By Rebecca Lindell and Andrew Russell – Global News
A member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s inner circle billed taxpayers more than $125,000 to move to Ottawa, Global News has learned.
Documents obtained by Global News show an unidentified staffer in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) expensed $126,669.56 in relocation costs in order to move to Ottawa, the highest moving bill for political staff in the Trudeau government. Another PMO staffer, also unidentified, charged $80,382.55.
The total cost to the taxpayer to move five PMO staff to Parliament Hill came in at $220,564.11.
The documents included the costs but did not name the individual PMO staffers, nor the locations from which they moved.
The time period for the relocation costs is from Oct. 19. 2015 to June 8, 2016.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose called the costs “unacceptable.”
“$120,000 to move one of Prime Minister Trudeau’s staff into the Prime Minister’s Office is unacceptable,” Ambrose said in Ottawa. “That is up to three times what most people make a year in Canada. There’s a lot of people out of work and worried about their jobs. This is not the kind of spending that Canadians expected from this government.”
But the Prime Ministers’ Office wasn’t the only ministry to pass on expensive moving bills to the taxpayers.
Canadians will also pick up the tab for a member of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Canada who expensed $75,984.22 in relocation costs, and an employee with Global Affairs who was paid $119,825.69 in relocation costs, including $2,602 in hotel stays. And one staffer for the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development charged $113,799.08.
During Question Period in the House of Commons the Conservatives grilled the Liberals over the relocation costs.
“These costs are at the discretion of the minister and the prime minister and at a time when Alberta families are losing their homes how can the prime minister justify these ridiculous expenses?” said Conservative MP Blaines Calkins.
Newly appointed Government House Leader Bardish Chagger said that any assistance with relocation was done in “accordance with the rules” and that the Liberals would continue to work towards an “open and transparent government.
“Canadians expect public resources to be used responsibly and economically, and we are committed to living up to these expectations,” Chagger said
A spokesperson for the PMO had said the costs included moving staffers families across the country.
“The team in Ottawa came from coast to coast to coast to serve Canadians and deliver on our promise to grow the middle-class and those working hard to join it,” Trudeau spokeswoman Andree-Lyne Halle said in an email. “This meant that many people had to move with their children and families across the county to serve in Ottawa – as part of this process some employees receive assistance in relocating.”
Political staffers can apply for costs associated with relocating within Canada if approved by their minister’s office, according to guidelines for Ministers’ Offices.
Eligible costs available to relocating employees under the “core entitlement fund” include; real estate fees, shipping household items up to 9,071.94 kg, shipping a vehicle, house hunting trip expenses, temporary accommodations, and meal allowances among other costs.
Canadian Taxpayer Federation’s federal director Aaron Wudrick said some Canadians would be surprised by the six figure expenses.
“Most people when they think of relocation expenses they are thinking about $5,000 or $10,000 at most they certainly aren’t thinking it’s going to be $100,000 or more,” Wudrick said.
He said the Trudeau government should explain why the costs were so high.
“If [staff members] are working for a government that is trying to show they are good stewards of taxpayer dollars it sends a very different message if you are willing to take that kind of money out of taxpayer pockets,” Wudrick said