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Trudeau cabinet ministers expensed $1,304 per month for second residence in Ottawa

By Peter Mazereeuw      

Claims varied dramatically between members of the Trudeau cabinet.

The average housing expenses claimed by Liberal cabinet ministers won't get them anything fancy in Ottawa's downtown. Maryam Monsef and Harjit Sajjan topped the list of spenders between last year's election and the beginning of October, while Chrystia Freeland spent the least of those outside of Ottawa. The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright
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OTTAWA—The latest MP expense reports are in, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet ministers have fairly modest tastes in real estate.

Liberal ministers expensed an average of $1,304 per month for the cost of maintaining a second residence in Ottawa up to the beginning of October, something all MPs from outside of the Ottawa area are entitled to do. However, that’s still up about 13 per cent from the average housing expense claims of ministers under the previous Conservative government in mid-2015.

The Liberal cabinet expensed $438,290.23 for housing in Ottawa between the beginning of October 2015 and the same time this year, the most precise data available.

If former-fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo (Nunavut)—who served in cabinet until the end of May—is included, the total grows to $462,717.43.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef (Peterborough-Kawartha, Ont.), claimed the most for housing among members of the cabinet, at $28,411.07, or an average of $2,367.59 per month, between Oct. 1 2015 and the same day in 2016. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.) and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr (Winnipeg South Centre, Man.) followed, both of whom topped an average of $2,000 per month over that period.

Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) was the most thrifty member of cabinet when it came to housing expense claims. She has been reimbursed $401.78 total since the beginning of October 2015 for accommodation in the capital, an average of about $33 per month.

Ms. Freeland, who travels abroad frequently to fulfil her ministerial duties, often stays with an aunt who lives in Ottawa during her time in the capital, according to spokesperson Alex Lawrence.

Government House Leader and Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.), Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.), and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver Granville, B.C.) round out the lowest spenders in cabinet, not counting a pair of Ottawa ministers.

The numbers don’t include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), whose government-provided home is on the grounds of the governor general’s estate near downtown Ottawa. He is not allowed to claim secondary residence expenses, according to House of Commons rules.

Mr. Tootoo, who served as fisheries minister until the end of May, claimed $18,127 in housing expenses between the 2015 election and end of June, the best available data for his time in cabinet. That represents an average of $2,014 per month, which slightly raises the Liberal cabinet average to about $1,329.

Conservative ministers expensed an average of $1,153.53 for housing in Ottawa between the beginning of the government’s fiscal year in April 2015 and the end of September the same year. During that time, Conservative ministers spent several weeks on the campaign trail and in their ridings during the summer recess, which could have affected their expense claims.

Members of Parliament, and ministers in particular, are required to spend much of their working time in Ottawa, sitting for votes and conducting government business, and so are reimbursed by Parliament for the costs of maintaining another home in the capital. That reimbursement covers the cost of rental housing, staying in hotels, or lost rental income for Members who own properties in Ottawa already and choose to stay in them instead of renting them out.

Members who represent ridings within the national capital region are not afforded any extra income for housing.

Senators are also allowed to claim expenses for maintaining homes in Ottawa, a subsidy that would feature prominently in a scandal that engulfed the Upper Chamber from 2012 through 2015 and saw several Senators repay expenses auditors deemed ineligible.

The averages referred to above also don’t count the Ottawa-area ministers who were not eligible to make expense claims for housing: Andrew Leslie (Orleans, Ont.) and Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre, Ont.) in the current cabinet, and Pierre Poilievre (Carleton, Ont.) in the last cabinet. They also reflect a shorter period of spending for the 18 rookie ministers in the Liberal cabinet; the figures above cover spending from the beginning of October 2015 until the same time this year, and MPs elected for the first time on Oct. 19, 2015 would not have had any expenses to claim for the first 19 days of that month.

Save your loonies, minister

So what can $1,304 per month get you in the Ottawa real estate market? Probably not the kind of luxurious digs one imagines as suited to high-flying cabinet ministers, who earn a quarter-of-a-million dollars per year for their work, including their MP salaries.

A quick scan of local real estate websites shows that a $1,300 budget can secure rental of a two-bedroom apartment in Sandy Hill (coin laundry on-site), a one-bedroom flat in Centretown, a modest one-bedroom unit in a ByWard Market condo building, or a handful of nights at the Chateau Laurier hotel.

Bump up to the level of Ms. Monsef and Mr. Sajjan, and you can get something a little more ministerial: a two-level penthouse at Laurier and Bank, or a furnished “executive” one-bedroom apartment on MacLaren Street.

Ms. Monsef has an apartment in the city, according to spokesperson John O’Leary.

“Minister Monsef respects taxpayer dollars and uses her modest budget wisely to serve Peterborough-Kawartha constituents,” said a statement from Mr. O’Leary, which notes the minister spends a significant amount of time away from home in the capital.

Mr. Carr rents an apartment in Ottawa, as he spends a significant amount of time in the city, according to spokesperson Alex Deslongchamps.

Mr. Sajjan’s press team declined to provide details of his accommodation in Ottawa, citing concerns over his personal safety.

peter@hilltimes.com

     @PJMazereeuw

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