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Canada PM challenges ethics investigation

Written by: Staff

Ottawa, Mar 4: Canada's new Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, found himself under investigation by the country's ethics commissioner but dismissed him as a Liberal appointee who is not believable.

Bernard Shapiro yesterday said in a letter made public, he would investigate Harper for his role in convincing Trade Minister David Emerson to defect from the Liberals to the Conservative Party shortly after its January 23 election victory.

''I have decided to launch a preliminary inquiry to determine whether Mr Harper has complied with his obligations under the Conflict of Interest Code for members of the House of Commons,'' Shapiro wrote House Speaker Peter Milliken.

Shapiro will also investigate Emerson, who was industry minister under the former Liberal government and was re-elected as a Liberal in the January election.

The ethics commissioner cannot force any resignations over the issue but his findings could embarrass the government.

Harper's office said Shapiro's decisions not to investigate a series of Liberal actions, including two incidents where Conservatives were given Liberal Cabinet posts when they defected in the other direction, meant he was partisan.

''This Liberal appointee's actions have strengthened the Prime Minister's resolve to create a truly nonpartisan ethics commissioner, who is accountable to Parliament,'' Harper's chief spokeswoman, Sandra Buckler, said in a statement.

She also said that by Shapiro's own logic there could be no investigations from the time Parliament was dissolved, on November 30, leading to the election, until there is a new Parliament. The new Parliament will not convene until April.

Buckler said Shapiro used that logic as a reason not to investigate a controversial land deal involving a Liberal minister during the election campaign.

Sensitive to criticism the Conservatives had no members of Parliament from the country's three biggest cities, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, Harper had offered Vancouver-based Emerson a Cabinet post if he would switch parties. He also named an unelected Montreal banker to his Cabinet and appointed him to the Senate.

The Liberals say their past luring of Conservatives into their Cabinet was different from the case of Emerson because he moved over immediately after the election rather than in the middle of a term.

Shapiro said he was acting in response to requests from the Liberals and the smaller, leftist New Democratic Party. He did not say how long his investigation would take.

Buckler said former New Democratic leader Ed Broadbent and the watchdog Democracy Watch both called in the past for Shapiro to step down.

A storm of criticism over Emerson's defection prompted the minister to admit he had considered quitting and also to apologise to those constituents upset by his move. More recently, he stressed he has no intention of resigning.


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