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Mike Layton, his sister Sarah and Toronto MP Olivia Chow pay their respects as NDP leader Jack Layton casket lies in state in the foyer of the House of Commons on Aug. 24, 2011. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
Mike Layton, his sister Sarah and Toronto MP Olivia Chow pay their respects as NDP leader Jack Layton casket lies in state in the foyer of the House of Commons on Aug. 24, 2011. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

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NDP accepted Air Canada upgrades for Layton's funeral Add to ...

The NDP denies that party officials requested six free seat upgrades to fly members of Jack Layton’s family, including Olivia Chow, to the late leader’s lying in state on Parliament Hill in August.

Ms. Chow told The Globe Monday she flew economy and didn’t know anything about free upgrades. She said, however, that others may have flown in business class.

The airline tickets, she added, were organized through Heritage Canada for the state funeral. “I did not personally request it,” she said. “None of the family requested it.”

However, a source familiar with the funeral arrangements says the family members were booked in economy and that an NDP official contacted the airline concierge to request the upgrades.

Air Canada granted the request for the upgrades and “they didn’t say no,” said the source, who looked into the matter after the NDP’s denial.

The revelation comes as the opposition accuses Labour Minister Lisa Raitt of conflict of interest. The Ethics Commissioner has been asked to investigate an allegation she accepted a free seat upgrade from a senior Air Canada official while in the midst of stick-handling the dispute between the airline and its 6,800 flight attendants.

Last week, NDP labour critic Yvon Godin sent a letter to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson asking her to investigate the allegation. “Electronic flight records show that the Raitt [sic] and her Chief of Staff Douglas Smith, were given complimentary upgrades to business class, approved personally by Duncan Dee, Air Canada’s Chief Operating Officer,” he wrote.

In his letter, Mr. Godin notes the upgrade was allegedly granted on Sept. 25 –“just days after threatening Air Canada employees with back-to-work legislation.” However, Ms. Raitt has denied taking the upgrade to sit in business class.

She told The Globe she used her own points for the upgrade, worth about $550. “I am confused by this one,” she said. “I don’t know what this one is about. I also read that I am on vacation in Hawaii, which I am not.”

Ms. Raitt was in San Francisco meeting with the longshoremen’s union; the House was not sitting last week because of the Thanksgiving break.

Air Canada has also denied giving her an upgrade. In addition, the airline has said that it did not hear from anyone in the Minister’s office requesting one.

Last week, after the flight attendants rejected a second tentative agreement and threatened to go on strike, Ms. Raitt asked the Canadian Industrial Relations Board to review the situation. That effectively put the strike on hold until the board comes back with its findings.

The Air Canada labour dispute is expected to be raised in Question Period after the Commons resumes sitting Monday. But with news of the Layton funeral upgrades, will NDP attacks be deflected as mere stone-throwing from within a glass house?

‘I want people to be respectful now’

Thomas Mulcair has vowed he will remain collegial if he does not win the leadership.

Mr. Mulcair, the party’s deputy leader and for a long time its only MP from Quebec, is one of the spiciest and most competitive politicians on the Hill. He is savvy and effective but very tough and provocative.

Last week he entered the race to succeed Jack Layton as leader. On Sunday, he told CTV’s Question Period he expects a “ collegial and respectful” leadership race.

He is running against a rich field of candidates, including Brian Topp, the longtime backroom organizer, and MPs Paul Dewar and Nathan Cullen.

“So it’s not enough that some people have said, oh, on March 25th [a day after the leadership vote]we’ve all got to be collegial,” he said. “No, I want people to be respectful now, and that’s what I plan to do during, and I want that to continue after.”

Mr. Mulcair, who was also thought to be interested in the leadership even when Mr. Layton was at the helm, said he worked “tirelessly, shoulder-to-shoulder” with the late NDP chief to build the party in Quebec.

And he took a shot at Mr. Topp, who is considered his main competition. Asked why he would be the better prime-minister-in-waiting, Mr. Mulcair noted that he was elected – and Mr. Topp has never been.

“I think one of the things that I bring to the game is a lot of parliamentary experience,” he said, noting that when he served as a Quebec MNA he faced such heavyweights as former Parti Québécois leaders Lucien Bouchard, Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry.

“That parliamentary experience, and a lot of experience as a public administrator, is what I bring to the game and I think that’s what distinguishes myself and the other candidates so far.”

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