Conservative Minister Christian Paradis is refusing to resign despite being found in a conflict of interest for helping former caucus colleague Rahim Jaffer meet with senior bureaucrats on a controversial green-energy project.
In a hard-hitting report on Thursday, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said Mr. Paradis contravened Section 7 of the Conflict of Interest Act as he offered preferential treatment to Mr. Jaffer, who was an MP from 1997 to 2008. She expressed particular concern over the fact Mr. Paradis directed bureaucrats at Public Works Canada to hold the planned meeting even after Mr. Jaffer’s arrest on drug and driving charges in 2009.
“I believe that Mr. Paradis assisted Mr. Jaffer because he wanted to help a former caucus colleague. This preferential treatment was therefore based on the identity of Mr. Jaffer,” Ms. Dawson said in her report.
Mr. Paradis refused to step down, saying in a written statement that he will take “further precautions” in his future dealings with people seeking government funding.
“The Commissioner said today that these reports are educational tools to help us understand how conflict of interest rules work,” he said. “It must further be emphasized that there was never any prospect or question of an advantage or financial gain on my part.”
There is no legal or political consequence to Ms. Dawson’s finding. Still, the NDP and the Liberal Party are calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fire Mr. Paradis, who is now the Minister of Industry.
“This man has got to go, he has no business being in cabinet,” NDP MP Charlie Angus said in an interview. “He knew the rules, and he was breaking the rules to help an insider.”
Mr. Angus said the NDP will bring up the matter in Question Period on Monday, when the party will have a new leader. He said the Official Opposition will remind the Conservative government of past promises to clean up Ottawa and ensure that political connections are no longer a factor in government decisions.
“Either Mr. Harper lied to the voters, or he will hold that promise and find that this wasn’t an acceptable way of doing business,” Mr. Angus said.
Mr. Jaffer has already been found in breach of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct for his unregistered contacts with federal officials as he sought millions in federal funding for environmental projects promoted by his company Green Power Generation.
Mr. Jaffer was arrested in 2009 on charges of cocaine possession and impaired driving. Those charges were dropped, and he pleaded guilty to careless driving in 2010.
The Ethics Commissioner started investigating the matter after a series of revelations about Mr. Jaffer’s business dealings with Nazim Gillani, a controversial venture capitalist who was linked to allegations of fraud by the Ontario Securities Commission this month.
As part of her review, Ms. Dawson found that Mr. Paradis rarely directed private-sector proposals to his department, and that when he did in the case of two companies in his riding, his office vetted the proposals ahead of time. She pointed out that during the same time frame as the Jaffer proposal, another firm involved in solar panels had a meeting with Mr. Paradis’ office, but was not referred to the department.
Ms. Dawson also revealed that the deputy minister at Public Works postponed a meeting with Mr. Jaffer after the arrest. However, Mr. Paradis then asked his deputy minister for the meeting to proceed, arguing that the charges were not linked to Mr. Jaffer’s proposal, the report said.
In that context, she said Mr. Paradis and his office were trying to help Mr. Jaffer rebound from his defeat in the 2008 election, in which he was the only Conservative candidate to lose.
“Mr. Paradis’ willingness to assist Mr. Jaffer on the basis of minimal knowledge about his proposal suggests that he was motivated by a desire to help him establish himself in his new career after his election loss or wished to give him that impression,” the report said.
She added there was no evidence Mr. Paradis tried to influence the outcome of the meeting, so he wasn’t in breach of Section 9 of the Act.
At the time of the controversy, Mr. Jaffer’s wife, Helena Guergis, resigned as minister for the status of women and was ejected from the Conservative caucus. Although she was cleared of any wrongdoing by the RCMP, the party rejected her pleas to return to the fold.