POLITICS

Gerry Byrne Can't Campaign As MP, Says Taxpayers Federation

06/30/2015 06:52 EDT | Updated 06/30/2016 05:59 EDT

Liberal MP Gerry Byrne says there's no conflict in finishing his federal term of office while planning to campaign for the provincial election in the fall — but a group representing Canadian taxpayers disagrees.

"Every sitting MHA in Newfoundland and Labrador, when the provincial election campaign starts in November, will continue to be a sitting MHA on salary while the election campaign is underway," Byrne told CBC News.

"So if there's a conflict here, I guess I could only argue to you that it's across the board and everyone is in exactly the same conflict of interest, which effectively nullifies that argument."

Byrne won the Liberal nomination for the new provincial district of Corner Brook by acclamation on Saturday. Byrne, who had indicated months ago he was prepared to transfer from federal politics to the provincial arena, becomes a promiment member of the Liberal team heading into Newfoundland and Labrador's Nov. 30 election.

Byrne, who represents the federal riding of Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte and has served as an MP since 1996, said he hopes to establish a better connection between the province and the government of Canada.

"We've had no bridge whatsoever. In fact, we've had no relationship — I think it could be effectively argued — for at least 10 years. That has to change. We're suffering as a result, and I think the entire country is suffering," he said.

Byrne said he made a commitment to the people of his riding and will continue speaking on their behalf for the next six months. The House of Commons, he said, must be able to reconvene over the summer if necessary.

Conflicted interests

But the Canadian Taxpayers Federation doesn't think it's fair for Byrne to hold a federal seat if he is also campaigning at the provincial level.

Kevin Lacey, the federation's Atlantic director, said Byrne is afforded certain privileges as a member of Parliament, and that those privileges are paid for by taxpayers.

"The concern is that while he's decided that he doesn't want to be an MP anymore, he can use those privileges to advance his agenda to become a provincial MLA and waste taxpayers money," said Lacey.

While Byrne is required to publicly disclose any expenses incurred through Parliament, Lacey said an MP is given an office, staff and the ability to mail constituents.

"When Mr. Byrne accepted the nomination of the Newfoundland Liberal party to run provincially, he said to his constituents that he no longer wants to be an MP," Lacey said.

"If he no longer wants to be an MP then he should take a leave of absence and protect taxpayers' money."

Byrne said Oct. 19 will be his final day as an MP, and that he looks forward to returning to his hometown.

"Nineteen years of living out of a suitcase and plane rides back and forth, they do take their toll," said Byrne.

"I will be just as busy, but I'll be busy here at home and that, I think, is going to be the biggest difference."

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