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Health Minister Jane Philpott came under fire over the summer over revelations that she spent $1,700 dollars on one day for car service and more than $1,900 on another day.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The federal ethics watchdog has cleared Health Minister Jane Philpott of any wrongdoing over her use of a driving service owned by one of her campaign volunteers.

Federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said in a report released Wednesday that she found no evidence to suggest Philpott used the Toronto-area service because the owner was a Liberal party member, a friend, or due to his involvement in her election campaign.

Dawson also said the company's rates were not significantly different from those charged by other driving services.

The ethics watchdog's report into whether the minister violated the Conflict of Interest Act by hiring the company said the reason Philpott used the service was simply because it was the only car service the minister could recall at that time.

The finding flummoxed Duff Conacher, co-founder of the watchdog group Democracy Watch. Conacher said by that standard, any cabinet minister could hire a party supporter and not be seen as running afoul of federal rules that prohibit politicians from providing preferential treatment.

"It's the only one she could recall? She could recall it because the guy volunteered on her campaign. That's why she recalled it," he said.

Conservative health critic Colin Carrie said regardless of Dawson's ruling, he still has concerns about the minister's judgment on the matter. He said Philpott should never have used the car service in the first place and that the cost was out of line.

"You have to say, does this pass the smell test? And that's something that I think moving forward the Canadian population is going to have to take notice and make their judgement in the next election."

Philpott came under fire last summer over revelations she spent $1,700 on one day for car service around Toronto and Hamilton on March 31, and more than $1,900 on another day for trips to the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont., on July 12.

Amid the uproar, Philpott announced in mid-August she would repay the cost of these trips, totalling just more than $3,700, saying they were "excessive costs" related to her work travel. Philpott also said she would stop using the service owned by the Liberal supporter.

In her statement to Dawson, Philpott said she didn't get heavily involved in making travel arrangements and left much of the planning to her staff.

Philpott told Dawson that she used the car service after the election and continued to use it because the company's owner provided good, reliable service, "and he was discreet and not talkative."

Philpott also said she felt safe and secure in the vehicle, Dawson's report says.

In a statement, Philpott said she is pleased the matter is now concluded.

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