Kenney fundraising letter breaks rules: NDP

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney apologized and a staff member resigned after his office sent out a letter to Conservative MPs outlining the party's plan to target ethnic voters.

Staffer resigns over document outlining campaign to target ethnic voters

Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, Feb. 15, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is being called on to resign by the NDP after his office sent out a letter to Conservative MPs asking for fundraising help to mount an ad campaign aimed at bolstering support among ethnic communities.

According to documents obtained by the NDP Thursday and released to the media, the Conservatives have hatched a media strategy that would specifically target South Asian and Chinese communities in the Greater Toronto Area.

The advertising plan is branded "Breaking Through: Building the Conservative Brand" and details were sent along with a letter on Kenney's letterhead seeking funds to support it. The materials ended up in the hands of NDP MP Linda Duncan but were more likely intended for Conservative MP John Duncan.

The NDP is accusing Kenney of abusing his privileges as an MP and minister to conduct partisan fundraising with his office staff and resources. Beyond using his own letterhead for fundraising purposes for the Conservative Party, the documents show how keen the Tories are to lock in more of the ethnic vote in the next election.

The NDP is adamant that Kenney lose his job over the matter.

"In fact, this is resignation material right here. This might be the death rattle of Jason Kenney as the minister of immigration. It certainly should be," the NDP's Pat Martin told reporters following question period when the issue was first raised by his party's leader, Jack Layton.

Martin said the government "flagrantly, in the most cavalier way, abuse[s] all the rules surrounding offices and letterhead and parliamentary tools and equipment to shake down money for an advertising campaign."

Kenney apologizes

The employee responsible for sending out the letter resigned later Thursday, said Kenney spokesman Alykhan Velshi. The employee was not named.

"Minister Kenney has taken responsibility for this and has apologized for his former employee's actions," he added.

"Using parliamentary or government resources for partisan activities is completely unacceptable."

Velshi said his boss would be raising the matter with the Speaker of the House, the ethics commissioner and the Board of Internal Economy.

Kenney is in Pakistan to attend the funeral Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister of minorities, who was assassinated this week.

Kenney has been leading the Conservatives' efforts over the last five years to improve his party's fortunes among ethnic voters.

"There are lots of ethnic voters," the media plan says. "There will be quite a few more soon. They live where we need to win." It notes that, "If GTA South Asians were to form a city, it would be the third largest city in the country."

The documents contain data showing voting patterns among Chinese and South Asian communities and highlight target ridings that are "very ethnic" in the Toronto area.

"Data proves hunch: we are losing. We are losing less badly now. Need to positively brand CPC in target communities," the PowerPoint presentation says.

Looks to raise $200,000

The letter that accompanied the media strategy was written on government stationery and signed by Kenney's director of multicultural affairs, Kasra Nejatian. It calls on Conservative riding associations to help raise $200,000 to make the campaign a success and asks for contributions to be made by March 11 because of the "current political environment."

"We know that this is a short period of time, but we would be grateful if you could reach out to your EDA [Electoral District Associations] and seek their support for this project," Nejatian writes.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is tabling the federal budget on March 22, and if it is defeated by the opposition, an election could follow shortly afterward.

Pierre Poilievre, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, shrugged off the controversy and the demand for Kenney's resignation when he appeared on CBC-TV's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon.

"The minister has said that it was a mistake for the letterhead to appear on this particular letter," Poilievre said.

Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc didn't go as far as calling for the minister's resignation, but said Kenney has some questions to answer.

With files from The Canadian Press