Peter Sandhu's creditors angered by ethics commissioner ruling

Some of Peter Sandhu’s creditors say they can’t understand why Alberta’s ethics commissioner chose not to sanction the Edmonton MLA for failing to disclose lawsuits involving his house-building company.

Dispute MLA's claim he was cleared

Daya Hayer is the co-owner of Payless Wholesale Flooring and Lighting. (CBC)

Some of Peter Sandhu’s creditors say they can’t understand why Alberta’s ethics commissioner chose not to sanction the Edmonton MLA for failing to disclose lawsuits involving his house-building company.

They want to know if Sandhu disclosed their debts, which they say the Edmonton-Manning MLA has repeatedly reneged on promises to pay.

“The report that came out from the ethics commissioner, there is something not right with it,” said Daya Hayer, who with Raj Gill is co-owner of Payless Wholesale Flooring & Lighting, the largest flooring supplier in Edmonton’s Punjabi community.

“I’m not sure whether the commissioner got all the reports because there are debts that are not settled at all,” he said.

Edmonton Manning MLA Peter Sandhu was cleared by Alberta's ethics commissioner following a CBC investigation involving unreported liabilities and improper lobbying. (CBC)

Hayer said Payless had done business with Sandhu’s company, NewView Homes, since 2006. But they stopped in 2010 because  Sandhu was not paying NewView’s invoices.

Hayer gave CBC News a spreadsheet which shows that by 2009, NewView owed Payless $265,000. He said they told Sandhu they would not advance any more credit until he paid down his company’s debt. Sandhu reduced the debt to $65,000, which has remained unpaid since 2010.

Last month, ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson released the results of an investigation which found Sandhu had failed to disclose six lawsuits involving NewView Homes. But Wilkinson decided not to sanction Sandhu, in part, because he said the MLA relied on advice from his lawyer that the lawsuits were settled at, or shortly after, the disclosure deadlines.

A CBC News investigation found NewView didn’t resolve two of those lawsuits until more than a year after the 2012 disclosure deadline.

Sandhu says name cleared

Still, literally one minute after Wilkinson released the report on Oct. 17, Sandhu claimed, through social media, that his name had been cleared. Sandhu made the same claim in the Punjabi-language media.

“If a normal person even makes one mistake, there are consequences that you suffer,” Hayer said.

“And here (Sandhu is) just basically going around and telling everybody he has got a clean chit, that people were just after him for no reason.”

Hayer showed CBC an agreement between NewView and Payless, which was signed by Sandhu. Payless agreed to reduce by $15,000 NewView’s debt.  Sandhu was in turn supposed to pay $50,000. But the MLA did not pay and so Payless sued for the full amount in October 2011.

Although Sandhu had effectively agreed he owed the debt, he counter-sued Payless, claiming their materials and work were substandard.

Hayer said Payless will now spend whatever it takes in legal fees to collect the debt from Sandhu’s company.

“It is not about the money,” he said. “It is just basically the principle, the ethics, and just the moral liability that should lie on somebody that we have elected as an MLA.”

Hayer, who is 34, said many in the insular Punjabi community in Edmonton think it is improper to publicly embarrass an elected official from their community. He said he and his partner have been pressured to not speak out publicly about the debts of Sandhu’s company.

“I believe the truth should come out,” Hayer said, adding that, “I am a Canadian and I have the right to say what is true.

“People should be aware that maybe when they are choosing their leaders next time, they should be looking at what these people have done in the past.”

CBC News spoke with several of NewView’s other creditors who have not sued Sandhu. One local tradesman spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears losing business. He showed CBC an agreement, handwritten and signed by Sandhu in July 2012, in which the MLA promised to pay $30,000 within six months.

Sandhu has not paid the debt, he said.

“Is there any way you can make him pay me?” he asked. “I mean, will this story make him pay me?”

Sandhu declined an interview request.

Debts should be disclosed

CBC News asked the ethics commissioner’s office, through its legal counsel Brad Odsen, if MLAs are required to disclose all debts, including those for which no lawsuit has been filed. Odsen declined to answer, nor would he confirm or deny if Sandhu had disclosed the lawsuit by Payless Wholesale Flooring.

University of Manitoba ethics professor Arthur Schafer said he believes all debts should be disclosed.

“I think the spirit of the act is clear, that every MLA should record and reveal anything that might potentially put them in a serious conflict of interest,” he said.

Schafer said the refusal of the ethics commissioner’s office to respond to a basic information request from the media shows Wilkinson doesn’t understand his role.

“It seems to me he is undermining trust in the political process, rather than promoting trust,” said Schafer, who earlier this year appeared as an expert witness before the all-party legislative committee reviewing the province’s Conflicts of Interest Act.

Wilkinson has not responded to repeated interview requests.

CBC News first reported about Sandhu’s debt problems in May. The story also revealed Sandhu had sworn a false affidavit in a civil court case. The MLA resigned from the Conservative caucus hours after the story appeared. He has not rejoined the Tory caucus.

CBC News has learned the Edmonton Police Service conducted a criminal investigation related to the false affidavit and provided its report to the Special Prosecutions branch of Alberta Justice about three weeks ago. It is not yet known if the Crown will pursue a charge against Sandhu.