Opinion

If you close your eyes and plug your ears, there's nothing shady about the Raj Grewal affair: Robyn Urback

It is theoretically possible that there is nothing more to the millions of dollars in suddenly available funds, the unexplained coincidences and the curious and enduring lack of disclosure trailing the activities of the now-independent MP.

Perhaps it's all just a bunch of innocent secrets and unexplained coincidences

It is theoretically possible that there is nothing more to the millions of dollars in suddenly available funds, the unexplained coincidences and the curious and enduring lack of disclosure trailing the activities of the now-independent MP Raj Grewal. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

It is possible, theoretically, that the cryptic, confusing, rather odiously smelling Raj Grewal affair is, still, somehow, a kosher one.

That the now-independent MP for Brampton East managed to both fuel and pay off millions of dollars in gambling debts only through loans from friends and family. That he has repaid what he owed and is ostensibly beholden to no one — except, of course, those who helped him to pay back his debts, whoever they might be. Grewal isn't saying.

Perhaps his ongoing opaqueness stems from a genuine desire to spare his friends and family public exposure, which is a noble gesture to everyone except his constituents and the rest of Canada, even though it leaves questions about his subject to influence as an elected parliamentarian unanswered. If you ignore that funny smell, this is all theoretically possible.

Back in November, Grewal announced in a sudden Facebook post that he was resigning his seat for "personal and medical reasons." The prime minister's office later elaborated, noting that Grewal was "receiving treatment from a health professional related to a gambling problem that led him to incur significant personal debts."

After a few days of silence, Grewal again took to Facebook to explain that his compulsive gambling addiction had been a secret, but that he had repaid his debts and was considering staying on as an MP. Last week, he confirmed that he will indeed remain in the House as an independent.

Along with the theoretical possibilities outlined above, it is also theoretically possible that the hands of the PMO are clean on this — that, as they insisted back in November, they only learned of Grewal's addiction and debt a few days before his resignation announcement.

That would mean it was simply a coincidence that Grewal was shuffled off the House of Commons finance committee — where he posed, on multiple occasions, some rather coincidental questions to finance officials about their ability to investigate money laundering operations — just a couple of months before he publicly disclosed his gambling addiction.

Perhaps the shuffle really was because of unrelated "internal mechanisms that we don't discuss" as chief government whip Mark Holland indicated back in November. And perhaps the PMO truly hadn't a whiff of Grewal's gambling troubles — even though the RCMP and Fintrac, the federal agency that monitors large financial transactions, had been reportedly investigating Grewal's gambling, and even though a Tory senator said he had known about it for a year and a half. Maybe the party and the prime minister simply had no idea?

On Nov. 22, Raj Grewal said he would resign from his seat as the Liberal MP for Brampton East for 'personal and medical reasons'. Since then, new information has come to light...including a gambling problem, and a RCMP investigation into Grewal's finances. On Friday, Raj Grewal posted a video that addressed many of these allegations, and how he may not be resigning after all. Toronto Star parliamentary reporter Alex Ballingall explains what we actually know about the case. 18:30

It is also possible, theoretically, that there's nothing nefarious about the fundraiser hosted by Raj Grewal and the Brampton East Federal Liberal Riding Association back in April, when over 1,200 guests paid upwards of $500 per ticket to attend, which would've meant a record-breaking six-figure haul — up to $600,000, as noted by the Hill Times and the National Post's Tom Blackwell.

That sum would be roughly 14 times what the Brampton East collected in contributions for the entire 2017 fiscal year, and several times more than what the riding would be allowed to spend on an election campaign. Maybe Brampton East constituents were just feeling enormously generous and politically engaged that evening?

The transparent-by-default party has declined to elaborate on who attended the fundraiser, to what the contributions will be allocated or how a backbench, first-time MP managed to host the mother of all local fundraisers. It is further unclear why the party will not release the information that will soon be released anyway as a matter of law. Donations over $20 must be reported to Elections Canada, meaning that the public will eventually know who attended the fundraiser.

But the way the funds are dispersed don't have to be disclosed; the riding association can slap an "other" label on a bunch of line items, thereby camouflaging them in its report of annual financial returns. Unless staffers tell us otherwise, maybe we should assume they simply went toward uninteresting riding expenses such as office paper clips and neighbour polling?

Indeed, it is theoretically possible that there is nothing more to the millions of dollars in suddenly available funds, the unexplained coincidences and the curious and enduring lack of disclosure trailing the activities of Raj Grewal. It is not impossible to believe, so long as you close your eyes, plug your ears and try to ignore that funny smell.


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About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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