic auditor to go through its books.