POLITICS

Peter Penashue Mulls Federal Conservative Run In Labrador After Expenses Saga

08/19/2015 02:13 EDT | Updated 08/19/2016 05:59 EDT

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A former federal Conservative cabinet minister from Labrador who stepped down over illegitimate campaign expenses says he's considering running again.

Peter Penashue is gauging support and will decide by early September whether to try a political comeback, he said in an interview Wednesday.

"If there's interest, then I will, obviously, by all means."

Penashue, who made history as the first Innu cabinet minister, scored his party's only victory in the province in the 2011 election. It was a surprise, 79-vote win over a Liberal incumbent in a traditionally Liberal riding.

He stepped down two years later, however, as questions mounted in Ottawa about how he funded his campaign.

Penashue stayed quiet for weeks in the House of Commons as other ministers deflected opposition demands for answers.

He resigned as intergovernmental affairs minister in March 2013, saying he wanted to regain the trust of voters.

Penashue lost a subsequent byelection two months later to Liberal challenger Yvonne Jones. His former official agent, Reg Bowers, is charged under the Canada Elections Act with three counts involving acceptance of illegal funds.

Seven companies last month acknowledged giving illegal donations to Penashue's 2011 campaign. Compliance agreements struck by executives of those businesses with the commissioner of elections did not constitute a criminal conviction or create criminal records.

But executives of Air Labrador Ltd., Dee-Max Innu Tautshuap Ltd., Innu-Chiasson Construction Ltd., Kakatshu Construction Ltd., Labrador Sales Ltd. and N.E. Parrot Surveys Ltd. admitted they directed their companies to donate $1,000 each to Penashue's campaign.

The CEO of Pennecon Ltd. admitted that six of his company's officers were involved in donating a $5,500 corporate cheque.

Penashue said Wednesday that federal politics overall was a good experience. The region needs a voice in government if the Conservatives win on Oct. 19, he added.

"What I'm hearing is that people appreciate the work that I'd done while I was there for two years. They like the federal money that I brought into Labrador, roads and fibre optic and so forth."

Penashue said he now works as an adviser for the local chief of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation.

Christopher Dunn, a political scientist at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said Penashue's potential run speaks volumes about the state of the Conservative party in the province.

"It may be their only option in that region," he said in an interview. "There has been a remarkable lack of people coming forward to declare themselves for Conservative candidacy.

"At least Mr. Penashue has nailed his colours to the mast on behalf of the party."

The Conservative brand in the province has especially suffered since former premier Danny Williams declared his ABC or "Anything But Conservative" campaign in 2008. It was in retaliation for what Williams said was the breaking of a written election vow to keep non-renewable energy resources out of the equalization funding formula.

Since then, the shuttering of a maritime rescue subcentre in St. John's is among other deeply unpopular federal measures.

Conservative party brass also recently made headlines by rejecting Ches Crosbie, a successful lawyer and son of outspoken former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister John Crosbie, as a candidate in the riding of Avalon.

The party declined to comment on what it called an internal matter. But John Crosbie blasted the rejection as an affront to democracy. He said his son was told the rebuff had to do with the younger Crosbie's performance last spring in a satirical fundraising skit that poked fun at Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

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