The company they keep

Peter Jackson
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Jason Kenney needs to hire some new staff. Then again, maybe he has exactly the staff he wants.

A few weeks ago, a petition appeared on the immigration minister's website asking supporters to “thank Jason Kenney for his efforts to streamline benefits afforded to refugees (sic) claimants under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) and bring them in line with the benefits received by tax-paying Canadians, including new Canadians.”

The new IFHP has received widespread criticism from medical professionals and refugee advocates, who say it harshly discriminates against certain classes of refugees while they are on Canadian soil.

Pros and cons aside, though, the petition in itself is pretty silly: a minister of the Crown asking citizens to thank him for something he did.

Even if you’re shallow enough to solicit praise in this fashion, one would hope you’d discreetly arrange a third party to do it.

In this case, of course, that “third party” was likely one of Kenney’s own staffers.

Then you have to ask, is that really enough degrees of separation to make it acceptable?

It’s not the first time Kenney’s staff have put the department in a bad light.

One of the most embarrassing incidents occurred last fall, when the Sun News network decided it wanted to broadcast a live citizenship ceremony at its own studios. Immigration staffers agreed to ferret out some actual pre-citizens for the event, but when they couldn’t find enough participants, they sent over a few department employees who had already received their citizenship.


Fuzzy facts

Kenney said it was done without his knowledge. Sun News said it had been deceived. But last month, email communications unveiled by The Canadian Press demonstrated that department staffers and Sun News had collaborated fully in the deception.

Curiously, only the news anchors were left out of the loop, which meant they repeatedly referred to all the participants as freshly branded Canadians.

A supposedly rogue staffer played a major role in the scandal of misleading robocalls made during the last election. The focus of an Elections Canada investigation centres mostly on the district of Kitchener-Waterloo, but evidence suggests many other regions were subjected to similar types of fraud.

Dean Del Mastro, who was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s designated defenceman on the robocall file, is now facing his own allegations of election fraud, in which employees of his brother’s company were reportedly bribed to act as fronts so the company could contribute more than its legal share to Del Mastro’s campaign.

Don’t forget, the Conservatives are already basking in a proven election fraud, that perpetrated by operatives responsible for the famous “in and out” scheme. That deception is not unlike the one Del Mastro is suspected of.

And then there’s former international co-operation minister Bev Oda. Before her lavish spending practices were exposed this year, Oda gained fame in February 2011 when she admitted to lying about her part in a decision to insert a “not” into a memo granting funds to an aid agency. In doing so, the approval for funding became a denial.

That Oda initially said she had nothing to do with it really blurs the line in the “blame the staff” defence. The mysterious staff order, it turned out, actually came from her.

Any political party, in power or not, is susceptible to rogue staffers, those who go a little too far beyond what’s acceptable.

The backrooms of campaign headquarters are full of Machiavellian schemers who are willing to push the envelope for the cause.

But as more and more incidents accrue, you have to wonder whether perhaps the Conservatives should be known by the company they keep.


Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. Email:

Twitter: pjackson_NL

Organizations: Sun News, Conservatives, Canadian Press Elections Canada

Geographic location: Kitchener, Waterloo

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