Peter Penashue Under Fire For Illegal Campaign Financing, And Now For Not Doing His Job

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PETER PENASHUE
Peter Penashue, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, stands in the House of Commons during Question Period in Ottawa, Wednesday November 7, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand | CP

OTTAWA - Embattled Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue is facing a double-barrelled opposition attack.

He's been under siege for weeks amid allegations of illegal financing for the 2011 campaign that got him elected to the House of Commons.

Now he's under attack for being missing in action since he got to the Commons.

New Democrats say public records show 79 per cent of Penashue's ministerial travel has been in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, even though he's the intergovernmental affairs minister responsible for managing federal relations with all provinces and territories.

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus says Penashue has been west of Toronto only once and most of his ministerial travel has involved flying to his riding of Labrador.

Penashue insists he meets regularly with his provincial counterparts but defends his extensive travel in Newfoundland as a good opportunity to promote his province's success stories.

"New exploration and investments are occurring across Canada and especially in Labrador," he told the Commons on Wednesday.

"In my role as the minister of intergovernmental affairs, I get to share these success stories with people from coast to coast to coast and I am working hard to ensure that all Canadians benefit."

Angus shot back: "If he were going to share these stories from coast to coast to coast, he would actually have to go there."

Penashue has not once stood in the Commons to defend himself against allegations that he spent 20 per cent more than the legal spending limit during the 2011 campaign or that his campaign may have accepted an illegal donation from a construction company.

Other ministers or parliamentary secretaries have repeatedly been deployed to deflect opposition questions on those matters by raising past examples of NDP and Liberal transgressions.

So, the NDP is now trying a new tactic, asking Penashue about his ministerial portfolio in a bid to force him to his feet.

It worked Tuesday and again Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a visibly nervous Penashue said his cabinet post "has given me a great opportunity to spend time with the premiers and intergovernmental affairs ministers right across the country.

"I have learned a lot, and I have learned a lot about our country. I am very proud of what we have accomplished as a country. I had a wonderful meeting with the premiers of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and I have been to Alberta as well."

Penashue later said he intends to speak to his constituents next Tuesday about the financial irregularities that plagued his campaign, which he has previously put down to the inexperience of his financial agent.

He insisted he has no plans to quit his cabinet post.

Liberal House leader Marc Garneau questioned Wednesday why Penashue is prepared to explain the "long list of irregularities" to his constituents but not to the Commons or Canadians.

His voice rising with each allegation, Garneau accused Penashue of $20,000 in over-spending, taking a free loan from a company run by his brother-in-law, accepting free air travel, anonymous donations and at least one corporate donation.

"Why wait?" demanded the normally soft-spoken Garneau, who may have been road-testing a more partisan style in preparation for joining the Liberal leadership contest.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney advised Garneau: "You forgot to shoot fire from your eyes, sir."

Pierre Poilievre, the Conservatives' favoured counter-attack dog, chided Garneau.

"That kind of nasty vitriolic attack is not welcome on the floor of this House," Poilievre said, forcing Tory seat mate Jeff Watson to cover his mouth as he struggled not to guffaw.

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