The two most powerful aides in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office say they will repay tens of thousands of dollars in moving expenses, conceding some of the costs they billed to taxpayers were "unreasonable."
The decision comes after The Globe and Mail reported that principal secretary Gerald Butts and chief of staff Katie Telford were reimbursed more than $200,000 to move their families to Ottawa, primarily on real estate and legal fees for their million-dollar Toronto homes.
Mr. Trudeau has also asked the secretary of the Treasury Board to create a new policy for relocation expenses across the federal government, Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford said in a joint statement posted on Facebook.
"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," Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford's statement said.
Mr. Butts will repay $41,618.62 and Ms. Telford will pay back $23,373.71.
The Prime Minister's Office confirmed Mr. Trudeau personally approved use of the government relocation policy that allowed his two closest advisers to claim the moving expenses. In total, five members of the PMO claimed $220,564 in moving costs.
Earlier Thursday, Mr. Trudeau defended his staff, saying the government has approved relocation costs for senior public servants and ministers' staffers since his father was prime minister.
"We followed all the rules of the policy in place, which have been recently updated by the previous Conservative government and I can assure everyone that both the policy itself and the administration of the policy was done in accordance to all the rules," Mr. Trudeau said during a joint news conference on Parliament Hill with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
The policy was last updated in 2011, but a Conservative source says former prime minister Stephen Harper capped moving expenses between $20,000 and $30,000 for senior aides.
In total, Mr. Butts's move cost nearly $127,000, while Ms. Telford's was more than $80,300. They also released the full breakdown of their moving expenses and said they will reimburse "unreasonable" 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. While the rules were clear and we followed them, we both know that's not always enough," they said.
Public land records show both profited from the sale of their Toronto homes, with Mr. Butts making $630,000 more than he paid for his house, and Ms. Telford earning almost $500,000 in the sale.
The PMO said Mr. Butts will repay $41,618, which he said was for a "personalized cash payout" and incidentals, which were for miscellaneous moving expenses, and part of a land transfer tax associated with his new $1.3-million Ottawa home. Ms. Telford said she will pay back $23,373 for the "personalized cash payout." She is currently renting in Ottawa.
That means the total cost to taxpayers of Mr. Butts's moving expenses will be $85,050, while Ms. Telford's will be just more than $57,000, for a total of $142,050.
"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 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," the statement said.
"Additionally in Gerry's case, he also decided it was unreasonable to be reimbursed for the land transfer tax associated with the cost of his new family home, over and above what would have been the cost of the tax on a home at the average house price in Ottawa for 2016."
But Mr. Butts and Ms. Telford will not repay all costs associated with their moves. Ms. Telford claimed $44,149 in real estate commission, fees and employer taxes; $10,735.50 for moving logistics, $1,577 in administration fees and $546 for travel.
Mr. Butts spent $47,103 on real estate fees; $18,247 on a temporary apartment rental; $14,636 on moving logistics; $468.60 in administration; and $273 for travel.
The Conservatives attacked Mr. Trudeau on his staffers' moving expenses, saying the costs are proof the government is out of touch with working Canadians.
"With so many Canadians struggling for work, how can the Prime Minister possibly justify these incredible payouts?" Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose said Thursday during Question Period.
NDP MP Charlie Angus said he doesn't have a problem paying for political staff members to move to Ottawa, but he doesn't agree with a $200,000 price.
"I've never seen a moving expense like that. So unless they were moving to be in the first colony on the moon, why are we paying for that?" he said.
Treasury Board President Scott Brison did not answer questions on Thursday about whether the policy would be changed.