Ethics watchdog clears Jane Philpott of wrongdoing in luxury car controversy

Canada's ethics watchdog has cleared Health Minister Jane Philpott of any wrongdoing in a controversy involving the use of a luxury car service.

Mary Dawson says Health Minister did not give preferential treatment to Liberal campaign supporter

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott has been cleared of conflict of interest or preferential treatment by Canada's ethics watchdog in relation to a luxury car controversy. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Canada's ethics watchdog has cleared Health Minister Jane Philpott of any wrongdoing in a spending controversy involving her use of a luxury car service.

In a report released Wednesday, ethics commissioner Mary Dawson concluded Philpott did not offer preferential treatment and was not in conflict of interest when she used the driving services of a political supporter. Dawson ruled the company was not selected because its owner, Reza Shirani, was a Liberal supporter and volunteer.

"I found that there was no special relationship between Minister Philpott and the owner of Executive Limousine & Livery Service Inc. that would suggest preferential treatment," reads Dawson's report. "Furthermore, I found that Dr. Philpott had not chosen the supplier because of his membership in the Liberal Party or his involvement in the minister's campaign."  

Dawson found there was no impropriety in Philpott's choice of supplier, because the company's owner was not a family member or close friend. Further, the rates charged were not significantly higher than other companies, Dawson wrote.​

The minister's car service costs became an issue earlier this year when it was discovered her office had paid $1,700 for a day of travel around Toronto and Hamilton. 

Philpott acknowledged that the costs were too high for that travel and at least one other trip, apologized and said she would reimburse the government for any charges that were a fair market rate.

In August, Philpott returned just over $3,700.

Car was luxury Lexus

While opposition critics accused Philpott of travelling in an expensive "limousine," CBC learned it was actually a luxury Lexus.

The transport company Health Minister Jane Philpott hired to ferry her around the Greater Toronto Area used a Lexus ES 300. (Lexus )

Philpott also repaid another $381 to taxpayers after an office spending review was launched in the wake of the car controversy.

That payment was to cover $178 for a Nexus pass, which was purchased for speedier passage at the border, and $202 for a secure suitcase bought in error that did not comply with RCMP standards for ministers.

Dawson's investigation found that Philpott had never used a "stretch" limousine and that she had used Shirani's ground transportation service on four occasions before she was appointed minister. The commissioner's office did a survey comparing rates, and found Shirani's company fell in the middle range of the 15 reviewed.

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has found that Health Minister Jane Philpott did not breach any ethics rules by hiring the transport company of a Liberal supporter. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Dawson said Philpott told her she did not get heavily involved in her travel arrangements and that her travel was of less concern to her than her important ministerial duties.

"She told me that she had continued to use Mr. Shirani's driving service because he provided good, reliable service and he was discreet and not talkative. She also said that she felt safe and secure in his vehicle," Dawson said.

Ontario Conservative MP Colin Carrie, who had asked Dawson to investigate on Aug. 18, called the judgment "deeply concerning" because of the high costs of the travel and the "preferential business" given to a campaign volunteer.

"At the end of the day, the ethics commissioner has made her ruling, but the ultimate judge on ethics in politics is the Canadian voter," he said. "I think with the obvious ethical challenges the Liberal Party is facing right now, this is just another example. Obviously, the judgment wasn't what people would have expected from a minister of the Crown."

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