In the three years since he was elected to Parliament, Liberal MP Raj Grewal is reported to have spent huge sums of money on a gambling habit that sometimes saw him drop tens of thousands of dollars at a time in visits to a casino near Parliament Hill, and accrue vast debts with at least four different banks.
His casino tabs came to the attention of FINTRAC, the government body tasked with catching money laundering. That landed him on the radar of the RCMP, which started investigating the Brampton politician months ago, to the point of following him to the Casino du Lac-Leamy, where he apparently did much of his betting.
A political career that began at the previous election has now ended with revelations of a gambling disorder, mountains of debt and a police tail – a dismal situation, and one in which Mr. Grewal may be the chief victim.
Except. Buried in all the sordid details of Mr. Grewal’s second life away from Parliament is a prosaic fact that is, in some ways, more troubling for the public trust: The MP for Brampton East had another job. Two, in fact.
In his most recent disclosure, he told the Ethics Commissioner he received employment income from the law firm Gahir & Associates and the contractor ZGemi Inc. How much was he paid? And for what? That’s unknown.
Shockingly, backbench MPs with jobs beyond Parliament Hill do not have to disclose how much they earn from those secondary gigs, or what work they perform. Mr. Grewal, a lawyer, once told reporters that while an MP, he provided ZGemi with legal advice.
If this kind of moonlighting seems like a recipe for conflicts of interest, one need look no further than Mr. Grewal for confirmation. The Ethics Commissioner is investigating the 33-year-old for an odd incident earlier this year when he brought Yusuf Yenilmez, chief executive of ZGemi, to an event with Justin Trudeau during the Prime Minister’s trip to India in February.
That may have broken ethics rules, but it was only Mr. Grewal’s recklessness that got the matter noticed. He scored his private-sector boss access to his political boss – the PM – and a host of other worthies during a glitzy official visit where cameras were everywhere. An NDP MP did his homework and asked the Commissioner to look into it.
It would be harder to spot an MP with a second job arranging subtler favours for their other employer – a phone call with the PM, say, or face-time with a cabinet minister.
The potential for moonlighting MPs to abuse their power does not strain the imagination. In an age of ironclad party discipline, it’s unlikely that a backbencher would vote against a bill to please their outside boss, but MPs shape the workings of Parliament in subtler ways.
Just look at Mr. Grewal’s apparently self-serving fixation on the mechanics of FINTRAC and pursuant RCMP investigations during a recent session of the Commons finance committee, revealed on Wednesday in The Globe and Mail. It’s not hard to imagine a situation in which an unscrupulous MP could seek to influence a committee with questions, or amendments, at the behest of a corporate benefactor.
It might once have been fair to allow parliamentarians a side hustle. The Commons sat less frequently and affairs of state were less complex in the early days of Confederation. But that justification is gone.
More to the point, there is no public benefit to the moonlighting policy. You could argue that working in the private sector keeps MPs in touch with the real world, but that would be a stretch – and, anyway, spending time with constituents achieves that end without any risk of corruption.
Since dozens of MPs reportedly have second jobs, ending the practice will be controversial. In the meantime, it should be a no-brainer to require that MPs disclose not just who is paying them, but how much they were paid, what work they performed for the paycheque, and the number of hours clocked.
Over the past decade and a half, a succession of federal governments, both Liberal and Conservative, toughened Canada’s political donation rules to lessen the danger of elected officials being influenced by donors. As a result, it’s against the law for a corporation to donate money to a federal political candidate. But it’s perfectly legal for a business to put a sitting MP on its payroll.
It’s time to close this loophole.