Liberals, NDP spar over Del Mastro committee meeting

Liberal MP Scott Andrews is trying once again to have the Commons ethics committee study Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro's 2008 election spending, asking that the committee be recalled during the summer break.

NDP ask government to refer investigation to director of public prosecutions

A Liberal MP says the House ethics committee should reconvene during the summer break so that Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro can clear his name. Court documents show Elections Canada is investigating Del Mastro's 2008 election spending. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Liberal MP Scott Andrews is trying once again to have the ethics committee study the 2008 election spending of Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, this time asking for it to be recalled during the summer break.

It's not likely to happen, however, with the committee needing four members to request the recall, and Andrews the sole Liberal representative.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, the NDP's ethics critic, says he's concerned having Del Mastro testify in front of the committee would shield him from prosecution because of parliamentary privilege that protects committee testimony.

"My concern is why would we give Dean Del Mastro a forum where he’d get immunity for anything he said that could be used against him? I don’t know if the Liberals have really thought this through," Angus said.

"As fun as it is having gong shows in Ottawa, these are really serious issues that have to be done right."

Last month, Andrews was ready to move that the committee study Del Mastro's spending, but committee chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault, an NDP MP, cancelled its last meeting.

The NDP said then it wouldn't support the motion anyway, arguing Del Mastro had used the committee in the past for political means, and it didn't want to do the same.

Angus says he wants Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to refer the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions, an agency created by the Conservatives to handle politically sensitive investigations. Angus says new allegations that have come out since Parliament rose for the summer break are more serious and should be handled by the RCMP. In a letter to Nicholson, Angus says he wants the Mounties' commercial crimes unit to investigate.

Elections Canada to meet with Del Mastro

According to a report in the Globe and Mail on Friday, Del Mastro is arranging to meet with Elections Canada over the campaign financing accusations.

Del Mastro's lawyer, Jeffrey Ayotte, told the newspaper his client had been keen to speak with the elections watchdog since mid-June, and that the sit-down would allow Del Mastro to give "a cautioned audio recorded statement."

"Mr. Del Mastro has accepted the invitation … and we are in the process of scheduling a date and time for this meeting," Ayotte told The Globe.

Postmedia and the Ottawa Citizen have reported allegations that employees of a company owned by Del Mastro's cousin were reimbursed by the company for donations to Del Mastro's campaign. It's illegal to conceal the source of a donation.

"I don't want to undermine the work of Elections Canada but there are much broader issues coming out now. And I don't know if they are under Elections Canada review or not," Angus said.

Elections Canada investigators will refer a case to the DPP for prosecution if they believe it should result in charges.

Angus says his reading of the DPP's mandate allows the office to provide prosecutorial advice and direct an investigation.

A spokeswoman for Nicholson says Elections Canada is responsible for these matters.

"As Mr. Angus noted in his letter, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada operates independently, without interference from the government," Julie Di Mambro said in an email to CBC News.

Del Mastro wants to clear name

Andrews pointed to Del Mastro's comments that he wants to clear his name but no process exists for him to do so.

"By proposing this meeting, the Liberal Party is providing Mr. Del Mastro the opportunity, with full Parliamentary immunity, to respond to these very serious allegations. This is a process that he has been asking for, and we hope that he will put his money where his mouth is, agree to appear and provide the documents that he claims will exonerate him," he said in a statement.

In an interview, Andrews said the NDP are "just playing tricky games with this right now." He says the ethics committee study wouldn't interfere with any possible prosecution, although he couldn't explain why. He said it hasn't been a problem in the past.

"We just want to get some answers and no one seems to want to provide any answers."

Andrews says Del Mastro hasn't offered a way in which he can clear the air.

The allegations being investigated by Elections Canada have not been tested in court. No charges have been laid.

Del Mastro last month told his local newspaper that he would provide documents that would clear his name, then later said there was no process that would allow him to do so.

A letter from Del Mastro's lawyer to Elections Canada, provided to CBC News, says the agency will meet with him if he gives a cautioned statement, meaning he acknowledges anything he says can be used against him in court.

Del Mastro declined to answer questions emailed to him, responding by pasting in a Conservative Party news release about former Liberal leadership candidates still owing debt from the 2006 race. That's against the laws for leadership races.