Penashue's former agent 'unintentionally' accepted corporate donation

The former official agent for Peter Penashue says he "unintentionally" accepted at least one corporate donation during the 2011 federal election campaign, in an exclusive interview with CBC Radio's The House.

'All hell was breaking loose,' former agent to Peter Penashue says

The inexperienced volunteer former Conservative minister Peter Penashue blamed for ineligible donations made to his 2011 federal election campaign says he unintentionally accepted at least one corporate donation, which is illegal under Canadian law. Penashue resigned his seat in the House of Commons on Thursday to run in a byelection. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The "inexperienced volunteer" former Conservative minister Peter Penashue blamed for "ineligible donations" made to his 2011 federal election campaign says he "unintentionally" accepted at least one corporate donation, which is illegal under Canadian law.

In an exclusive interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Reg Bowers, the former campaign manager and official agent to Penashue during the last federal election campaign told host Evan Solomon he accepted a cheque from Pennecon Ltd., a construction company based in St. John's, because "they were trying to get a donation into us before the deadline."

Bowers confirmed the deposit slip included a single entry for Pennecon Ltd. but that receipts were issued to several members of the company's board.

"There were six guys involved... but I was under the impression one of them wasn't in the office that day," Bowers said.

The former official agent for Penashue explained that instead of taking in individual donations totalling $5,500, a decision was made to put that amount "on a company cheque and make out the receipts to the individuals."

On Thursday, Penashue resigned his cabinet post and seat as Conservative MP for Labrador to run in a byelection, blaming "an inexperienced volunteer" for mistakes made in filing the Elections Canada return from the last campaign.

"I appointed a new Official Agent to work with Elections Canada to make any needed amendments to my campaign return. During the examination we became aware that there were ineligible donations accepted by the former Official Agent," Penashue said in a news release.

And while he was "unaware of the inaccuracies in the return," Penashue said "I believe I must be accountable to the people who elected me."

Bowers who also resigned his own seat on the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board this week said he was "shocked' to hear of Penashue's resignation.

Reg Bowers, the former official agent for Peter Penashue, says he unintentionally accepted at least one corporate donation during the 2011 federal election campaign, in an exclusive interview with CBC Radio's The House. Bowers resigned from his seat on a federal board this week. (Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board) (CBC)

The former Conservative MP from Labrador not only resigned his seat but also paid back $30,000 in compensation for "ineligible contributions."

Although Penashue has put the blame squarely on Bowers, the former official agent maintains that Penashue did not know about the cheque from Pennecon Ltd.

While Penashue "signed the returns, we did not go through them in detail," Bowers said.

"We got through it... we sat down and did that as quickly as we could."

'All hell was breaking loose'

New records, posted by Elections Canada on Friday, reveal that Penashue's 2011 election campaign in fact accepted a total of 28 ineligible contributions.

The revised campaign records show that Penashue's campaign has refunded nearly $50,000 in improper donations as early as last November and as recently as March 4, 2013, a week and a half before Penashue resigned, with most of the money coming from the Conservative Party of Canada.

Conservative Party spokesperson Fred Delorey did not comment on the revised campaign records, but in an email to CBC News said only that Penashue "is doing the right thing in being accountable to the voters who elected him."

Bowers said he didn't know why Penashue said he repaid the amount he said he did.

"I have yet to see a report from Elections Canada adding up what makes that $30,000, so I can't comment on it," Bowers said.

Asked if Penashue's campaign accepted any other corporate donation, at first Bowers said "no."

But later Penashue's former campaign volunteer added, "If some slipped through, it slipped through unintentionally."

"That last four or five days, all hell was breaking loose, and you were trying to get your money in the bank as fast as possible," Bowers said.

Penashue's former official agent explained that in the rush to get to the finish line it was possible that Penashue's campaign took in more than one ineligible contribution.

"If there are, they are very limited, because of the fact that they were accepted unintentionally," Bowers said.

The campaign volunteer explained that while he had been around for a long time, his knowledge of the Canada Elections Act  was also "limited."

"I only had a couple of hours exposure to the act prior to this," Bowers said.

When contacted a second time about the 28 ineligible contributions, Bowers said he could not comment.

The former official agent for Penashue said neither Elections Canada or the Conservative Party had been in touch with him about these contributions.

"If I made mistakes, I don't mind owing up to them," Bowers said adding that any error would have been made unintentionally.

Bowers wished Penashue "all the best" going forward saying that "I won't do anything to hurt his chances to get elected."

Penashue told a local radio station on Friday he's confident he'll win the byelection.

"I think I have a very good chance of getting elected, because I think I've done a very good job in the last two years," Penashue said.

Yvonne Jones, a former leader of Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberal Party, announced Friday that she will run against Penashue in a byelection for the riding of Labrador.

It's unclear whether the review by Elections Canada will be settled before the byelection is called, but the prime minister has six months to announce a byelection date.