US & Canada

Trudeau aides sorry for 'unreasonable' moving expenses

Justin Trudeau Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Justin Trudeau's government has been under pressure over the level of expenses granted

Senior aides to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have apologised for claiming expenses they acknowledge were "unreasonable".

Principal Secretary Gerald Butts and Chief of Staff Katie Telford will repay costs relating to their move from Toronto to Ottawa.

They moved to the capital after the Liberal party victory in 2015.

Opposition parties had been targeting Mr Trudeau's Liberal government for days over the expenses.

This comes after revelations that the Liberal government had signed off on CA$1.1m (£646,000; $838,000) in moving expenses for staff, including over CA$220,000 for employees in the prime minister's office.

In a lengthy statement published on Facebook late on Thursday, the aides said they would be repaying almost CA$65,000 in relocation expenses.

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In the joint statement, Mrs Telford and Mr Butts wrote: "We know that some people will think that any amount for relocation is unreasonable, and that there never should have been such a policy in the first place. For our part, we want to make sure that our friends and families know we followed a policy that has been in place for decades, and will only be reimbursed for the hard costs of our families making the move.

"We take full responsibility for this having happened and because of that we are sorry. We've learned a lot of lessons over the past few days, and we commit to continuing to improve transparency in the future," the statement continues.

A spokesman for the prime minister's office said on Friday that "the formal reimbursement process is already under way".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Trudeau and his Liberal party remain popular a year into government

The Liberal government defended the expenses as being in line with longstanding rules set out for the relocation of staff and public servants.

The prime minister has also requested a new policy be put in place to govern relocation expenses across government.

The Privy Council Office released figures on Friday which showed that under former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the prime minister's office authorised almost CA$325,000 in moving expenses for senior staff between 2006 and 2015, including one relocation file totalling CA$93,131.93.

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Canadians don't have a lot of patience for politicians and public servants who appear to dip too freely into the public purse.

Many a politician has come under fire for their expenses - and it's not always related to a hefty price tag.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Bev Oda was forced to apologise in the House of Commons for expenses incurred during a stay at the posh Savoy Hotel in London in 2011 when she was in the UK for an immunisation conference, including for a CA$16 glass of orange juice.

But for the Liberal party, it's an especially touchy issue.

In 2005, former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall famously uttered the phrase "I am entitled to my entitlements" during a parliamentary hearing into expenses incurred by him and his staff during his time heading the Royal Canadian Mint.

Those expenses included everything from luxury car travel to a pack of gum.

It was those small ticket items that especially seemed to irk taxpayers. (An arbitrator later ruled in Mr Dingwall's spending was in line.)

More recently, a number of cabinet ministers in Mr Trudeau's cabinet have been criticised for their use of luxury car travel.

While he remains popular among Canadians almost a year into his tenure, opposition parties have been scrambling to find a line of attack against the Liberals that stick.

They may have found a weak point.

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