OTTAWA — Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said Tuesday she will examine whether Health Minister Jane Philpott violated the Conflict of Interest Act in her use of a high-end car service owned by a Liberal supporter.
Dawson's probe will focus on a section of the act pertaining to "preferential treatment." It comes after Conservative health critic Colin Carrie wrote to the commissioner over the revelation that Philpott spent $1,700 dollars on one day for car service and more than $1,900 on another day.
Health Minister Jane Philpott responds during question period in the House of Commons on June 9, 2016 in Ottawa. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
The commissioner cannot comment on the examination because it is being conducted in private, but a public report will be issued once it is complete.
Philpott announced last Thursday she would repay the cost of these trips totalling just over $3,700, while admitting these were "excessive costs" related to her work travel.
The minister's department is also examining 20 rides from her home to Toronto's Pearson International Airport totalling $3,815, while it also conducts a wide-ranging review of all other ministerial expenses.
She has promised to pay back any other filings deemed to be inappropriate.
'The minister will work in full co-operation'
Reza Shirani — the owner of the vehicle company who canvassed for the minister during the last federal election — told The Canadian Press the minister was driven in a Lexus ES 300 and admitted he was personally in the driver's seat on July 12.
On that day, Philpott billed taxpayers a total of $1,994 for transportation around a speaking engagement at the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Philpott's office said Tuesday it has received notice from the commissioner.
"The minister will work in full co-operation with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner," it said in a statement.
The minister is also reimbursing taxpayers for $520 for the use of Air Canada lounges in North America and Europe.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna speaks at a news conference in Paris, France, on Nov. 29, 2015. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
Late Monday, the minister promised to repay the money after the Opposition Conservatives used the Access to Information Act to obtain the receipt for the one-year "Maple Leaf Club North America Plus" membership.
A copy of the document was provided to The Canadian Press.
The Conservatives are now citing the use of high-end vehicles and airport lounges as examples of a broader trend of "excess and entitlement" on the part of the minister and the Liberal government.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has also been under the microscope for her spending after it was revealed she spent $6,600 for photography documenting the COP21 climate change conference in Paris.
McKenna's department is now conducting its own review of expenses.
'We need to be mindful of the costs to taxpayers'
"I think there are way that we can reduce costs," McKenna said at an event in Ottawa.
"We need to be mindful of the costs to taxpayers. That's something we are committed to as a government."
Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act and made available to The Canadian Press by the Conservatives said McKenna's department paid close to $11,000 to a French photographer during a Paris climate change conference.
The actual cost was $6,600 dollars, she said, but her office mistakenly took converted that to Euros.
PM looking at new ways to disclose expenses
McKenna still owes Canadians an apology and a repayment, said Quebec Conservative MP Gerard Deltell.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday the Liberal party "led the way" on proactively disclosing expenses back in 2013, adding his government will continue to look for "new and more robust ways" of disclosing the use of public dollars.
"We are always willing to discuss and look at new ways of demonstrating the kind of openness and transparency across government that we know Canadians expect," Trudeau said in Barrie, Ont.
—with files from Terry Pedwell