Kenney, Panda did not breach conflict rules, ethics commissioner finds

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and party MLA Prasad Panda did not breach Alberta’s Conflicts of Interest Act during their recent trip to India, Alberta’s ethics commissioner has found.

Marguerite Trussler warns against MLAs filing complaints against each other for 'political points'

United Conservative Party Jason Kenney didn't breach any conflict laws when he travelled to India in September with UCP MLAs Prasad Panda and Devin Dreeshen, Alberta's ethics commissioner has ruled. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and party MLA Prasad Panda did not breach Alberta's conflict laws during their recent trip to India, Alberta's ethics commissioner has found.

"There were no breaches of the Conflicts of Interest Act by either," Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler writes in a report released Tuesday. "They were very careful about not breaching the act and were forthright throughout."

In her five-page report, Trussler issued a warning to all MLAs about filing complaints against others for political purposes.

Edmonton MLA Heather Sweet, chair of the NDP caucus, had requested the ethics probe after Kenney, Panda and UCP MLA Devin Dreeshen visited India in September.

"In the future, it would be appreciated if those requesting an investigation did not post the request to social media before I have the courtesy of receiving the request," Trussler wrote.

"As well, given that Alberta is having a general election within the next year, I want to make it clear that I do not want members filing complaints against other members for the purpose of scoring political points."

Trussler reported that Kenney had been invited by the Indian prime minister through the office of the Indian High Commission in Ottawa. He had advised Premier Rachel Notley and Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous in advance, Trussler said.

Also, Panda had received advance permission from Trussler's office for the three to travel on a Reliance Industries aircraft to that company's Indian oil refinery, because there was no other way to travel to the site.

Panda worked for Reliance Industries in the past and owns shares in the company.

Trussler said Panda sought and received approval from her office for himself, Kenney and Dreeshen to accept a helicopter flight from the government of Punjab.

As required by the legislation, a list of all gifts received was filed with Trussler's office, as was a report of the flights taken, Trussler said.

Trussler found no breaches of the conflict rules by Kenney or Panda. No allegations had been made against Dreeshen.

Tweet from Kenney during the six-day trade trip to India. (Jason Kenney/Twitter)

In her letter requesting the investigation, Sweet had raised concerns about how Kenney had represented himself on the trip. In a tweet, Nitin Gadkari, India's minister of infrastructure, had referred to Kenney as "Hon'ble minister, Alberta, Canada."

Trussler wrote that while such representations are "a political matter," she is satisfied that Kenney didn't misrepresent himself.

Trussler added that "Panda did not use his connections to further his private interests."

Sweet 'unaware of the circumstances'

She said Panda's interest in Reliance Industries is "trivial" and that his holdings in the company "are infinitesimal."

Sweet had also alleged that Kenney, by lauding Reliance Industries on social media, used his office to improperly further Panda's private interest. Trussler said Kenney was instead commenting on his trip and updating his followers.

"Member Kenney's comments were directed to Albertans and would not in any way make a difference to the share value of the company."

Trussler said she can understand why Sweet could have had concerns about the trip, because she was "unaware of the circumstances," including that Trussler's office had asked "probing questions requiring detailed responses before giving approval for the flights."