When rookie Labrador MHA Randy Edmunds was campaigning along the coast of northern Labrador last fall, he didn’t use a plane — he used an open boat.
Edmunds credits his election victory last fall in part to his ability to get into communities and talk to people directly.
“I went from community to community, and anyone who knew me up there, or anyone who knows me up there, they wouldn’t expect anything less,” he said. “It’s very important, and it’s one of the reasons why the incumbent lost the election.”
Cruising up and down the north coast of Labrador was a rugged way to campaign, Edmunds said, but it did have one major advantage.
“It was cost-effective, for starters,” he said.
Edmunds’ comments came in the wake of CBC reports which show that in the last federal election Labrador MP Peter Penashue massively overspent his campaign limit by flying all over Labrador.
“Certainly he would get to cover off the communities faster and more often, but when you fly in an airplane there’s a price tag and we’re certainly starting to see the results of his campaign now,” Edmunds said. “Going 21 per cent over budget is certainly an incredible amount, and as far as being a rookie, I was a rookie, but the first thing I checked is what my guidelines are. I don’t buy that excuse of not knowing what the guidelines are.”
All of this comes as Penashue is under fire for overspending in the 2011 general election, and violating campaign finance rules.
CBC News reported that Provincial Airlines wrote off thousands of dollars’ worth of flights after the election, once Penashue’s campaign said it could pay only $7,000.
Documents reported by CBC show that Penashue had already overspent by nearly $4,000.
Penashue refused to do an interview with The Telegram for this story.
In a statement provided by a spokesman, Penashue characterized the issue as “mistakes that were made” by his former official financial agent.
In the House of Commons Thursday, Liberal and New Democrat MPs pressed for answers.
Despite the fact Penashue was in the chamber, it was Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for transport, who answered questions on his behalf.
Poilievre, responding to NDP MP Jack Harris, said the Conservative party is working to rectify the situation.
“The new official agent in place will work with Elections Canada to correct any mistakes that have been made,” Poilievre said. “But one mistake that still needs correcting for the benefit of all Newfoundlanders in that member’s riding is that he and his party are promoting a devastating carbon tax that would kill the jobs of Newfoundlanders.”
The NDP advocates a cap-and-trade system when it comes to carbon emissions.
In a subsequent question on Penashue’s expenses from Quebec MP Alexandre Boulerice, Poilievre responded by saying the more important issue is not Penashue, but whether Boulerice is a separatist.
Former Liberal MP Todd Russell, who lost the 2011 campaign to Penashue, said it is nettlesome to see that the election result may not have been honest.
“This certainly puts a bit of salt in the wound when you know someone may have cheated and won unfairly, and that not everybody was abiding by the same rules,” he said. “I’ve been involved in nine to 10 elections as an aboriginal leader and in federal politics. When there has been a fair playing field, when people follow the rules, I have won every single one of those elections.”
Russell wouldn’t say whether he’ll run if a byelection is called, or whether he’ll try to retake the riding in the 2015 election, but said he’s moved on.
“I’m the president of NunatuKavut. I have a strong mandate to represent the rights of the people of NunatuKavut,” he said. “I haven’t given much thought at all to where things are going to be in 2015, and certainly I’m just concentrating on the job that’s in front of me.”
Harris told The Telegram that he hopes Penashue will be removed from office once the Elections Canada investigation concludes.
“If you avoid spending limits, if you accept illegal donations, there comes a point where the legitimacy of your seat in Parliament is in question. This is something that we have to ask Elections Canada to act quickly on,” Harris said. “Clearly it’s not acceptable for an individual who’s been unfairly elected to continue to serve, but the details and the findings have to be made by someone who’s appointed to do so.”
Liberal MP Scott Andrews said it defies belief when Penashue has said it was only honest mistakes that were made. Andrews accused Penashue of deliberately trying to mislead Elections Canada.
“He did it knowingly. Instead of submitting it as it was and face the consequences, knowing that you’ve done something wrong, he tried to fix it,” Andrews said. “You tried to cook the books, and that’s what looks bad.”