Alberta NDP caucus asks for ethics probe after UCP MLAs visit Indian oil refinery

Alberta's NDP caucus is requesting the ethics commissioner investigate a recent trip by the UCP's Leader Jason Kenney, energy critic Prasad Panda and trade critic Devin Dreeshen to an Indian oil refinery that Panda helped to build and that he owns shares in.

But UCP Leader Jason Kenney says trip was cleared by ethics commissioner in advance

Jason Kenney of the United Conservative Party has been Alberta's Official Opposition leader since January. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Alberta's NDP caucus is requesting the ethics commissioner investigate a recent trip by the UCP's Leader Jason Kenney, energy critic Prasad Panda and trade critic Devin Dreeshen to an Indian oil refinery that Panda helped to build and that he owns shares in.

Last week, the three MLAs visited Reliance, which is the world's largest oil refinery, in Jamnagar, in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

Panda said in a tweet that he helped build the refinery and a conflict of interest statement filed in 2017 shows that he owns shares in the plant.

"There are questions regarding whether Mr. Panda derived any personal benefit from this trip. Mr. Kenney has repeatedly said this trip was taken in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition. This needs looking into," said NDP caucus chair Heather Sweet in an emailed statement.

The caucus has called for the ethics commissioner to investigate if the visit advanced Panda's private interests, which would be a breach of the Conflicts of Interest Act.

The MLAs' trip was funded by UCP party donations, but Kenney said he was attending in his capacity as a leader of Alberta's Opposition.

"Given that this is a secure location and required private plane travel, some arrangements were required. Did Mr. Panda use his connections to facilitate this visit to further his own private interests?" reads the letter from the caucus to the ethics commissioner.

The letter also notes that during a Tuesday radio appearance on NewsTalk 770, Kenney promoted the oil refinery.

Trip cleared with ethics commissioner: Kenney

Kenney called the NDP's request "ridiculous" during a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Edmonton.

"This is unfortunate the NDP is trying to use amateur tactics to put a cloud over a very successful effort to enhance Alberta's commercial interests with the world's fastest growing economy," said Kenney.

"Everything we did was already cleared with the ethics commissioner. Mr. Panda was in touch with the ethics commissioner multiple times before the trip and our visit to the Jamnagar refinery was already approved."

CBC Calgary has reached out to the ethics commissioner's office for a response.

Cabinet ministers raised other ethics concerns earlier this week about Kenney's trip.

They were concerned as to how Kenney had represented himself on the trip, after Nitin Gadkari, India's minister of infrastructure, referred to Kenney as "Hon'ble minister, Alberta, Canada" in a tweet. Kenney holds no such position within the government and it wasn't immediately clear what was being discussed during the meeting with the minister.

Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous told CBC News he'd be following up with everyone whom the Opposition leader visited to ensure the Indian officials understand his role within the Alberta Legislature, and used the opportunity to explain government policies.

Kenney said he represented himself as Alberta's official Opposition leader and a former federal minister while on the trip.

"If I was just some unknown guy in the Alberta Legislature, I wouldn't have gotten any of these meetings. I was invited by the Indian government," he said.

"We observed every protocol requirement."