Embattled Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue says he told workers during his election campaign that he could not accept corporate donations and that he's surprised and disappointed by the allegations about his campaign spending.
"No one is more surprised than I am at the allegations that have arisen since the campaign," he wrote in a letter to the people of Labrador posted on his website.
"No one is more disappointed. That’s why there is a new official agent in place to examine all of the paperwork and to work with Elections Canada to correct any mistakes," he said.
"Throughout this difficult time, I remain focused on serving the people of Labrador who asked me to represent them as their member of Parliament," he added.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Penashue's office released an email purporting to show Penashue declining a corporate donation.
Much of the email is blacked out, so it's not clear who contacted him, what they asked and why they were asking.
"We can't do corporate donations. It's all personal donations and the cap is $1,100 per individual," says an email that appears to be from Penashue's personal email account.
The email is dated April 6, 2011 — one month before six executives at construction company Pennecon Ltd. were given receipts for donations. A deposit slip in his 2011 election campaign file shows a single entry for the company rather than six entries for the individual donors.
Penashue directed donor to agent
The email directs the recipient to Penashue's official agent, Reg Bowers, who handled all the campaign finances.
"Reg will give you an address where you can send a personal cheque," the email says.
Asked for more information about the email, Penashue's spokesman in Ottawa didn't respond.
Another Penashue spokesman said in an email two weeks ago that Penashue told his campaign no corporate donations would be expected, but wouldn't elaborate or say whether the campaign had accepted donations despite the order.
It's not clear why the email is only now being made public, despite repeated requests from reporters for information about Penashue's campaign finances.
Penashue is in his Labrador riding today.
On Nov. 6, he told reporters that this was the day he would talk to his constituents about his campaign spending.
"Look, I'm under pressure. There's lots going on," said Penashue at the time. "I want to speak to my constituents and explain what happened during the election."
Constituent wanted public meeting
But Jenny Gear of North West River, Labrador, said Penashue told her early this morning that he would not be holding a public meeting. She told CBC she reached Penashue on his cellphone at about 7 a.m., told him she was interested in attending his constituents meeting and she was wondering about the time and place.
"He told me that there's not going to be a meeting and if anybody has any questions for him, they can write him a letter, they can email him or they can reach him on his cellphone," said Gear.
Gear added that Penashue told her that he met with some constituents Monday night, would meet with others today, but emphasized there would be no public meeting.
Gear said she was not a Penashue supporter, and that she thinks the MP should hold a public meeting on his campaign overspending.
Penashue was in Port Hope Simpson, on the south coast of Labrador earlier this afternoon to hand out Queen's Jubilee medals, but Port Hope Simpson is out of cellphone range.
The federal minister has not explained how the name of Pennecon, a St. John's construction company, showed up on a bank deposit slip to his 2011 federal election campaign account, though his campaign issued receipts to six executives at the company.
The company has given generously to Progressive Conservative election campaigns in Newfoundland and Labrador, but in federal elections, corporate donations are illegal.
Penashue has not said what he knew about the contributions.
Penashue has also been dogged by questions about overspending on his campaign and thousands of dollars in free flights during the 2011 federal election, which he won by just 79 votes.
The Conservatives have said a new official agent is working with Elections Canada to work on those issues.
Calls to resign
Meanwhile, Scott Andrews, the MP for Avalon riding and the Liberal ethics critic, called on Penashue to resign immediately.
“Peter Penashue has hit a new low when it comes to skirting accountability. After spending weeks ducking questions in Parliament and in the media about the serious allegations surrounding his election, Minister Penashue broke a promise to his constituents by refusing to appear before them today to explain his misconduct," said Andrews in a statement released on Tuesday afternoon.
"As evidence that he broke the Elections Act continues to grow, the only responsible decision left for Mr. Penashue is to resign immediately, and allow a free and fair election in Labrador.”