MPs urge new Guergis ethics, lobbying probes

Opposition MPs have asked the federal ethics and lobbying commissioners to investigate new allegations that former Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis violated conflict-of-interest rules.

Nothing 'unusual or improper' about letter touting waste firm, ex-minister says

Opposition MPs have asked the federal ethics and lobbying commissioners to investigate new allegations that former Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis violated conflict-of-interest rules.

Helena Guergis responds during question period in the House of Commons last month in Ottawa. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Last September, Guergis promoted to local officials in her Ontario riding a waste management company that was reportedly about to be taken public by a Toronto-area businessman with ties to her husband, ex-Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer.

NDP MP Libby Davies sent a letter to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson on Friday formally asking her to investigate Guergis's conduct, saying media reports about Guergis's endorsement of Wright Tech Systems Inc. may have violated the Conflict of Interest Act "and perhaps other applicable statutes."

Shortly after Davies's letter was released, Liberal MP Mark Holland filed a formal request with the lobbying commissioner to back up a complaint filed by his colleague Marlene Jennings earlier this week, based on "additional information that would seem to be relevant" that has since "come to light" about Jaffer's company, Green Power Generation Corp.

In a letter dated Sept. 9, 2009, Guergis wrote to her cousin, the warden of Simcoe County, and the county council, encouraging them to consider a presentation by a constituent of hers, Jim Wright, owner of the Richmond Hill, Ont.,-based Wright Tech Systems Inc.

"I feel it is my responsibility to encourage you to consider this presentation about alternative waste management technology," Guergis wrote in the letter, which is on Simcoe County's website.

In a statement Friday, Guergis said she felt it was her "obligation" to support Wright's initiative as his MP, and as someone opposed to a proposed new landfill site to handle the county's growing waste disposal needs.

"After assuring myself that my husband had absolutely no business links or financial interest in Mr. Wright’s company, I wrote to the Warden and Council of Simcoe County urging that Mr.  Wright be given an opportunity to discuss his alternative waste management technology," she wrote.

"I do know there was nothing unusual or improper about me writing a letter in support of a constituent and his company, in which neither I nor any member of my family have or had any interest, financial or otherwise."

The ethics commissioner said Friday she continues to monitor allegations related to Guergis and "is considering the appropriate actions to take," but cannot comment publicly on any actions she is considering.

Jaffer discussed waste project on night of arrest

Guergis's letter was sent a day before her husband was pulled over in a late-night traffic stop for speeding near Guergis's Simcoe-Grey riding and charged with drunk driving and possession of cocaine.

Jaffer spent the evening at a dinner in a Toronto restaurant with businessman Nazim Gillani discussing potential business deals, including one involving Wright Tech Systems.

Gillani sent an email the next day to clients boasting that "Mr. Jaffer has opened up the Prime Minister’s office to us" to help with Wright Tech's "Green Rite project" through connections with former colleagues in the federal government. 

The Toronto Star reported Friday it has obtained a document that estimates the proposed value of the company, if it were taken public, as being in excess of $1 billion.

Rahim Jaffer, a former Conservative MP, pleaded guilty to careless driving in March. ((Chris Young/Canadian Press))

The federal Conflict of Interest Act forbids public office-holders, including cabinet ministers, from using their position to influence a person or organization to benefit their interest or that of relatives or friends.

Although Jaffer was a long-serving Conservative MP for the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona, he is not covered by the post-employment provisions of the act because he was never in cabinet.

The Star reported Guergis and Jaffer would not offer comment on its story. In an interview Friday with CBC Radio's The Current, Toronto Star reporter Kevin Donovan said he has found no evidence Jaffer had a financial interest in Wright Tech Systems.

PM 'muddying the waters': Davies

A week ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper accepted Guergis's resignation as minister of state for the status of women and expelled her from the Conservative caucus after learning about "serious and credible" allegations regarding her conduct. But the government has not made clear what the allegations were.

Harper said he immediately referred the matter to the RCMP and the ethics commissioner, but Dawson told CBC News this week she has not received an official request from the prime minister to investigate anything relating to Guergis.

The NDP's Davies said her party decided it had to file a formal complaint because the government was not being forthright about what information it has provided to Dawson and the Mounties and has not requested a proper investigation a week after it learned of the allegations. 

"They're muddying the waters," she said of the Conservatives. "This is going on day after day, and Canadians have a right to know that all the proper procedures are being followed and we're not getting those answers from the government."

Meanwhile, the Conservatives appear to have dropped the word "credible" from their official line all week on the Guergis allegations.

Speaking for the government during Friday's question period, Transport Minister John Baird would only say the allegations brought to the prime minister's attention were "serious" and that he referred the matter to the competent authorities.

The language change comes after CBC News obtained documents that show the private investigator who reportedly brought the allegations to the Conservatives' attention last week owed creditors more than $13 million as of August 2009.

The investigator, Derrick Snowdy, told a Conservative party lawyer last Thursday that his investigation into Gillani had uncovered allegations of cocaine use and stock fraud involving Guergis and Jaffer. The lawyer passed those on to the Prime Minister's Office.

Lawyer Howard Rubel, who represents Guergis, has dismissed the allegations as "ridiculous boasts" and "completely false."

Snowdy acknowledged Thursday in an email to the CBC that he filed for bankruptcy protection, but he said it was because a dodgy employee had stolen from his company and forced him to borrow more than $1 million to pay taxes.

He also claimed that the public disclosure of his bankruptcy was a "smear" campaign meant to divert attention.

Gillani 'over-enthusiastic'

Through a spokesman, Gillani, who is facing a fraud accusation on an unrelated matter, has denied claiming he had incriminating party photos of Guergis and Jaffer.

Gillani's spokesman Brian Kilgore told CBC News on Thursday that Gillani has acknowledged being "over-enthusiastic" in his descriptions of his encounters with Jaffer and had exaggerated claims in an email to associates that Jaffer had given his firm an "open door" to Harper's inner circle.

Kilgore said Gillani knew about a business called "Green Rite" and introduced its people to representatives of Jaffer's company, Green Power Generation. After that, Gillani was no longer involved, he added.

Kilgore insisted no money changed hands on that introduction.

"So there was never any business relationship that developed to the stage of letters of agreement, signed contracts, fees, anything like that, between Gillani and Jaffer's company," he said.

In the traffic case, Jaffer pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge of careless driving as part of an agreement with Crown prosecutors that saw the more serious drug and drunk driving charges dropped.