Politian’s for sale

Unbelievable… this has been going on for years and years and needs to stop.

‘We are parliamentarians. We cannot be bought,’ says Conservative leadership candidate Deepak Obhrai, who’s claimed two sponsored trips this year, worth more than $15,000 combined.

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MPs can be accompanied on trips, with some who travelled this year having taken spouses or staff while others travelled solo. The respective sponsors cover the cost of these trips, which overall includes transportation, accommodations, gifts and other expenses (like entrance fees, medical insurance, airport pickup, and local guides, among other things).

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Sponsored travel so far in 2016

The Hill Times took a look at the public declarations on sponsored travel that MPs have filed with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner’s office so far in 2016, focusing solely on sponsored travel that’s taken place to date this year.

MP Where Sponsor Date of Travel Total Related Costs
Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai Taipei, Taiwan Chinese International Economic Cooperation Association (Taiwan) Jan. 3-10, 2016 $9,404
Liberal MP Hedy Fry Taipei, Taiwan Chinese International Economic Cooperation Association (Taiwan) Jan. 3-10, 2016 $9,520.39
NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault Taiwan Chinese International Economic Cooperation Association (Taiwan) Jan. 3-10, 2016 $13,108.75
Liberal MP Wayne Easter Taipei, Taiwan Chinese International Economic Cooperation Association (Taiwan) Jan. 3-10, 2016 $13,018
NDP MP Peter Julian Taipei, Taiwan Chinese International Economic Cooperation Association (Taiwan) Jan. 3-10, 2016 $10,045
Conservative MP Tony Clement Montreal, Que. McGill Institute for the Study of Canada Feb. 10-13, 2016 $1,133.49
Liberal MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor Doha, Qatar Government of Qatar Feb. 26-March 3, 2016 $6,763.88
Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Feb. 7-15, 2016 $11,186.79
Conservative MP Blake Richards Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Feb. 7-15, 2016 $7,880.54
Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio Tel Aviv, Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Feb. 7-15, 2016 $6,930.36
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt Israel (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Masada & Golan Heights) The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Feb. 8-15, 2016 $8,643.72
Liberal MP Dan Ruimy Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Feb. 7-15, 2016 $6,741.14
Liberal MP Marco Mendicino Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Feb. 7-15, 2016 $6,714
NDP MP Randall Garrison Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Feb. 8-15, 2016 $7,800.22
Liberal MP Arif Virani London, UK The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Feb. 29-March 1, 2016 $2,760.12
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Israel (Jerusalem, Golan Heights & Tel Aviv) The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Feb. 8-15, 2016 $6,296.13
Liberal MP Andy Fillmore Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Feb. 7-15, 2016 $10,294.97
Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai Doha, Qatar Government of Qatar Feb. 26-March 2, 2016 $6,620
Conservative MP Steven Blaney Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Feb. 29-March 7, 2016 $5,616.78
Conservative MP Tony Clement Washington, D.C. American Israel Public Affairs Committee March 20-22, 2016 $1,023.75
Conservative MP Ziad Aboultaif Doah, Qatar Government of Qatar Feb. 26-March 2, 2016 $7,111.19
NDP MP Hélène Laverdière Washington, D.C. American Israel Public Affairs Committee March 19-20, 2016 $1,002.99
Conservative MP Candice Bergen Berlin, Germany Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism Foundation March 12-16, 2016 $1,720
NDP MP Hélène Laverdière Toronto Friedrich Ebert Foundation March 10-11, 2016 $298.84
Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette Cross Lake, Man. Perimeter Aviation March 17, 2016 $600
Liberal MP Jean Rioux Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) March 27-April 4, 2016 $11,137.02
Conservative MP Alain Rayes Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs March 27-April 4, 2016 $10,705.65
Liberal MP Paul Lefebvre Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs March 27-April 4, 2016 $10,236.50
Conservative MP Joël Godin Israel The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs March 27-April 4, 2016 $11,929.56
Conservative MP Stephen Harper Las Vegas, Nevada Matt Brooks, Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition April 7-10, 2016 $3,960.95
Conservative MP James Bezan Kyiv, Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk Open Ukraine Foundation April 13-16, 2016 $3,613.02
Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu New Delhi, India Results Canada April 3-8, 2016 $2,866.44
Conservative MP Mike Lake Tanzania World Vision Canada April 21-30, 2016 $5,151.41
Liberal MP Kamal Khera Tanzania World Vision Canada April 23-30, 2016 $5,210.50
NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault Saint-Gall, Switzerland St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies May 9-14, 2016 $1,925.14
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Copenhagen, Denmark Results Canada May 15-19, 2016 $4,052.38
Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan Toronto Children’s Aid Foundation May 12-14, 2016 $911.79
Conservative MP Alex Nuttall Taipei, Taiwan Taiwanese Government May 18-24, 2016 $14,650
Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi Tanzania World Vision Canada April 23-30, 2016 $5,121.04
Liberal MP Eva Nassif Beirut, Lebanon Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lebanon May 5-7, 2016 $865.84
Conservative MP Candice Bergen Paris, France Iran Democratic Association July 6-10, 2016 $2,197.05
Conservative MP Michael Cooper Paris, France Iran Democratic Association July 7-23, 2016 $1845.10

Source: Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

So far in 2016, about $250,000 of sponsored travel has been declared by MPs, who defend the practice as presenting important opportunities, but Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher says these trips, paid for by interest groups and foreign governments, have undue influence on MPs and should be disallowed.

“Giving something to someone or doing something for them is the No. 1 way to influence their decision-making. … In fact, it creates an unethical feeling of obligation to return the favour,” said Mr. Conacher, adding that only “a minority of MPs go on” sponsored trips each year.

Mr. Conacher said registered lobbyists like the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs or Results Canada, for example, often provide these sponsored trips. Lobbyists are prohibited from giving gifts to MPs under the lobbying code but these trips are a “loophole,” he said, adding that trips paid by foreign governments should also be reviewed by the auditor general to see “whether it’s a junket.”

Mr. Conacher said if not a ruling from the federal lobbying commissioner to disallow the practice, MPs should move to legislate an end to the practice of sponsored travel. Democracy Watch filed an ethics complaint with the commissioner over “the gifts of paid travel” in May.

But MPs say such trips are beneficial to their work as parliamentarians to increase ties and personal knowledge, and do not unduly influence their decisions.

In total, 42 MPs have declared a total of $258,614.44 from sponsored trips taken so far in 2016 with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, a list of which can be found posted online. Under the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of Parliament, any sponsored travel valued at more than $200 has to be declared—previously the threshold was $500, but that was lowered last October.

It’s important to keep in mind this figure captures only the sponsored trips that MPs have filed declarations for to date, meaning other claims for trips already taken could still be in the works. MPs have 60 days following the end of travel to file a statement with the commissioner. An annual report on sponsored MP travel has been published at the end of each fiscal year in March since 2007 and has been available online since 2009. As well, since last fall, an online “declaration portal” has been available to MPs to approve and review claims.

In the 2015 report, tabled with the House on March 23, 2016, a total of 24 MPs declared $140,238.84 worth of sponsored travel during the election year.

MPs can be accompanied on trips, with some who travelled this year having taken spouses or staff while others travelled solo. The respective sponsors cover the cost of these trips, which overall includes transportation, accommodations, gifts and other expenses (like entrance fees, medical insurance, airport pickup, and local guides, among other things).

In response to emailed questions from The Hill Times, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner highlighted that “unlike for gifts and other benefits, there is no acceptability test for sponsored travel,” something the commissioner has previously recommended be put in place during a review of the Members’ code of conduct.

The Hill Times reached out to a number of MPs who have declared sponsored trips so far in 2016 by phone and email—11 in all—but many were not available or did not respond by filing deadline last week.

NDP MP Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.) was one of a number of MPs to take a trip to Taipei, Taiwan, at the beginning of the year, sponsored by the Chinese International Economic Cooperation Association (Taiwan). His wife accompanied him on the January trip, which totalled $10,045.

Speaking with The Hill Times, Mr. Julian said “most of the time” he pays “out-of-pocket” for any travel outside parliamentary committee travel, including in connection to his work “on the energy file and the trade file” as a critic. He added he’s taken such a trip to Taiwan two times during his 12 years as an MP.

Mr. Julian highlighted the fact that Burnaby, B.C., has “the strongest concentration of Taiwanese Canadians anywhere in the country.” He said he was able to meet with “representatives from the major parties” in Taiwan during an election there, which saw a female president elected for the first-time. Such trips put him in a position to “to provide advice to government” on cross-country relationships and are “useful for my constituents,” he said.

“We were also able to visit a number of the technology parks. … In Taiwan, they’ve been extraordinarily good on research and development. Canada lags behind the rest of the world. So it was useful from that standpoint as well, so that’s why I went,” he said, adding that he “found it very useful.”

Mr. Julian said it’s important to “look at each” trip offer because MPs “get a lot of invitations,” and “each Member of Parliament has to be ready to defend the trips they take to their constituents.” He said “government MPs” often go on trade missions and other trips abroad and sponsored trips are “a useful tool for opposition MPs to use from time to time to supplement their knowledge and ensure they’re serving their constituents.”

Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta.) also took a similar trip to Taiwan, accompanied by his wife and costing $9,404, as well as an unaccompanied trip to Doha, Qatar, costing $6,620 covered by the Government of Qatar. He said when he was in government, he frequently travelled to “build parliamentary relations between these countries” and went on these trips to continue that work.

In Taiwan, he said MPs saw the election of Taiwan’s first female president and also went to a shipyard to see construction of a large cargo ship commissioned by a Canadian company, meeting with political and business leaders in the process. In Qatar, he said he learned about work to hold the 2022 FIFA World Cup of soccer in the country and “the issues of migrant workers” and how related concerns were being addressed.

“Canada needs to continue building relations with all countries, and these sponsored travels are one way for parliamentarians to understand what’s happening,” said Mr. Obhrai, adding it helps MPs to better understand issues.

Mr. Obhrai, who has declared his candidacy for the Conservative leadership, said it’s “naive” to suggest parliamentarians “would be influenced by these governments” and trips.

“I want to make one point very, very clear to all those who want to criticize this: We are parliamentarians. We cannot be bought. That is absolutely wrong,” he said.

Conservative MP Candice Bergen’s (Portage-Lisgar, Man.) office said the MP was not available for comment last week, but highlighted a Facebook post by Ms. Bergen about her trip to attend the 2016 Free Iran Gathering in Paris from July 11. In it, she said she “was proud to attend this event, to meet the leader of the resistance, Maryam Rajavi, and to do all I can to support the Iranian people who want freedom and democracy in their country.” Ms. Bergen was not accompanied on the trip, which cost a declared total of $2,197.05, and was paid for by a group called the Iran Democratic Association.

Liberal MP Eva Nassif (Vimy, Que.) said in response to emailed questions that the minister of foreign affairs for Lebanon “reached out” to invite her to participate in the Lebanese Diaspora Energy annual conference, which “showcases leaders from around the world, particularly individuals who are able to break down barriers or achieve success in their field.” Ms. Nassif attended the conference in Beirut, Lebanon in May and was accompanied by her husband at a total declared cost of $865.84 for accommodations.

As the first Lebanese woman elected in Canada in 2015, she said the Lebanese government was “interested in having me as a panellist. … to talk about globalization, women in politics, my struggles, and inspiration, etc.” She added the conference also offered a chance to “discuss pertinent contemporary issues” and learn about “other peoples’ ideas and perspectives,” among other things, and said the federal ethics commissioner “had no issues with this trip when I reached out.”

Another Conservative leadership candidate, Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.), claimed trip expenses of $1,133.49 sponsored by the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada for a trip to Montreal in February. He also went to Washington, D.C., in March, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee covered him for $1,023.75.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper, who resigned as an MP last week, went to Las Vegas in April for a “private speaking engagement,” and he claimed $3,960.95 in costs paid for by Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Among the groups sponsoring MPs for travel is the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, which covered Liberal MP Arif Virani (Parkdale-High Park, Ont.) for $2,760.12 to go to London, England, this winter.

Mr. Conacher agreed that “there are some situations where being on the ground will help you understand the situation,” but highlighted that MPs can take family or staff with them, and added that “if you have to go then have the public pay for it [via Parliament], or your party, and justify it to taxpayers or your donors.”

Mr. Conacher called such sponsored trips a legalized “bribe.”

“Someone’s asking you for a favour and giving you a gift, that’s pretty much the definition of a bribe in the criminal code, and just saying it’s legalized by our MPs’ code doesn’t make it ethical,” he said.

Reference

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