Peter Penashue resigns over 'ineligible donations'

The Conservative quits cabinet and will run in a by-election

Peter Penashue is now neither the intergovernmental affairs minister, nor the MP for Labrador. According to a statement from Mr. Penashue, he has resigned both posts and will now run in a by-election.

Due to mistakes that were made by an inexperienced volunteer in filing the Elections Canada return from the last campaign, I appointed a new Official Agent to work with Elections Canada to make any needed amendments to my campaign return.

During the examination we became aware that there were ineligible donations accepted by the former Official Agent.

Although I was unaware of the inaccuracies in the return, I believe I must be accountable to the people who elected me and therefore I am stepping down as the Member of Parliament for Labrador and will seek re-election through a by-election. I will also be stepping down as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada.

My record as Member of Parliament for Labrador and Minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government over the past two years is one that I am very proud of.

I have worked to secure federal support for the development of Muskrat Falls, which will lead to $1.9 billion for our economy and thousands of jobs for Labrador. I have also worked with government and private industry to increase internet speed in Labrador, and delivered federal funding to pave the Trans-Labrador Highway.

There is much more to do for the people of Labrador, including protecting our way of life. We have scrapped the long-gun registry despite the efforts of the NDP and Liberals to keep it, and now we must continue to fight to defend the seal hunt against the NDP and Liberal parliamentarians who want to ban it. I will also continue to lead the defence of the polar bear hunt, something that is very important to Labradorians.

In the by-election I will be asking the people of Labrador to re-elect me so that I can continue to deliver for Labrador.”

Questions about Mr. Penashue’s campaign were raised last year. He wrote a letter to his constituents in November, but previously ignored calls from the Liberals to resign.

In 2011, Mr. Penashue defeated the Liberal incumbent in Labrador, Todd Russell, by 79 votes.

Update 4:03pm. A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office indicates that Transport Minister Denis Lebel will now also be the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister. “I would like to thank Mr. Penashue for his service as Minister and to the people of Labrador,” says the Prime Minister. Mr. Penashue becomes the eighth minister to resign during Mr. Harper’s premiership. John Duncan resigned almost precisely a month ago.

Update 4:40pm. The CBC, which has been leading the coverage of Mr. Penashue’s campaign spending, summarizes the allegations against him.

Update 5:17pm. According to the Conservative party, the Penashue campaign “reimbursed the Receiver General for the ineligible contributions received,” totalling $30,000.

Update 5:27pm. Just spoke to Todd Russell, who is now the president of NunatuKavut. Here was his reaction.

I think we were all shocked, because it’s usually not the Conservative way to bend to pressure. They usually hunker down, rally around their people and try to protect them at all costs. So certainly this came as a bit of a shock.

But I think he done the right thing. I believe that he should have done the right thing many, many months ago. And I guess some of my people would have said he should have done the right thing during the election and all of this would never have happened.

But, you know, there is a certain amount of vindication in this for all the people in Labrador, for the electors in Labrador, who felt that their vote didn’t count, that there wasn’t a level playing field, who had their doubts about the fairness of this election. So, yes, there’s a certain amount of vindication in this for the people of Labrador.

Mr. Russell says he wil be taking the next few days to consider whether he will seek the Liberal nomination for the coming by-election.

Update 5:40pm. Alice Funke wonders if the NDP could win the by-election.

For one thing, the NDP has long coveted the riding, given their reasonably concentrated base of support in Labrador City in the west of the riding where they have occasionally won a provincial seat. The party has long aspired to find the right candidate to bridge that base with other potential pockets of support. And while it benefitted to a lesser extent than the Liberals from the 2008 “Anyone-but-Conservative” campaign, the NDP did at least move into second place with a solid 20% of the vote in that election, and unlike the Liberals were able to maintain their vote share in 2011. For another thing, the provincial Liberals are not the party benefitting from PC premier Kathy Dunderdale’s mid-term unpopularity on the provincial scene, the NDP is – topping the provincial polls for the first time in history.

Update 6:16pm. Meanwhile, Mr. Penashue’s former campaign manager, who was appointed to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, has resigned.

Update 8:43pm. A statement from interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.

“It is unfortunate that it has taken this long for Peter Penashue and the Conservative government to assume responsibility for what were clearly and undeniably illegal campaign donations. Even now, Mr. Penashue continues to blame an ‘inexperienced volunteer’ for this violation; yet this individual has worked on many election campaigns and has since received a federal government appointment.

While we are pleased that Mr. Penashue is now taking responsibility for his actions, he has still not explained to Canadians why he took so long to do so. One can’t help but wonder if Mr. Penashue was motivated by yesterday’s reports that Elections Canada is seeking charges to be laid in the Guelph election fraud case. Whether he made today’s decision individually or at the Prime Minister’s direction, Mr. Harper must still assume ultimate responsibility for what has transpired in Labrador. Leadership and accountability to Canadians demand nothing less.”

Dale Smith wraps up the reaction from the CBC.

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