Conservative minister Penashue under fire for donation

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue should be kicked out of cabinet for questionable campaign spending and donations, an opposition MP says.

Opposition MPs demand Penashue be removed from cabinet

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue, here with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2011, is drawing fire for an apparent corporate donation to his campaign, which would be illegal. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue should be kicked out of cabinet for questionable campaign spending and donations, an opposition MP says.

CBC News reported Thursday that a deposit slip in Penashue's 2011 election file shows a listing for a deposit of $5,500 from Pennecon Ltd., a construction company based in St. John's. Six of the company's board members were given receipts for donations from $550 to $1,100, for a total of $5,500.

Corporate donations are illegal in Canada. It's also illegal to funnel donations through another person.

Pennecon said in a statement Thursday that it's co-operating with Elections Canada and conducting an internal review.

Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner charges that Penashue broke Prime Minister Stephen Harper's own rules on accountability.

"Not only did he take a corporate gift of $17,000 in free air travel, but he took a corporate cheque of $5,500 from Pennecon. After this slap in the face to the prime minister's own law, why is this minister still in cabinet?" Cuzner said Friday in question period.

The only party that has been convicted under the Elections Act is the Conservative Party, Cuzner pointed out. 

"And it has paid back a $52,000 settlement. Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if the member for Labrador is going to avoid such a conviction.… With over 20 per cent in overspending that we know of, that's all that we know of, and now the corporate cheque scandal, when will this minister step down?"

Penashue dodges questions again

Friday wasn't the first time the Liberals have called on Penashue to step down from cabinet.

CBC News reported last month that Penashue's campaign told the airline in his Labrador riding that it couldn't pay more than $7,000 for the campaign's travel, which invoices show was worth $24, 711. The airline wrote off the loss. Had Penashue's campaign paid for the travel, he would have been 21 per cent over his spending limit.

Penashue won the riding by 79 votes.

Penashue was in the House of Commons Friday, but didn't stand to face the barrage of questions about the possible corporate donation. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre responded to opposition allegations instead. Penashue has avoided answering questions about his campaign spending and fundraising since the first reports of irregularities.

Baird pointed to changes the Conservative government made to political contribution laws, changes that built on lower limits already imposed by the previous Liberal government.

"There is a new official agent in place who is working with Elections Canada to correct any mistakes in the return. The minister, Mr. Speaker, has always been very clear in directing his campaign not to accept corporate or union donations. Why did he do that? Because it was this party and this government which banned big money from Canadian politics," Baird said.

NDP House leader Nathan Cullen said Penashue has to explain what happened.

"Mr. Speaker, where do I start? First of all, you can't accept a donation of more than $1,200 from anybody. Fifty-five hundred is more than 1,200. Second, you can't accept a donation from a private firm. Is there something I'm missing?" Cullen said.