The Harper government is distancing itself from a former Conservative staffer who was at the heart of the party's recent efforts to win a first seat on Montreal Island, and who was arrested on corruption charges as part of the latest police sweep in Quebec.
Under opposition grilling in the House, Heritage Minister James Moore said his former minister staffer, Saulie Zajdel, was arrested in relation to "municipal matters, and not federal ones."
"If in his municipal career ... he in any way broke the law, he should have the book thrown at him," Mr. Moore said.
A former city councillor in Montreal, Mr. Zajdel was the Conservative candidate in the 2011 election in the Montreal riding of Mount Royal, finishing 2,300 votes behind the incumbent, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler. Five months later, Mr. Zajdel was hired to work for Mr. Moore's office in Montreal to act "a liaison between the Government and the city's cultural communities."
The contract lasted from October, 2011 to March, 2012, a period in which Mr. Zajdel was seen to be acting as a "shadow MP" in the riding that has long been targeted by the Conservative Party, given its strong Jewish community. Mr. Cotler complained at the time that the Conservatives were spreading rumours that he was about to resign and force a by-election in the riding, and that Mr. Zajdel was using his taxpayer-funded position to prepare a second campaign in the riding. However, Mr. Zajdel left Mr. Moore's office when his position inside the government became the subject of much media scrutiny.
Mr. Zajdel, a former city councillor in Montreal, was charged on Monday with five counts of breach of trust, fraud and corruption. According to Quebec's anti-corruption unit, the charges against Mr. Zajdel are linked to allegations of bribery in relation to real estate deals in 2007 and 2008.
The opposition parties have been trying for months to highlight the links between the Conservative Party and members of Montreal's embattled political class. During Monday's Question Period, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said that "the entire Conservative network has been tarnished by the arrest of one of their star candidates."
In a statement on Monday, Mr. Cotler refused to weigh in Mr. Zajdel's case, stating "everyone benefits from the presumption of innocence and thus I have no comment while the police investigation and related process in this matter are ongoing."