Embattled federal Tory cabinet minister Peter Penashue blames inexperience for overspending on his 2011 federal election campaign, during which an airline footed the bill for thousands of dollars in flights to remote communities.
Penashue, who has been defending himself against opposition calls for his resignation this week, spoke with CBC News Wednesday night at St. John's International Airport.
"Look, last year was my first election. I worked with an official agent, that was his first [and] all of this happened within four weeks, and I recognize that we need to clarify some issues," Penashue said.
Penashue, minister of intergovernmental affairs, refused further comment, other than to repeatedly say he is co-operating with Elections Canada — a message he has maintained since the summer, when his campaign spending first came to light.
Penashue would also not respond directly to Liberal Leader Bob Rae's allegations that "the election was bought" through the use of effectively free travel that allowed Penashue to visit small communities where support may have made a difference in a tight race.
New documents obtained by CBC News this week show that Penashue — who was elected in the riding of Labrador by just 79 votes over Liberal incumbent Todd Russell — and his campaign racked up bills of $24,711 in flights during the 2011 election campaign.
However, Provincial Airlines wrote off all costs over $7,000.
Agreement reached on flat travel rate
Documents submitted to Elections Canada show that Penashue's campaign worked out an agreement with Provincial Airlines in which the airline would supply unlimited travel to Penashue and his family during the campaign for $7,000. The new documents, though, also show that the agreement was not negotiated and finalized until Sept. 16, 2011, or more than four months after the election.
Documents also show that Penashue had already overspent by nearly $4,000.
Meanwhile, Jack Harris, NDP MP for St. John's East, has put the spotlight on Reg Bowers, who had been campaign manager and official agent for Penashue.
Bowers, who has been relieved as official agent, continues to sit as a federal appointee on the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.
"He's qualified, apparently, to help direct a billion-dollar oil industry, but not competent to keep a local riding campaign on budget. Why did the Conservatives reward someone for breaking all the rules, with a plum patronage post?"
The government didn't comment on the appointment, which came seven months after the May 2011 election.
Bowers's biography on the C-NLOPB website refers to his background in business, accounting and politics.