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‘Legitimate political expenses’: Del Duca defends riding association dinners

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Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is defending his use of riding association funds to pay for thousands of dollars in expensive dinners while he served as a cabinet minister, claiming they were used for “legitimate political expenses.”

A Global News investigation revealed that Del Duca’s Vaughan-Woodbridge riding racked up $50,000 worth of dinners at steakhouses and other restaurants including The Keg between 2013 and 2018 when Del Duca was being paid a six-figure salary as an MPP and minister.

Read more: Del Duca riding association spent $50K on high-end restaurants over 6 years, filings show

Del Duca addressed the story during an unrelated election campaign news conference on Tuesday and suggested that his role as a “very active and very political MPP” justified the expenditures.

He highlighted his roles as the co-chair of the 2014 Liberal election platform, the caucus liaison for the Ontario Young Liberals and as an active fundraiser for his association and the central party.

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“Yes, there were times when there were costs — legitimate political expenses — that were reimbursed,” Del Duca said. “That’s part of the job of being an MPP.”

Del Duca later ducked a journalist’s question about the appropriateness of dining at expensive restaurants on the taxpayer dime.

Read more: Here’s how much money some politicians in Ontario made last year

The Ontario NDP were quick to pounce on Del Duca’s expenses, accusing him of using the riding association “like a personal ATM” and claimed it was evidence of “the same old Liberal entitlement.”

“This is the same old Liberals. Nothing has changed from their gas plant scandal or their cash-for-access fundraising,” NDP candidate Catherine Fife said in a statement.

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford — whose own MPPs were discovered receiving an allowance from their riding associations to pay for child care and housing — appeared to defend Del Duca, while promising to overhaul the province’s elections financing rules.

“It’s all legal,” Ford told Global News on Tuesday. “It’s all gets audited and goes to Elections Ontario”

Ford added, however, that he’s “just not in favour of spending taxpayers’ money” and promised to strike an all-party committee to review the issue, if he’s returned to the Premier’s Office.

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Del Duca also repeated his pledge to create a “citizens assembly” to review all aspects of election in Ontario.

“Working collaboratively, the way that people of Ontario expect us to, we will be able to strengthen political financing, political finance legislation and our democracy to deliver what the people of Ontario need.”

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