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Senator’s relationship with former staffer sparks probe

Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu waits for the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee to begin on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday Feb.1, 2012.


The Senate ethics officer has launched an investigation into a Quebec senator's relationship with one of his former staff members.

Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu came under scrutiny earlier this year when media reports revealed he was in a relationship with Isabelle Lapointe, who was hired as his executive assistant in 2010.

Ms. Lapointe has since left Mr. Boisvenu's office. French-language newspaper La Presse reported that she initially moved to a job in the Senate administration. She now works for Conservative Senator Don Meredith, according to the Senate website.

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After hearing about the relationship in the media, Liberal Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette asked the Senate ethics officer to look into the issue and determine whether any rules were broken.

"The Senate is not a family-run business where you can hire friends and relatives and give them time off depending on your mood," Ms. Hervieux-Payette said in a June statement. "It is an essential institution, a pillar of our democratic system."

Ms. Hervieux-Payette confirmed on Friday that Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard had sent a letter responding to her request. The letter indicated that Ms. Ricard had completed a preliminary analysis of the issue and determined that a more thorough investigation was justified. Ms. Ricard will focus on two sections of the conflict-of-interest code for senators, according to the letter. The code states that senators are not permitted to use their positions to further their own or another person's private interests. They are also forbidden to attempt to influence another person's decision in order to further their own or someone else's private interests.

Mr. Boisvenu is a well-known advocate for victims of crime and a frequent spokesman for the government on criminal justice issues. Ms. Hervieux-Payette said on Friday that she believes the Conservative senator has lost credibility in that role and should not continue as a spokesman until the investigation is complete.

An assistant to Mr. Boisvenu said on Friday that the senator was not available to discuss the matter. "The only comment that he has is that he assured Ms. Ricard that he will fully co-operate in the inquiry," the aide said.

La Presse reported earlier this year that Mr. Boisvenu had moved out of the Sherbrooke, Que., home he shared with his wife and into a new residence in Gatineau, near Parliament Hill. The move was reportedly a result of a breakdown in the couple's relationship.

After the report, the senator announced that he would return about $900 in earlier housing expenses, saying he was "uncomfortable" with the claim. He said he stayed "with an individual with which I had a relationship" during a brief period while transitioning to a new home in the summer of 2012.

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Senators who live more than 100 kilometres from Parliament Hill are allowed to claim a housing stipend to help cover the cost of staying in the Ottawa area for Senate business. Gatineau is immediately across the river from Ottawa and within the 100-kilometre radius.

A spokeswoman for the office of the Senate ethics officer confirmed the investigation on Friday. "However, the Senate ethics officer is not able to comment further given that the conflict-of-interest code for senators requires that an inquiry be conducted confidentially," Louise Dalphy wrote in an e-mail.

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