A Liberal MP says Prime Minister Stephen Harper was out of bounds when he described embroiled Tory Peter Penashue as the best MP Labrador has ever had, while the Conservatives have slammed the Opposition for politicizing a recent tragedy.
Harper defended Penashue — who will represent the Conservatives in a byelection in the riding of Labrador, having resigned his seat last week amid deepening controversy over his 2011 campaign spending — earlier this week in the House of Commons.
But Liberal Judy Foote, who represents southern Newfoundland in the House of Commons, said Penashue does not deserve the credit that Harper had given him, particularly over calls for changes to search and rescue in the wake of the 2012 death of Labrador teenager Burton Winters.
"Following his tragic death, Burton Winters was brought up 27 times by opposition MPs in the House of Commons. How can Mr. Penashue say he represented the people of Labrador when he failed to stand up even one time in the face of such tragedy?" Foote told the House Wednesday.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay chastized Foote for her question.
"I know Mr. Penashue felt that grief in the community, in Newfoundland and Labrador, as I know the member does," MacKay said.
"What is distasteful now is to try to use that in some kind of a political forum in the face of that horrible loss for the family, for the community. Let us not sink to that level when it comes to the politics of this place."
Winters, 14, froze to death after his snowmobile broke down outside his Labrador coastal community of Makkovik. Family and supporters called on the federal government to toughen its protocols for launching search personnel.
'Peter Penashue broke the law'
Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair again used the Penashue scandal, in which the former intergovernmental affairs minister was found to have accepted 28 ineligible campaign contributions, as a target during question period.
"Peter Penashue broke the law," Mulcair said.
"If our law-and-order prime minister considers Peter Penashue, a known lawbreaker, to be the best Conservative MP, what does that say about the rest of his caucus?"
Harper fired back at Mulcair.
"I disagree with that categorization. I am sad, but not surprised, to hear that kind of negative campaign."
Harper again praised Penashue for his "strong record" on a variety of issues.
Veteran Liberal laughs off Harper comment
Meanwhile, the Liberal who represented Labrador for more than two decades in Parliament said he cannot take Harper's comment about Penashue seriously.
"Oh, I cried. I used three boxes of Kleenex," said Rompkey, 77, who represented Labrador as an MP for 23 years, and who later served an additional 16 years in the Senate.
"I say that jokingly, of course, because, you know, I take everything the prime minister says with a grain of salt."
Penashue has already started a campaign to win back the Labrador seat, although a date has not yet been set for the byelection.