Dwight Duncan, who oversees construction of a new $4.8-billion bridge between Windsor and Detroit, has issued an apology for using social media to level partisan attacks at federal Conservatives and U.S. President Donald Trump.
In a lengthy letter to Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi on Tuesday that he posted on Facebook, Mr. Duncan said his actions as chair of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority were disrespectful and showed "an obvious lapse in judgment."
The former Ontario finance minister acknowledged he violated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's rules for public office holders, which require heads of government agencies and Crown corporations to refrain from "expressing partisan views" – rules that he said he had read.
"A number of my postings clearly violated the letter and spirit of Parliament's direction to Governor-in-Council appointees respecting partisan involvement while serving. Those postings have been or are being deleted today," he wrote. "I wish to unreservedly apologize to you, and through you to Parliament."
He also revealed that he had made political donations to the federal Liberal Party while he served as interim chair before the position was made permanent, but stopped the contributions last spring.
The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, a Crown corporation, is overseeing construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which is Canada's largest public infrastructure project and is at the busiest commercial crossing on the Canada-U.S. border.
Mr. Duncan also said he had continued to donate to the Ontario Liberal Party since his appointment.
"I will cease those contributions immediately in order to respect the spirit of the government and Parliament's intent," he said. "I deeply regret the lack of respect shown to Parliament as a result of my actions."
Mr. Sohi defended Mr. Duncan in the Commons on Tuesday and said the chairman was chosen through an "open, transparent and merit-based selection process." He noted Mr. Duncan, who now serves as a strategic adviser at McMillan law firm in Toronto, is a lifelong resident of the region.
"He brings a considerable amount of experience to this important position as a result of his diverse career accomplishments both in the private sector and in the public sector," Mr. Sohi said.
"He has apologized for his comments and I accept his apology."
But the Conservatives demanded Mr. Duncan be fired from the position for expressing his partisanship. "Why do the Liberals not appoint someone who can stick-handle this project without annoying everyone on both sides of the border?" Conservative MP Kelly Block said during Question Period.
"He admitted his inappropriate and reckless tweets and comments were an obvious lack of judgment. Will the Prime Minister show some good judgment for once and fire this partisan political hack?" Conservative MP John Brassard added.
Mr. Sohi said the government is focused on getting the bridge crossing built and appointed Mr. Duncan to make sure the project is on time and on budget.
The Trudeau government appointed Mr. Duncan to the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority as interim chair in January, 2016. In December of last year he was made permanent chair for a five-year term. A requirement for the job is being non-partisan.
The Globe and Mail reported on Tuesday that Mr. Duncan had expressed his disapproval on Facebook and Twitter of Conservatives and the U.S. President even though the Prime Minister's Office has instructed Liberal MPs to refrain from criticizing Mr. Trump and his administration.
About a month after a February meeting between the Prime Minister and Mr. Trump in Washington, Mr. Duncan posted a newspaper article on Facebook that was captioned: "Ireland's PM basically trashed Trump's immigration policy while standing next to him."
Mr. Duncan added his own opinion: "A stunning reminder by the Taoiseach that is as applicable to Canada as it is to the U.S. Fortunately we have a PM and a government that gets it."
He also posted a video on Feb. 17 of actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger criticizing the gerrymandering of congressional districts. Mr. Duncan offered his take: "So true. Canada has managed to avoid this absurdity. Helps understanding what is wrong with America's politics."
The construction of the Gordie Howe Bridge is supposed to begin next summer and take 42 months. The project was held up for years by the U.S. owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Matty Moroun, who successfully lobbied Congress and state politicians to stall it.
The former Harper government agreed to pay for all the construction costs in a bid to speed up the flow of people and goods between both countries.