Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue says he won't quit his cabinet role and promises that he'll explain his 2011 campaign spending and donations next week in Labrador.
The MP for Labrador has faced weeks of questions in the House of Commons since CBC News reported a local airline wrote off about $17,000 charged to his campaign. Had Penashue's campaign paid the bill, he would have gone over the legal spending limit by more than 20 per cent.
A subsequent story on the possibility of a corporate donation also triggered questions by opposition MPs, none of which Penashue has answered.
He finally spoke Tuesday, rising on an unrelated issue in question period and then speaking to reporters afterward.
"I'm under pressure. There's lots going on and I want to speak with my constituents and explain what happened during the election, and I think once they hear the explanation they will be in a better position to understand how things unfolded," Penashue said outside the House of Commons.
"I will be speaking with my constituents on Tuesday morning.… I think it's very important that I do that."
Asked whether that meant he was stepping down, Penashue said, "I'm not quitting, I'm not quitting."
"It's very important to me that my constituents understand the allegations and the comments being made."
CBC News first reported on Oct. 17 that the airline Penashue used in the campaign, Provincial Air, wrote off the bulk of what the campaign owed after Penashue's official agent, Reginald Bowers, said it couldn't afford to pay the full $24,711 cost.
CBC News also reported last week that a deposit slip found in Penashue's election file shows the campaign recorded a single entry for a donation by Pennecon Ltd., a construction company based in St. John's. The campaign issued receipts for six board members from the company.
Corporate donations are illegal in Canada. It's also illegal to make a donation through another person.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre has been taking most of the questions for the past three weeks about Penashue's spending and about the deposit slip.
'I'm a bit nervous'
New Democrat MPs changed tactics Tuesday, however, asking Penashue instead to answer a question on his intergovernmental affairs file.
"I guess eight senior policy advisers and 16 ministerial staff are just not enough to help the minister get up and answer questions in QP," Robert Chisholm said.
"I wonder if the minister could give us a report on some of the positive outcomes in the last few interprovincial meetings that he has attended."
Penashue paused and laughed before starting his response.
"I'm a bit nervous now, Mr. Speaker," he said.
"I'd like to say that this job has given me a great opportunity to spend time with the premiers and intergovernmental affairs ministers right across the country. And I've learned a lot, and I've learned a lot about our country. And I'm very proud of what we've accomplished as a country," he said, clearing his throat before continuing.
"And I've had a wonderful meeting, for example, with Premier [Kathy] Dunderdale, premier of New Brunswick, premier of Nova Scotia, I've been to Alberta."
Penashue has avoided reporters as well as questions in the House of Commons, turning down interview requests and using back entrances until Tuesday when he went out the front door of the House and met the reporters who wait there every day.
The NDP tried to get Penashue to take two more questions, but Kerry-Lynne Findlay, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, took one question and Poilievre took the other.
Poilievre also answered the two questions posed to Penashue by Liberal MPs.