Conservative Industry Minister Christian Paradis is under fire over a hunting trip in which a new arena in Quebec City was raised by a prominent sports powerbroker, adding to a growing list of ethical woes for the Harper government’s Quebec lieutenant.
Mr. Paradis was found in a conflict of interest last week over his dealings with former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, and the Ethics Commissioner is investigating the transfer of a federal office into his riding.
Watchdog Mary Dawson said on Tuesday that she has started a preliminary review into the matter of the Quebec sports arena.
Mr. Paradis and Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, denied any lobbying took place regarding federal funding for a new Colisée in Quebec during the fall, 2009, moose-hunting trip. Prime Minister Stephen Harper also defended Mr. Paradis’ conduct, stating: “This was a private trip and there is no link I'm aware of to any government business.”
Still, government officials confirmed to The Globe and Mail that Mr. Aubut, former president of the Quebec Nordiques, started a discussion about the Colisée project with Mr. Paradis, who was Public Works minister at the time, during the hunting expedition at Mr. Aubut’s lodge.
While the content and length of the discussion are unclear, a spokeswoman for Mr. Paradis said the minister cut it short and told Mr. Aubut to raise the topic with Josée Verner, who was the Conservative member of cabinet in charge of the file.
During Question Period, Mr. Paradis said he paid all of his expenses related to the trip and used his own car to get there.
“Never, in any case, did Mr. Aubut lobby me, before or during the trip,” Mr. Paradis said.
Mr. Aubut, who was elected president of the COC in early 2009, has been a major booster of building a new Colisée for Quebec that could be used by an NHL team and be part of an eventual bid for the Winter Olympics.
Despite large-scale political pressure in Quebec, the Harper government rejected calls to fund a part of the $400-million arena, which will be paid for by the municipal and provincial governments. Quebecor Media Inc. has bought naming rights for the building, which is scheduled to open in 2015.
Last week, Mr. Paradis was found in a conflict of interest for providing preferential treatment to Mr. Jaffer, his former Conservative colleague, whom he helped hold a meeting with senior officials at Public Works Canada in 2010.
The opposition has ridiculed Mr. Paradis for saying that he found the damning report by the Ethics Commissioner to be educational and that it would help him avoid similar situations in the future. The NDP has called on the Prime Minister to fire Mr. Paradis over the findings.
The Ethics Commissioner is also looking into the transfer of federal offices from the city of Rimouski into Mr. Paradis’ riding, Mégantic-L’Érable. Federal Employment Insurance offices went into a building owned by a business partner of Mr. Paradis’ father, and the opposition has alleged wrongdoing.
The opposition blasted Mr. Paradis on Tuesday for going on the moose-hunt with Mr. Aubut, arguing that Mr. Paradis was invited because of his powerful role in the Harper government.
“Last week, he was found guilty of giving preferential treatment to his buddy Rahim Jaffer. Now this week he is having trouble getting his story straight about that 2009 hunting trip with Marcel Aubut, who just happened to be lobbying Ottawa for $400-million to help build a hockey arena,” NDP MP Charlie Angus said in the House. “Does the minister not see that there is a problem partying with a man who is hitting up the government for taxpayers' dollars?”
The code of conduct for ministers states that they must “not to accept any gift or benefit connected with their position that might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity.”
Three other people were on the hunting trip with Mr. Paradis and Mr. Aubut, which yielded one moose.