Two months ago I added Peter Penashue, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, to the list of people I was keeping an eye on for this series of posts. He finally surfaced again this week.
Before we get into the details of Penashue's campaign spending during last year's federal election, let's get two things out of the way. The first is a clarification of applicable election law:
The penalty for wilfully breaking expense limit rules is up to $5,000 and a five-year ban on running for MP. The penalty for accidental overspending is a fine up to $1,000 or three months in prison.
The second is to re-introduce one of the players in the story: Paul Rich is Peter Penashue's brother-in-law. Rich is a former CEO of the Innu Development Limited Partnership (IDLP), where there was controversy over the $1 million paid to him over two years as well as the large bonuses paid to other officers of the company. IDLP has a business relationship with Provincial Airlines: the two companies are partners in a regional airline called Innu Mikun which provides charter flights in Labrador.
Penashue's campaign spending became newsworthy when it was learned that not only had he spent about $4,000 over the limit, but he had received what was reported to Elections Canada as an interest free loan for $25,000 from IDLP. The minister was quick to contradict the interest free part, claiming that it was actually subject to 7% interest and that half of the loan had been paid back. That was in July.
It's now October and according to current reports, $15,000 of the principle is still outstanding with interest on top of that.
It's now being reported that Penashue's campaign would have been around $22,000 over the limit were it not for the understanding attitude taken by an airline that flew the candidate and his family and entourage all over his Labrador riding. Expenses incurred with the airline would have totaled about $25,000. But when they learned that the campaign couldn't pay that amount, they were kind enough to settle for "a flat rate" of $7,000 and write the rest off.
Things do get a bit murky here. The paperwork on this flat rate offer wasn't finalized until four months after Penashue won the riding by 79 votes. Did I mention that the airline in question is Provincial Airlines? Or that the deal was negotiated by Paul Rich?
Penashue's official story hasn't changed from the one he chanted at the CBC two months ago in answer to whatever questions they could think to ask him. All of the problems with his campaign financing can be explained away by administrative error and his staff are working diligently with Elections Canada to reach a satisfactory accommodation.
The source of the administrative error is Reginald Bowers, who was the agent responsible for paying the bills and filing the paperwork on behalf of the campaign. He was subsequently appointed to a position on the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. At one point this week he was being described by Conservatives as an "inexperienced campaign volunteer" which makes me wonder if Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver would like a do-over. In another story back in July, in answer to criticism of Bowers' appointment:
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver defended Bowers as a capable appointee with decades of experience in regional economic development.
The petroleum board, by the way, has a website.
Bowers's biography on the C-NLOPB website refers to his background in business, accounting and politics.
Accounting, you say?
The response from the Liberal incumbent who lost to Penashue by 79 votes — in a riding that includes a number of remote communities and where free airfare would present a distinct advantage — included language that would be deemed unparliamentary were it deployed in the House of Commons.
Did I stretch that out far enough? 'Cos I don't have a lot more and nothing that advances the key stories.
There's a piece that's now behind the Ottawa Citizen's paywall reporting that the new Commissioner of Canada Elections, the official with direct responsibility for investigating complaints like those involving fraudulent robocalls, is making substantially more money than his predecessor. Reaction to the news was mixed.
There's today's news: the Conservative MP who might become a former MP shortly if the Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling that threw out his election, has been selected as part of an elections monitoring team Canada is sending to Ukraine — a team whose composition has already raised questions about excessive partisanship.
And Dean Del Mastro almost managed to slip by me completely. All I have is a tweet from Glen McGregor:
By my tally, Dean Del Mastro hasn't attended #ETHI committee he sits on since since June 5, missing 8 meetings in a row (today would be 9).
He's become awfully shy.
And that's all I've got. See you next week.