A sly tweet from a suspended former Conservative senator has triggered a New Democrat MP to call on the federal ethics watchdog to investigate Public Works Minister Diane Finley over what he describes as a "potential pattern" of breaking conflict of interest rules.
On Tuesday night, just hours after Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson had released a report that found Finley had breached the Conflict of Interest Act by circumventing the standard approval process to give more than a million dollars in federal funding to a Markham-based community centre, suspended senator Patrick Brazeau took to Twitter to accuse the minister of practising similarly questionable politics in Pontiac during the last election:
"St-Jean Bosco Centre in Maniwaki [was] promised funds but when former Minister Lawrence Cannon lost in the last election, Finlay [sic] pulled funding b/c NDP won election in riding," he tweeted.
"I met with both Finlay [sic] and Wright on this file. Now we all know why."
That was enough to pique the interest of Pontiac New Democrat MP Mathieu Ravignat, who beat Cannon in 2011.
NDP MP 'extremely disturbed' by allegations
In a letter sent to Dawson on Wednesday, he says that he was "extremely disturbed" by the findings in her report on Finley's actions with regard to the Markham centre.
"Fifty thousand dollars ended up misspent on this project until it collapsed under the weight of its deficiencies," he noted.
"Mr. Patrick Brazeau has publicly alleged that Minister Finley also politically interfered into the funding of the Jean Bosco Centre in Maniwaki," the letter continues.
"He claims that they were promised funds, but when former minister Lawrence Cannon lost the last election that Minister Finley pulled the funding. Mr. Brazeau also claims to have met with both Minister Finley and ex-Chief of Staff at the PMO Nigel Wright to discuss the matter."
If true, Ravignat avers, "I believe that these actions could have violated sections 4 and 6 of the Conflict of Interest Act," which deal with the prohibitions against furthering private interests and conflict of interest.
"I ask that you investigate these matters and look forward to your response," the letter concludes.
Ravignat also raised the matter in the House of Commons.
"In my own riding in a tweet from former Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, it is being alleged that the minister of public works pulled funding from the Jean Bosco Centre in Maniwaki because 'the NDP won the election'," he told the House during question period on Wednesday.
Centre 'did not merit' grant: Poilievre
"How can the prime minister endorse such unacceptable and unethical behaviour from the minister and the cabinet?"
Although Finley had responded directly to earlier questions on the commissioner's findings, Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre took Ravignat's question.
"External and internal assessments showed that the Centre Jean Bosco did not merit a grant of this nature," he told the House.
In her report, Dawson concluded that Finley's decision to provide funds to the Markham project contravened the section of the act that prohibits public office holders from making decisions that "they know, or reasonably should know, would place them in a conflict of interest."
"I found that the Markham proposal clearly received preferential treatment," Dawson said.
She also noted that Finley had violated several guidelines, including the Treasury Board’s policy on transfer payments and the prime minister’s guide to accountable government for cabinet ministers.
But she cleared the minister of violating the conflict of interest provisions, as she said the preferential treatment did not appear to be based on the identity of the Markham project's sponsor,Canadian Federation of Chabad Lubavitch director Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn.
It will be up to Dawson to conduct a preliminary review to see if there are grounds to launch a formal investigation based on Ravignat's complaint.
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