OTTAWA–Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is facing an internal audit over the use of party funds to cover his children’s private school tuition.
Two sources told the Star Friday night that the Conservative Fund board, which manages the party’s finances and counts former prime minister Stephen Harper as a member, has ordered a forensic audit into the party’s expenditures.
The decision comes after revelations that Conservative Party Executive Director Dustin van Vugt approved using party funds to partly cover tuition for Scheer’s five children at Ottawa private schools.
Harper is said to be furious over the expenses, according to one source with direct knowledge of the former prime minister’s thinking. Members of the Conservative Fund, who hold tremendous sway on the party’s operations, feel that the tuition expenses were deliberately withheld from the board.
Another Conservative source disputes that characterization, and suggested the tuition expenses were included in financial materials sent to the board for approval.
Whichever side is right, the issue has reignited public infighting within the conservative movement just a day after Scheer announced he would step aside as leader.
Van Vugt may be a casualty of that infighting. One report Friday evening suggested he had been fired, while another news outlet suggested that was false. As of deadline, it was not clear what van Vugt’s employment status was.
What was clear is that the Conservative “civil war” did not end with Scheer’s decision to step down after his successor was chosen.
“Why are we exercising this as a public exchange of insults and firings and unfirings and so on, instead of people sitting down, going through a due process, and announcing to the world what the results are?” said one longtime Conservative hand.
Van Vugt, who was appointed on the recommendation of Harper himself, was responsible for quarterbacking the Conservatives’ last leadership race in 2017. With the party now facing a surprise leadership race, his departure would mean a considerable loss of institutional memory at a crucial juncture.
The Canadian Press reported Friday evening that the Conservative Fund directors held a conference call Friday, and circulated an email saying van Vugt was no longer employed with the party. But the Conservative Fund does not have the power to fire the party’s employees, and it’s not clear who has the authority to fire him. One Conservative source suggested the Fund was trying to find a scapegoat.
But the issue has members of the Conservative Fund’s board looking at “new safeguards” to protect the party’s coffers, a source with knowledge of the board’s discussion said Friday.
After the Conservatives’ disappointing election loss and months of open criticism and infighting, Scheer told Conservative MPs Thursday that he would step aside after his successor was chosen. At the conclusion of two emergency caucus meetings Thursday, Conservative MPs voted unanimously to allow Scheer to hang on to the top job until a new leader is chosen.
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While Scheer was informing Conservative MPs of his decision, Global News first reported that the Conservative Party was partly covering private school tuition costs for Scheer’s five children. The revelations rankled some within the Conservative family, suggesting that donors’ money should not be spent on private school tuition.
Van Vugt released a statement shortly afterwards confirming that the party paid the “differential” cost between private school tuition in Regina, where Scheer represents, and Ottawa, where he has lived for most of his life. Van Vugt said that the funds were properly approved.