The NDP and Bloc Québécois say Andrew Scheer’s use of taxpayer money to hire his wife’s sister tests the ethics rules that govern members of Parliament.
The former Conservative leader’s sister-in-law, Erica Honoway, is one of Mr. Scheer’s constituency assistants; his wife, Jill Scheer, is employed by her sister’s company, Erica Honoway Interiors.
Mr. Scheer’s office on Monday described both positions as part-time and said Ms. Honoway’s and Ms. Scheer’s jobs were cleared by the relevant oversight bodies.
NDP MP and ethics critic Charlie Angus said that while the circumstances “technically may not be a breach” of the rules, they are “very problematic” and raise a lot of questions.
“If he’s hiring an extended family member and that family member is hiring his wife, it gives the appearance of a quid pro quo and I think he needs to explain himself,” Mr. Angus said.
“I’m sure there’s lots of qualified people in Regina, why is he giving that position to an extended family member?”
Mr. Angus said the situation was "pretty borderline, particularly from someone who was both former speaker of the House and leader of a national party, who has always accused the Liberals of not meeting ethical standards.”
Mr. Scheer is subject to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, which is enforced by Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, as well as the House of Commons Members By-Law, which was created by the committee that governs the House, the Board of Internal Economy.
Mr. Scheer was speaker of the House of Commons and chair of that committee when the latest rules governing MPs, including their hiring practices, were approved. While they forbid the hiring of siblings they do not prevent MPs from hiring brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law. Similarly, the conflict of interest code prevents MPs from furthering their own private interests or those of their family, but in-laws are not included in that definition of family.
The Globe asked for an interview with Mr. Scheer but his parliamentary assistant, Kenzie Potter, said he was not available. She provided a statement that did not address whether Mr. Scheer believes he is following the ethics standards.
“Erica Honoway is a part-time employee in Mr. Scheer’s constituency office. The House of Commons' Administration cleared this staffing," Ms. Potter said in an e-mail. She did not say when Ms. Honoway was first employed by her brother-in-law.
On Monday, Ms. Honoway answered the phone at her Regina-based interior decorating company and declined to answer questions about her job with Mr. Scheer. Ms. Honoway said the media makes her “super nervous” and she would call back. But she did not and she did not respond to a subsequent call and text.
A spokesperson for the House of Commons did not reply by deadline to verify Ms. Potter’s statement.
An old government directory, saved through the internet archive, shows Ms. Honoway was Mr. Scheer’s employee in March, 2017, when he was running for Conservative leader.
Ms. Potter said “the Scheers pro-actively sought, and received, approval from the Ethics Commissioner’s Office for Ms. Scheer’s employment" and that the Commissioner was aware that Ms. Honoway was employed by Mr. Scheer and that she would be Ms. Scheer’s boss.
Citing confidentiality rules, the Commissioner’s Office said it couldn’t confirm Ms. Potter’s statement.
Ms. Honoway is mentioned as the only contact person on the interior decorating company’s website. The company’s Facebook page announced Ms. Honoway would be partnering with Ms. Scheer in December, 2016.
Bloc MP and ethics critic Marie-Hélène Gaudreau said that by hiring his wife’s sister Mr. Scheer is “pushing the limits of the conflict of interest code.”
“If the Conservatives are to be consistent when they criticize the government, they must be irreproachable; their credibility is at stake,” Ms. Gaudreau said.
There isn’t “perfect overlap” between the conflict of interest code for MPs and public perceptions around what it means to be ethical, said Lori Turnbull, the director of Dalhousie University’s School of Public Administration.
“Even if the commissioner clears it, it does not mean the public will like it,” Prof. Turnbull said.
Last week, Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi resigned from the caucus after the CBC reported that she hired her sister to work in her constituency office for years. Reached for comment Monday, the Liberals declined to comment.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.