Labrador Byelection: Elizabeth May Wonders If Harper Violated Conflict Of Interest Act For Penashue

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Elizabeth May believes Stephen Harper may have violated the Conflict of Interest Act and tried to give Peter Penashue an unfair advantage in an upcoming byelection. (CP)
Elizabeth May believes Stephen Harper may have violated the Conflict of Interest Act and tried to give Peter Penashue an unfair advantage in an upcoming byelection. (CP)

Elizabeth May believes Stephen Harper may have violated the Conflict of Interest Act to give his MP an unfair advantage in an upcoming byelection.

On Monday, the Green Party leader called on federal ethics watchdog Mary Dawson to examine Harper’s behaviour before calling a vote in Labrador for May 13.

The riding was held by former intergovernmental affairs minister Peter Penashue, who resigned in controversy in March only to run again once the byelection was called in April.

May outlined at least two “questionable decisions” the prime minister made in a letter to the Conflict of Interests and Ethics Commissioner.

The first, she wrote, was Harper’s call to allow Penashue to make a $1.35 million spending announcement just four days before stepping down from his seat.

“I am asking you to investigate whether the Prime Minister knew that Mr. Penashue was going to resign and whether he made the decision to allow Mr. Penashue to make that announcement knowing that Mr. Penashue would soon run as a candidate in a byelection in the riding,” May wrote.

May also questioned why Harper called the byelection before prosecutors decided whether to charge Penashue for illegal contributions to his 2011 campaign which violated the Canada Elections Act.

“Prime Minister Harper is essentially furthering Mr. Penashue’s private interests by not allowing voters in the riding to know whether independent investigators at Elections Canada and prosecutors have concluded that there is enough clear evidence of violations to prosecute,” she wrote.

May believes Harper violated sections 4 and 6 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which prohibits public office holders like the prime minister from exercising “an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.”

May thinks Penashue, whom Harper hailed as “the best member of Parliament Labrador has ever had,” certainly qualifies as a “friend” of the prime minister.

It’s unclear how Dawson will respond to May’s request but regardless it appears Penashue's chances of returning to the House of Commons are slim.

A recent poll from Forum Research found Liberal candidate Yvonne Jones boasts 60 per cent support, with Penashue far behind at 29 per cent and NDP candidate Harry Borlase at 10 per cent.

If Penashue is defeated next week it will mark the first time Harper has lost a Tory-held seat in a byelection since becoming prime minster.

But it appears Conservatives are not going down without a fight.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay promised Labrador voters on Monday that Penashue will be right back in cabinet if he wins, reports the CBC.

While campaigning in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, MacKay suggested that sending an opposition MP to Ottawa to “yell at the government two or three times a week” is not nearly as valuable as having a member in Harper’s inner circle.

“This is an opportunity, a unique opportunity, to elect somebody who you know — this is a guarantee — is going to be in the cabinet of the federal government," he said.

In 2011, Penashue won the 2011 election over incumbent Liberal MP Todd Russell by just 79 votes.

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