“This House cannot function without an open, accountable, and independent ethics process; and the molestation of that process by the majority is an abuse of power that cannot stand.”
— U.S. Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter
I didn’t really expect Peter Penashue to live up to the “honourable” part of his job title and resign this week, but I didn’t expect him to do what he did either.
Call me naive, but when someone says they won’t discuss campaign spending irregularities with the national media because they want to speak directly to their constituents, I actually expect them to speak to their constituents.
Instead, the beleaguered Labrador MP stuck to his duck-and-run strategy, as he has ever since he was elected by a slim margin in 2011.
In January — in a sign of things to come — he dodged protesters in front of the Canadian Coast Guard base in St. John’s who were hoping to talk to him about the impending closure of the Marine Rescue Sub-Centre.
Now, when his election campaign finances get raised in the House of Commons, other Conservative MPs stand to speak for him, even when he’s in the House himself.
This week, as people in his riding were asking questions, he was refusing to be held accountable and to provide the answers the public wants. Instead, he issued news releases about Queen’s Jubilee Medals and made funding announcements.
Medals and money are nice, of course, but his election controversy has become a national news story and it seems a tad coincidental that at a time when reporters were hot on his heels, he was in Port Hope Simpson, where cellphone reception is limited.
His only acknowledgement of his constituents’ concerns came in a letter posted on his website, in which he professed his surprise and disappointment that spending issues have come to light.
“No one is more surprised than I am at the allegations that have arisen since the campaign,” he wrote. “No one is more disappointed.”
Surprise? Disappointment? That’s the public’s purview here, Mr. Minister.
People are surprised that you have not owned up to the fact that your whole election campaign has been cast under a cloud. People are disappointed that you have not accepted any responsibility.
To place the blame squarely on the shoulders of your official agent — blame he has said publicly he is unwilling to accept — is hardly the sign of political leadership.
When in doubt, blame the lackeys, it seems, even when the lackey in this case has incredible credentials.
I’m no politician, but I can follow simple instructions and I figure Penashue and his campaign team could too.
Elections Canada rules are pretty straightforward, and contain such admonishments as these:
“Do not accept contributions from ineligible sources (e.g. foreign sources, corporations, trade unions and unregistered associations);
“Do not accept contributions that exceed an individual’s contribution limits.”
Sounds simple enough.
And yet, somehow, mysteriously, and without anyone’s knowledge, thousands of dollars’ worth of flights taken by Penashue were written off by Provincial Airlines (sounds like a donation from a corporation to me), he exceeded his spending limit by thousands and he accepted a donation from a corporation just days after he beat Liberal incumbent Todd Russell by 79 votes.
In a CBC News story by reporter Laura Payton on Nov. 1, Penashue’s spokesman said the campaign simply would not accept corporate donations.
And yet accept them it did.
Penashue has one ace up his sleeve, though. He’s a cabinet minister in a government where you can do just about whatever you please and not face any consequences.
Peter MacKay using search and rescue equipment for personal travel? No problem.
Bev Oda wasting taxpayers’ dollars on limos and luxury suites? Forget about it.
Jason Kenney’s office padding out a citizenship ceremony with staff posing as new Canadians? Anything goes.
Dean del Maestro being investigated for alleged election overspending? What the heck.
Del Maestro, incidentally, is parliamentary secretary to both the prime minister and the intergovernmental affairs minister — Peter Penashue.
The sad truth is, if the PM turfed out every Conservative MP who acted unethically, he’d no longer have a majority government.
Penashue lamented this week that he was treated rudely by the Liberals and the NDP in the House of Commons.
Does he actually expect political opponents not to pounce on a weakened rival? Now who’s being naive?
If Penashue wants to lay claim to being honourable, there’s only one thing to do: resign.
His constituents deserve better and so do all Canadians.
And he shouldn’t bother re-entering politics until he’s willing to win the race fair and square.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at