OTTAWA – It’s been a year since Bloc Québécois MP Simon Marcil spoke in Parliament, sat on a committee, or even voted. He has been on medical leave from work, an absence that should have been disclosed to voters, political experts say.
Marcil has not uttered a single word in either the House of Commons or a parliamentary committee since December 9, 2019.
His last recorded vote was back on January 27, 2020. During the same period, Marcil — who was first elected in the Greater Montreal Area riding of Mirabel in 2015 — has also not sponsored a single bill or motion to Parliament.
Marcil, who still receives his full MP salary of $182,600 as well as expenses, has been on medical leave from work since January 31, 2020, Bloc Québécois Whip Claude DeBellefeuille confirmed in an interview.
According to DeBellefeuille, Marcil provided a doctor’s note explaining that he required one month of medical leave at the time. The MP then provided a new note every month extending his leave to this day. His return to work is now expected to be Jan 10, 2021.
“Every week, my team reached out to the person in charge of Simon Marcil’s riding office, so I can assure you that there has been a large number of citizens that have been assisted and contacts with municipalities despite the MP’s absence. We made sure that all services were still being offered through the riding office,” the Bloc whip said.
But none of this information was disclosed to media or the public until National Post questioned the party about the MP’s disappearance from work this week. DeBellefeuille says that the party chose to keep the absence under wraps to protect Marcil’s privacy, and that she hasn’t heard of any complaints from Mirabel constituents.
That was the wrong decision and is unfair to voters, say experts and some party sources who spoke to National Post. They argue that the role and function of a public office holder requires Marcil and the Bloc Québécois to disclose the MP’s absence instead of leaving voters in the dark.
“That decision is very strange, very very strange,” says Mike Medeiros, a Canadian electoral politics expert now teaching at the University of Amsterdam. “He is an MP, he has obligations to his constituents. And part of that obligation is to be direct about what’s happening with your situation. If you disappear for one year, it becomes a problem for representative democracy.”
Louis Massicotte, a seasoned expert in Canadian politics and recently retired professor at Université Laval, says that everyone should be sensitive to the fact that an MP would need to take time off work for their health.
But he says that shrouding that decision in darkness in the hopes that no one notices during a pandemic is a disservice to the constituents.
“The public assumes that if they’re paying someone’s salary, that the individual will be actively working for them. There’s also an issue with transparency. If an MP stops working without announcing that they have a health issue, it creates space for a lot of speculation that is hurtful to everyone involved,” says Massicotte.
Both experts also point to other federal politicians who have faced health issues in recent years and who publicly disclosed that they were temporarily taking a step back from their job.
For example, rookie NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq announced on Twitter last October that she was “struggling with some personal health problems” and would be taking at least eight weeks off. Then on Monday, her team
that her leave would continue until Jan. 4, 2021 before beginning a “progressive reintegration into full time work.”
In another case, Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan — now minister of natural resources — announced on Twitter a few months after the 2015 election that he would be absent for work while he checked in to a wellness program to address his alcoholism.
Another person who has been particularly stunned by Marcil’s absence is Mirabel Mayor Jean Bouchard. In an interview, the mayor — who publicly announced he’d miss months of work this year due to cancer treatments — says he was shocked by how absent Marcil was in the riding.
He says that he’d heard rumours of Marcil being on medical leave from work, but the MP or his party never told him about the absence.
The mayor says he occasionally needed help from MPs in neighbouring ridings to push certain files with the federal government.
“On December 16, the city and Exo (a local commuter train authority) announced the opening of the new Mirabel train station next month. This is a very important local file that involved an investment from the federal government. But Simon Marcil was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a Liberal MP from a neighbouring riding showed up,” Bouchard said during an interview.
“I’ve always gotten the impression from Marcil that he doesn’t care about the work at all. It’s interesting that you call me now, because I’ve been wondering over the past few days where our MP has been. How can a two-term MP like him just disappear?”
Four current and former Bloc Québécois sources also said they were surprised with their party’s decision to keep Marcil’s medically authorized leave of absence under wraps. “I don’t even know what Simon Marcil looks like,” one source told National Post.
The four sources said before Marcil went on leave he appeared to have little interest in the parliamentary part of his job and they used the exact same word to describe him: lazy.
The Bloc sources were granted anonymity so as to speak freely of internal party affairs. Marcil did not respond to an interview request or to an email containing a detailed list of questions.
Being on medical leave from work has not prevented Marcil from claiming $14,150 in expenses between January 1 and September 16, 2020, for his secondary residence in Mulgrave-et-Derry, a remote village of roughly 370 inhabitants in the middle of cottage country one hour north of Ottawa.
According to House of Commons rules, MPs who own their secondary residence — which is used as a pied-à-terre for parliamentarians when they need to work from Ottawa — are allowed to claim an “accommodation rate” of $50 for each day it is in their possession and is not rented out to another person.
DeBellefeuille refused to comment on how comfortable she was with Marcil claiming expenses for a secondary residence during a time when he knew he wouldn’t be working in Ottawa.
“There are rules that surround all these expenses, and all I can tell you is that he files his expenses to the House of Commons administration like any other MP. The administration then judges if the expenses are reimbursed after evaluating them,” the whip said.
“So all expenses that were disclosed publicly were determined to be in line with the MP expense rules. It’s not up to me as the whip to judge those expenses.”
Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques