Part funding announcement, part stump speech, part ‘climate action’ rally, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s August 26 green internships event at a United Nations Canada office in Ottawa was a “blatant conflict of interest”, says Conservative ethics critic Peter Kent.
McKenna was joined at the press conference by UN Canada CEO Kate White, who was a federal lobbyist until March of this year—UN Canada has since been tapped to dispense $13.5 million in green technology internships for underrepresented youth.
According to the federal lobbyist registry, White’s activities already garnered approximately $2.5 million from the federal government in 2017, the bulk of that from Employment and Social Development Canada.
Because a Globe and Mail story on Sunday (Aug. 25) reported that McKenna suggested the Liberal government’s carbon tax could increase beyond $50/ton after 2022; with reporters waiting to question her about this, the Q&A was understandably a partisan affair.
However, it’s what McKenna said during her preamble followed by White’s remarks that irked Kent and may have run afoul of the Elections Act.
McKenna began her speech by saying she was “inspired” to see “young people marching in the streets, demanding more climate action,” before segueing to potential jobs available for them; the point of the funding announcement.
“Also young people who want jobs. When I talk to young people, they talk about how they want a job where they can do right by the planet,” she said.
“It’s unfortunate that Conservative politicians don’t seem to believe the science behind climate change and that climate change is accelerating, and that we can take action.”
When White took the podium, she also appealed to the youth in attendance and said she was “counting on” them.
“Let me speak to the young people here. This is also civics. This is engagement. This is how you’re seeing policies made, how we confront issues in front of us,” she said before adding she was “deeply pleased” about “escalat(ing) meaningful STEM jobs for youth.”
“Minister, I think it’s an important thing to remind young people, giving your time and putting yourself forward with passion on issues you care about is how you make change in the world too. So I’m counting on you folks taking this on board as well.”
Neither McKenna, nor White, have responded to The Post Millennial‘s requests for comment, while the federal conflict of interest and ethics commissioner advised TPM to contact the federal lobbying commissioner, that office suggested the matter was for Elections Canada to deal with.
Kent called the minister’s actions “unacceptable.”
“Besides using an official event to engage in real hardline partisan politics, using kids, using obviously an agency recipient of Liberal Party munificence, that’s totally unacceptable,” Kent told TPM. “It’s a blatant conflict of interest.”
In a letter Kent wrote to the Elections Commissioner last Friday, the Conservative MP for Thornhill claims the Liberal government has violated the Elections Act multiple times, through similar partisan events disguised as federal funding announcements or goodwill visits.
The transgressions Kent’s missive lists include inviting unelected Liberal candidates to these events, or that such candidates or their local Electoral District Associations promote them.
Read Kent’s full letter here:
At issue with respect to McKenna’s Aug. 26 event or those Kent outlines in his letter, is the use of public funds by ministers for partisan purposes, which is prohibited under the Elections Act.
“Minister Morneau met with a number of groups including the Timmins Economic Development Corporation and the Timmins Employer Council,” writes Kent on Morneau’s August 26 visit to the northern Ontario town, the same day as McKenna’s UN presser.
“Morneau was shadowed by the non-elected Liberal Party of Canada candidate Michelle Boileau, who boasted about the Minister’s visit on social media, saying she ‘had a full day of productive roundtable with Morneau …and linked to the official government news release about the tour.”
Two years ago, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre was called on the carpet by the Elections Commissioner over similar activities. In order to avoid a prosecution referral to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Poilievre had to sign a voluntary compliance agreement it was determined he breached the Elections Act.
Three months before the October 2015 federal election, Poilievre – then-minister of Employment and Social Development Canada – attended several federal funding announcements touting the Universal Child Care Benefit.
During these events, Poilievre wore a blue golf shirt with the Conservative logo, whilst holding giant cheques also featuring his party’s branding.
To wit, from the commissioner’s July 4, 2017 ‘Compliance Agreement’ with Poilievre:
At the July 20, 2015, Halifax and Truro funding announcements, the (Poilievre) stated to the media, in reference to the UCCB payments, that these “tangible benefits” were from “our Conservative government,” adding that “if the Liberals and NDP were to take office they would take the benefits away and raise taxes.” Journalists from some major national and regional media outlets reported on both the funding announcements and the (Poilievre’s) subsequent statements.
In response to a question from an Ottawa Citizen reporter on July 21, 2015…a spokesperson for the Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Commissioner confirmed that “while it may be seen as inappropriate”, neither the Conflict of Interest Act or the Conflict of Interest Code for MPs forbids MPs — or Ministers — from wearing party-branded apparel at a government funding event. That said…the commercial value of a service provided to a political party, other than volunteer labour, constitutes a “non-monetary contribution” to that party.
Elections Canada commissioner Yves Côté declined to weigh in on whether McKenna’s UN event broke the Elections Act and his spokesperson suggested filing an official complaint.
“As you’ve pointed out, and as described in the compliance agreement with Mr. Poilièvre, there are provisions in the Canada Elections Act that prohibit contributions by an ineligible contributor or any attempt to circumvent these prohibitions,” said Elections Canada spokesperson Michelle Laliberté in an email.
“Whether a particular announcement or event is captured by these prohibitions would be dependent on the facts. As a result, it would be inappropriate for me to speculate as to whether or not any rules were contravened in this particular case.”
Changes to the Elections Act have capped spending for political parties in the pre-writ period to $2 million. Kent said the Liberals have violated the rules by criss-crossing the country on the public dime for campaign-style events and promises of additional federal largesse.
Last week alone, the Liberal government made more than 300 spending announcements, including McKenna’s UN Canada commitment, totalling approximately $2.85 billion; some were new pledges, others re-announcements of money already booked in this year’s federal budget.
According to Canada’s fixed-election date rules, October 21st is the latest day the federal election can be held and must be called on or before September 15.
Clarification: Michelle Laliberté is the spokesperson for Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Yves Côté. The Post Millennial regrets any confusion our description of Mr. Côté’s and Ms. Laliberté’s job titles may have caused.