Federal government employees who are moving for work – such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's two top aides Gerald Butts and Katie Telford – are briefed on relocation expenses and required to submit their own receipts, including for a "personalized cash payout," according to a top official at the company tasked with handling the expenses.
Michel Bonin, senior vice-president of government relocations at Brookfield Global Relocation Services in Ottawa, told The Globe and Mail that each "transferee," or person moving, is informed about which benefits and "entitlements" they can claim under a Treasury Board directive and then submits receipts to the third-party company, which seeks reimbursement from the government.
"They always control everything, obviously," Mr. Bonin said in an interview Tuesday. "The transferees provide us with receipts, and we audit the receipts, and then we reimburse if that's the case."
The new information suggests that both Mr. Butts and Ms. Teflord would have had to submit receipts – at least in some cases – to qualify for a "personalized cash payout," which they said consisted of miscellaneous moving expenses.
The Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister's Office, said receipts are not always necessary.
"Receipts are not required for all types of expenses claims that are part of the personalized cash payout," spokesman Raymond Rivet said. But he didn't provide any specifics about when receipts are required, or which expenses Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford claimed. The PMO says all of the personalized expenses were handled by Brookfield.
The PMO further denies that Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford were briefed about which expenses they were eligible to claim. "There was no briefing to Gerry and Katie in this case," Kate Purchase, Mr. Trudeau's director of communications, said in an e-mail.
The government directive points to a plethora of expenses eligible under the "personalized" category, including insurance, building inspection, some mortgage costs, new home warranties, professional cleaning and shipments, and expenses for spouses.
Public figures released last week show that the costs for Mr. Trudeau's two aides – Mr. Butts is principal secretary and Ms. Telford is chief of staff – to move from Toronto to Ottawa totalled more than $207,000: $126,669 for Mr. Butts and $80,382 for Ms. Telford.
Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford then publicly released a breakdown of their expenses, which included $20,799.10 and $23,373.71, respectively, for the "personalized cash payout," along with a further $20,819 in a land transfer tax for Mr. Butts. They have pledged to pay that money back.
The PMO says the two aides were never fully repaid in the first place and have asked the company not to reimburse them for the personalized cash payouts.
According to Mr. Bonin, the relocation directive is explained to employees at the beginning of the moving process.
"We really go over the directive with the transferee, and look at the clauses that may apply to the transferee," Mr. Bonin said. "So, obviously, personalized cash payout is one of the elements of the relocation directive, so we would answer any questions or explain exactly what that means to the transferee."
Mr. Bonin would not confirm any of Mr. Butts's or Ms. Telford's expenses, citing privacy issues. He added that the process begins with authorization from the department or employer, which in Mr. Butts's and Ms. Telford's case, was at the discretion of Mr. Trudeau. The Prime Minister has since asked the Treasury Board to come up with a new policy for government employees on relocation expenses.
"As this process relates to us, we were eligible to be reimbursed for a bunch of costs that we don't feel comfortable about," the two aides said in a statement on Facebook last week.
"When we reviewed these costs, we decided that the amount called 'personalized cash payout,' which is for miscellaneous moving expenses, is unreasonable, and we will both be reimbursing that amount," the two said in their statement. "The principle we took to these decisions is that we should only be reimbursed the actual cost we paid third parties to make the move happen."