16 December 2007

Be it ever so humble...

rideout toque... there's no place like the home office, apparently, for deputy premier Tom Rideout, right.

An investigation by The Telegram revealed that Rideout claimed rental for a house in his constituency of Lewisporte and an additional claim for accommodations while in the district between 2004 and 2007. The story, which appeared in the Saturday edition of the St. John's daily, is not available online. A copy is reproduced below.

Rideout, whose 43-day term as premier was ended by the Liberal victory in the 1989 general election, rented the house from the vice-president of his district association.

Asked about the appropriateness of renting from his party's district vice-president, Rideout said he was not aware of Freake's position in the party.

"I don't know if was or if he wasn't (vice-president)," Rideout said. "I couldn't say."

Rex Freake is, in fact, listed as vice-president of the Lewisporte PC district association in the party's 2005 convention booklet - next to a large photo of Rideout.

During the same time period, Rideout operated a rent-free constituency office in a nearby government office building. At the time, House of Assembly rules prohibited members from charging taxpayers for the cost of renting a home or apratment in the constituency.

This is not the first controversy for Rideout related to the constituency spending scandal.

In June, 2007, Bond Papers revealed that key provisions of new legislation designed correct excesses revealed by the House spending scandal would not take effect until after the provincial election in October, despite comments from members of the legislature suggesting the entire Act had come into force in June. Rideout, who was a member of the Internal Economy Commission that barred the auditor general from reviewing the legislature's accounts in 2000, turned time and the English language in knots attempting to excuse the political misdirection:

Since Green didn't say the act comes into effect today, we, in consultation with him, said what can come into effect today comes into effect today, what needs time to come into effect tomorrow comes into effect tomorrow, and tomorrow is Oct. 9, 2007.

He said that in June.

In August, the Telegram reported that Rideout had made a $5,000 donation to a charity in his constituency, long after the controversy over the issue had surfaced. The donation was delivered in Fiscal year 2007 but had actually been held over from the previous fiscal year. The Telegram reported that Rideout used upwards of half of his constituency allowance in 2006 for donations of various kinds in his district.


The Telegram 

15 Dec 07

Rideout rental raises issues
Deputy premier claimed house rent, plus per diems

Rob Antle; Jamie Baker

Deputy premier Tom Rideout claimed more than $23,000 for "rental
accommodations" in his district of Lewisporte from late 2004 to early
2007, while tacking on an additional $53 per day for accommodations
whenever he stayed in the area.

Rideout acknowledged Friday he spent the $23,000 out of his
constituency allowance to rent a house in Lewisporte.

The landlord who received the cash was a key local Progressive
Conservative party organizer.

House rules in effect at the time barred MHAs from charging taxpayers
the cost of renting a home or apartment in their district - no matter
who they rented it from.

Rideout justified the claims by saying that his Lewisporte rental home
contained an office - even though he also operated a rent-free
constituency office in a government-owned building less than a
kilometre down the road.

MHAs were permitted to claim a per diem of $53 without receipts for
accommodations whenever they visited their constituency.

Rideout charged both - a monthly house rental of between $750 and $850,
and $53 each day he stayed in Lewisporte.

That amounted to a minimum of 123 per-diem claims from the fiscal
period of 2004-05 through 2006-07 alone. The MHA pocketed more than
$6,500 in per-diem claims for accommodations in Lewisporte during those
three years, while also charging taxpayers separately for his
Lewisporte house rental.

Arrangement approved

Rideout said the arrangement was approved by the House of Assembly.

"Before I rented property in Lewisporte, I went and sat down with the
staff at the House of Assembly, told them my situation, that I didn't
live in the district," Rideout told The Telegram on Friday.

"I was told I could rent a place that I could use as an office - with a
room in it to sleep in, that's fine too - and that rental would be
covered, and there was a per diem that goes with your travel. You
submitted that as part of your claim too. I went and sat down eyeball
to eyeball, face to face. I never sent an assistant to do it, I went
and did it myself."

Rideout said he met with House staff at the time, but didn't identify
who they were.

But officials at the legislature said Friday they were unaware Rideout
was living at the Lewisporte location he was claiming as his office,
until contacted by The Telegram.

In fact, Rideout's situation appeared to be unique, said William
MacKenzie, clerk of the House of Assembly.

"Office expenses were certainly eligible under the old rules,"
MacKenzie said. "I'm not aware of other instances where the office was
also used for personal accommodations."

MacKenzie said House officials would now review the matter with Rideout.

He suggested the per-diem claims by Rideout for accommodations may not
fall "within the spirit of those rules" in effect at the time.

"If the rental costs that the House was reimbursing for the office also
included private accommodations, it doesn't appear that the per diem
should have been claimed," MacKenzie said.

Under the old expense regime, MHAs could claim $53 without receipts for
accommodations away from their home or other residence. They could file
receipts for amounts greater than $53 - hotel bills, for example.

Rideout paid landlord Rex Freake - a two-time failed Tory candidate and
longtime party supporter - $750 a month for rental accommodations from
October 2004 through December 2005, according to constituency claims
filed by the MHA and obtained by The Telegram under the province's open-
records laws.

The monthly rent payment rose to $800 in January 2006, and again to
$850 in January 2007.

There are 30 monthly claims for rental charges from Freake over the
three fiscal years 2004-05 through 2006-07.

The claims totalled more than $23,000.

Rideout served as Lewisporte MHA from 1999 through October 2007, before
running successfully in Baie Verte-Springdale. The constituency
documents obtained by The Telegram only cover the three fiscal years
from April 2004 through March 2007.

Asked about the appropriateness of renting from his party's district
vice-president, Rideout said he was not aware of Freake's position in
the party.

"I don't know if was or if he wasn't (vice-president)," Rideout
said. "I couldn't say."

Rex Freake is, in fact, listed as vice-president of the Lewisporte PC
district association in the party's 2005 convention booklet - next to a
large photo of Rideout.

Freake is also a party fundraiser in the district. Wade Verge, the
newly-elected Tory MHA for Lewisporte, publicly thanked Freake for
helping with his October election victory. "This couldn't have been
done without fundraisers Don Manuel and Rex Freake as well as all the
financial supporters, poll captions, inside agents and the voters,"
Verge said in the Oct. 17 edition of the Lewisporte Pilot.

Rideout said he previously rented a basement apartment and another home
in Lewisporte before beginning his rental arrangement with Freake in

Freake could not be immediately reached for comment Friday. The
provincial PC office did not respond to phone calls inquiring about his
current status in the party.

Rideout said his constituency assistant operated out of a nearby
Department of Transportation office from 2004 to 2007.

The MHA said he did constituency work out of an office in his rental

"I still continued to rent and I used part of the house as an office,
part of it to hang my hat in," Rideout said.

He said he is now looking for an office to rent in Baie Verte.