Two political aides to federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador at taxpayers’ expense amid the pandemic and spent part of their time on the island door-knocking for the provincial Liberals during the province’s recent election campaign.
Publicly accessible records show that Geordie Summers-Lubar and Ian Cameron both travelled to the province in January.
At the time, Mr. Summers-Lubar was a special assistant, communications and regional desk, at the ministry and Mr. Cameron was a press secretary. According to disclosure forms, they were travelling “to support [Mr. O’Regan] for stakeholder engagements and virtual public events.”
Both men arrived on Jan. 17. Mr. Summers-Lubar accumulated travel costs of $3,667, before he left the province on Feb. 16. Mr. Cameron accumulated $4,948.23 in travel costs before leaving Newfoundland on Feb. 26.
In response to questions from The Globe and Mail about the expenses, the minister’s office confirmed that both men went out in support of a provincial Liberal candidate one Saturday afternoon. The office said both men followed health and safety rules and acted as friends of the candidate and were on their day off.
Dani Keenan, the minister’s communications director, cited Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat guidelines for federal staff being involved in such political events. The relevant section says staff who engage in campaign activities on a part-time basis must do so on their own time and not during regular hours.
In a statement, Ms. Keenan said that at the time of their departure for St. John’s, provincial COVID-19 restrictions allowed for in-person events and travel between regions.
Newfoundland’s provincial election was called on Jan. 15 and held on March 25, after pandemic delays. Results were released on March. 27, with Liberal Leader Andrew Furey leading his party to a majority.
The head of the province’s Progressive Conservative opposition said having federal representatives play any role in campaigning could have damaged the potential working relationship with a possible PC government.
David Brazil says it was inappropriate for representatives of a federal minister to be intervening in a provincial election.
“It’s embarrassing. It’s outrageous, and obviously, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador should be extremely upset about what happened here,” Mr. Brazil, a member of the province’s House of Assembly, said in an interview.
Michael Barrett, ethics critic for the federal Conservatives, said in an interview that it was unseemly to have ministerial staff travel into the province during a pandemic, and that the participation of staff in the election eliminated the appearance of impartiality by a federal minister.
“The fact here is that the only way they were able to be [in Newfoundland and Labrador] is that taxpayers were paying for them to be there,” Mr. Barrett said.
The provincial Liberal Party did not respond to a Globe query seeking comment on the matter.
Alex Marland, a political scientist at Memorial University in Newfoundland, said in an e-mail exchange on Wednesday that the federal and Newfoundland Liberal parties have historically shared resources and supports, but that ties are weaker between the federal Conservative Party and its provincial counterpart.
He said the issue at hand is whether there is proof that the pair were campaigning on their own time, and not while being paid by the Government of Canada to work.
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