OTTAWA — Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio broke his silence about his absence from Parliament Hill on Friday, saying he is performing unspecified tasks assigned by the prime minister himself.
The Montreal−area MP published a short message on Facebook seeking to explain why he has not been in Ottawa since Parliament resumed sitting Sept. 17.
And he invoked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the message.
"The prime minister has assigned me responsibilities which, for the moment, require, justify and authorize my absence from the House," Di Iorio wrote in French, without elaborating.
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office declined to specify the nature of the task Di Iorio was assigned. "We anticipate he’ll announce his decision about his future in the coming days," Chantal Gagnon said in an email.
The MP for Saint−Leonard—Saint−Michel maintains he has never stopped serving his constituents, even though he has also continued to practise law. Last summer he joined the Montreal law firm BCF.
In an interview Friday, Di Iorio said he doesn’t see any issue with holding down a second job — in fact he sees it as a plus.
Elected officials are better off staying "anchored" in reality by holding down another job, he said. He acknowledged such situations can lead to conflicts of interest that undermine confidence in democratic institutions, but he said it is not true in his case.
"What undermines public confidence in institutions is having politicians who cling to their jobs and who will do everything to get re−elected because they want to keep the salary they have," Di Iorio told The Canadian Press.
First elected in 2015, Di Iorio has sent mixed messages about his political future. In April he announced he was leaving politics but did not say when. He later told a local newspaper he would stick around until the end of his mandate in 2019. Then in September he said he was still weighing his future.
Trudeau told reporters Thursday nothing had changed.
"Nicola Di Iorio is still an MP, and as far as I know, he is still in reflection on his future," Trudeau said on a visit to northern Manitoba.
Confusion about his status and his extended absence has intensified in recent days. Liberal MPs questioned Friday said they don’t know what their colleague is up to.
There are no rules preventing a federal MP from holding down a second job. And MPs are not technically required to show up in Ottawa to keep their seats.
In 2017, the base annual salary for an MP was increased to $172,700. According to parliamentary rules, an MP who is absent from the House can be docked $120 of salary per day for each absence over 21 days.
Exceptions apply in cases of sickness, military service or official engagements. It’s unclear whether Di Iorio has been penalized.
Melanie Marquis, The Canadian Press