APTN National News
OTTAWA–The Conservative government resorted to a “Colonel Sanders” defence Friday to fend off opposition attacks aimed at embattled Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue who is in the midst of a campaign spending scandal that has triggered increasing calls for his resignation.
Penashue faces allegations he breached several elections laws by overspending during his 2011 federal election campaign and accepting donations and in-kind contributions from corporate donors.
The Labrador Conservative MP and former Innu leader, however, continues to hold his silence even as the scandal continues to spread.
During Friday’s sparsely attended question period, opposition MPs again fired volleys at Penashue over his campaign spending, and again he kept his silence in the House of Commons while his Conservative colleagues stood to counter the attacks.
NDP House leader Nathan Cullen opened question period demanding Penashue explain why his campaign cashed $5,500 from a Newfoundland and Labrador-based construction company even though it’s against election laws to accept corporate donations and personal donations over $1,200.
“There are now even more allegations of campaign violations against the minister,” said Cullen. “Is the minister willing today to rise in his place and explain himself to Canadians?”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird took the question, countering that the NDP returned about $340,000 in union donations last spring after a Conservative complaint to Elections Canada. Baird said a new official agent was now working with Elections Canada to “correct any mistakes” made in the campaign.
“The minister has always been very clear in directing his campaign not to accept corporate or union donations,” said Baird. “For a member of the New Democratic Party, which pocketed $340,000 illegally into its bank, to make these charges, it is just simply too rich.”
The Liberals also went after Penashue with Liberal MP Roger Cuzner using Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former aide Tom Flanagan to bolster his attack.
“Yesterday, Tom Flanagan, the former chief of staff for the prime minister, said that the minister has no choice but to step out of cabinet for so clearly breaking the laws,” said Cuzner. “With over 20 per cent in overspending that we know of, and now the corporate cheque scandal, when will this minister step down?”
Baird, however, used the Colonel Sanders defence to deflect the question.
“The Liberals standing in judgement on campaign finance reform is almost like Colonel Sanders standing in judgement of chickens,” said Baird.
The Liberals have latched on to the issue because Penashue beat one of their own, former MP Todd Russell, by only 79 votes in the last federal election.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae travelled to Labrador Friday to push the issue on Penashue’s home turf.
Rae has already written two letters to Elections Canada asking the electoral authority to probe Penashue’s campaign financing and numbers.
In a letter made public Tuesday, Rae asked the electoral authority to investigate five donations which were listed under the same postal code in St. John’s.
Rae said the donations were registered as received on May 4, 2011, two days after the last federal election. Three of the donations were for $1,100, the donation limit, while the other two were for $550, according to Rae.
Rae said in the letter that the postal code used for the donations is part of a large postal station in the west-end of St. John’s. The postal code is also used by the headquarters of Pennecon Ltd.’s, a Newfoundland and Labrador-based company involved in construction, energy and real estate.
Rae stated that all five donations were made by company officers.
It is against the Canada Elections Act to accept corporate donations, to conceal the source of donations or to make a donation under someone else’s name.
In a separate letter, Rae also asked Elections Canada to probe a $25,000 loan Penashue’s campaign received from Innu Development Limited Partnership (IDLP) which was initially registered as interest free, contravening election laws which require loans to follow market interest rates. Rae also asked the electoral authority to probe a decision by an airline, partly owned by IDLP, to write off all but $7,000 of the $18,163 in travel costs incurred by Penashue and his family during the campaign.
Rae also noted that Penashue’s campaign return appear to have overshot the allowable campaign spending limit by $17, 469.
Penashue’s former official agent and campaign manager was appointed by the Harper government to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board last December.