A former staffer in Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's office says he's sorry for an embarrassing violation that saw him send out a fundraising request on parliamentary letterhead.
Kasra Nejatian told a House of Commons committee Monday night the mistake was entirely his own when he accidentally mailed the request, along with a presentation on appealing to ethnic voters, on Kenney's parliamentary letterhead.
"A mistake was made under my watch. It was a mistake in contradiction of the minister's orders. The mistake was mine," Nejatian said.
"I am deeply sorry that my carelessness could cause a further distrust in public institutions."
Nejatian resigned from Kenney's ministerial office after the fundraising letter came to light. He's has been called before MPs to answer questions about the letter and the Conservative strategy presentation attached to the letter.
The presentation outlined a media strategy to increase support among "very ethnic" voters in the Greater Toronto Area. The letter and materials mistakenly ended up in the hands of NDP MP Linda Duncan on March 3, who shared them with the media.
Nejatian also said it was he who inserted the words "very ethnic" into the presentation.
"I added the word very ethnic to the presentation. The presentation only initially said, I think, 'target ridings.' I certainly didn't mean any insult by it. I consider myself an ethnic Canadian," said Nejatian, who immigrated to Canada from Iran when he was a child.
Opposition MPs also questioned Nejatian about who else from Kenney's office was involved with the letter, including the identity of the two women who delivered it to Duncan's office. The two were interns, Nejatian said, adding he couldn't immediately remember their names.
"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 earlier this month. "I contacted the ethics commissioner as a result, I apologized for that error, and we have taken corrective action."
The Conservatives have complained opposition MPs' offices have also used their parliamentary emails or offices in fundraising.
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 in a push for Kenney's resignation. Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the principle of ministerial responsibility should apply in all circumstances, and Kenney should be the one to lose his job, not his staff member.
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 the week after the controversy erupted. 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 the day before Nejatian sent the letter.
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."