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Alberta's Asian trade envoy cleared of conflict allegations

Gary Mar, right, at an Alberta PC Party leadership debate in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Alberta government has confirmed that Asian trade envoy Gary Mar will be heading back to Hong Kong after being cleared in an ethics investigation.

The investigation was conducted by a labour-relations expert at the behest of the government and looked into a fundraising dinner held for Mr. Mar.

The money raised at the dinner was used to clear up debts from Mr. Mar's unsuccessful bid for the provincial Tory leadership, and the allegation was that Mr. Mar used his civil-servant post as Asian trade envoy to sell tickets.

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News of the dinner broke in the lead-up to the Alberta election campaign, and Premier Alison Redford put her former rival on leave without pay while the matter was probed.

Mr. Mar, a cabinet minister from the era of former premier Ralph Klein, was given the Asia appointment by Ms. Redford after the leadership race and opposition parties labelled the situation an example of a pork-barrel appointment gone wrong.

Mr. Mar denied wrongdoing from the start and the government said Friday that the investigation found no conflict of interest.

In a news release, it said the invitations to the dinner were changed to make it clear it was a private affair with no connection to Mr. Mar's post and Mr. Mar was not involved in the direct solicitation of funds.

A trip to Hong Kong was auctioned off at the gathering, but the investigation ruled that there was no special access promised to the winner.

Radio stations CHQR and CHED first reported in the days before last Monday's election vote that Mr. Mar was back on the job. But Ms. Redford ducked questions on the issue, saying she wasn't being kept in the loop on the investigation during the campaign.

The Tories went on to win 61 of 87 seats for the party's 12th consecutive majority.

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The reinstatement of Mr. Mar comes after the Premier suggested during the campaign that Mr. Mar was in the wrong.

"I wanted to open Asia … and thought that Gary Mar was a qualified person who could do that," Ms. Redford said during the televised leaders debate. "I was very disappointed to see his decision with respect to ethics and I took immediate action when I heard about that."

The government said Mr. Mar will be back in Hong Kong next week.

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