'Corrective action' taken on letter, Kenney says

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney defended himself in question period Monday for the first time since opposition parties started calling for his resignation last week.

Meant to send info about funds for ethnic media campaign from 'Gmail account,' minister says

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney responds in the House of Commons March 7 to questions about a fundraising letter sent from his office last week. The staff member who sent the letter quit but the opposition has been demanding Kenney's resignation. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney defended himself in the House of Commons Monday for the first time since opposition parties started calling for his resignation last week over a fundraising letter sent from his office.

And following the daily question period, Kenney sought to explain how the controversy now surrounding him unfolded last week.

Kenney is the opposition's latest target because of a fundraising letter and media strategy outlining a plan to increase support among "very ethnic" voters in the Greater Toronto Area. The materials mistakenly ended up in the hands of NDP MP Linda Duncan on March 3, who shared them with the media.`

"As soon as I learned of that administrative mistake made in my office, my political staffer offered his resignation and I accepted it," Kenney said in the Commons Monday. "I contacted the ethics commissioner as a result, I apologized for that error, and we have taken corrective action."

The Commons ethics committee voted 5-4 Monday afternoon to call Kaz Nejatian, the Kenney staffer who sent the letter, to appear before it on Wednesday.

Opposition members on the committee voted together, and also defeated a government motion to force opposition MPs Linda Duncan and Shawn Murphy to testify as well. The Conservatives have complained their parliamentary emails or offices have also been involved in fundraising. 

Money sought

The letter, seeking help from Conservative riding associations to raise $200,000 to implement the media strategy, was sent on Kenney's ministerial letterhead. Kenney was in Pakistan when the controversy erupted.

The opposition parties were united Monday in their continued push for Kenney's resignation. The principle of ministerial responsibility should apply in all circumstances, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said, and Kenney should be the one to lose his job, not his staff member.

The deputy leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair, agreed.

"This passes the bounds of hypocrisy, even for a Conservative," Mulcair charged. "He's responsible for these illegal acts. When will he resign?"

The Liberals' line of attack centred on Kenney's credibility. They accused him of not only misusing parliamentary resources for Conservative party fundraising, but said he shouldn't have been championing the ethnic voter strategy at all, given his role as citizenship and immigration minister.

"It's a brutal conflict of interest that leads to the exploitation of the very people that he is charged as minister to represent," Liberal deputy leader Ralph Goodale said.

Actions defended

Kenney both defended his own actions in handling the controversy, and what the Conservatives have done on the immigration file.

"We are proud of the progress we have achieved with newcomers," he said in question period. Later, he explained to reporters that the planned media strategy developed by the Conservative Party, titled "Breaking Through: Building the Conservative Brand," came up at a caucus meeting last Tuesday night.

Kenney said he indicated to his colleagues that his riding association would be contributing to the fundraising effort and that some fellow Tory MPs requested more information about it. Kenney said he normally would have passed on the materials personally but he couldn't because of the rush he was in to leave the country for his trip to Pakistan.

"I asked my staff just simply to make sure that that information got transmitted and not to use government resources in its transmission. That implicitly meant using my political Gmail account to send information that I personally wasn't able to because I was on an airplane," said Kenney.

"The mistake was made. It was an unfortunate error."