Paradis probe sought over new ethics allegations
Cabinet minister was hosted by businessman seeking Quebec arena funding
The opposition is calling for a fresh ethics probe following new allegations about the conduct of federal Industry Minister Christian Paradis.
The call comes less than a week after Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson found Paradis had broken government rules by granting privileged access to former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer's business interests.
A report Monday revealed that in 2009, Paradis spent two nights in a lodge owned by Quebec businessman Marcel Aubut, the former owner of the Quebec Nordiques hockey franchise.
At that time, Aubut was lobbying for the federal government to help fund a new $400-million hockey arena for Quebec City to help strengthen the case for returning the NHL to the provincial capital. Aubut is now the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Speaking at a news conference following a nuclear summit in South Korea, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Canadian reporters travelling with him "this was a private trip and there is no link I'm aware of to any government business."
Answering questions on the matter in question period Tuesday on behalf of the prime minister, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae that Paradis, who was then public affairs minister, did not have a conflict of interest. Kenney said Paradis paid his own expenses, and there was no pressure exerted on the minister.
Further, Kenney said, no one profited from his stay: The federal government decided not to contribute to the cost of the new arena.
"Doesn't this minister see there's a problem partying with a man who's hitting up the government for taxpayers' dollars?" NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus asked during question period.
"I've been on many hunting trips and like all of those I assumed my share of the costs," Paradis replied. "I drove my own car… I brought my own equipment … The opposition should focus on the issues that really matter to Canadians."
Paradis added that there wasn't any lobbying by Aubut before or during this hunting trip.
In response, Angus asked when Paradis would be taught "a proper lesson" and kicked out of cabinet.
New request for commissioner
In a letter to Dawson on Tuesday, Liberal MPs Scott Andrews and Marc Garneau called on the ethics commissioner to undertake another probe into Paradis's conduct as a minister.
"There seems to be a disturbing pattern of cronyism and abuse of office emerging from Stephen Harper's minister of industry," Andrews said in a Liberal news release.
The Conflict of Interest Act prohibits ministers from accepting "any gift or benefit connected with their position that might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity."
"This minister has tried to excuse his lapse of judgment by claiming he brought his own sleeping bag and food to Mr. Aubut’s hunting camp, but it is clear that accepting such an invitation from someone who might lobby him or his government was completely inappropriate," Garneau said.
Ethics committee motion
NDP members on the House of Commons ethics committee tabled a motion Tuesday for the committee to do its own study of Paradis's activities. The motion will be considered at the committee's next meeting.
Testifying before that committee Tuesday morning, Dawson fielded questions about her findings last week on Paradis's previous ethical breach.
"As long as the minister doesn't do substantial harm, then it seems Bob's your uncle — he can get away with whatever he wants," Angus said, referring to the fact that no penalties were levied against Paradis despite being found to have broken the rules in the Jaffer case.
"I'm wondering if we're going to need a whole special investigations unit just to keep to Mr. Paradis on the straight and narrow," Angus added, noting that despite being found guilty, the minister remains in cabinet.
In addition to the new allegations, Dawson confirmed she's already opened an additional inquiry into the matter of federal government offices being moved into a building owned by Paradis's father's business partner in Thetford Mines, which is in Paradis's riding, from Rimouski.
So far, the role of the commissioner's office has been seen as "educational" rather than one of doling out punishments for breaching ethics standards. But Dawson reminded committee members that a five-year review of the Conflict of Interest Act is coming up shortly, and MPs may wish to revisit the commissioner's mandate as part of that process.
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the former public works minister as Pierre Paradis. His name is Christian Paradis.Mar 27, 2012 7:55 PM ET