Conservatives accepting as many perks as Liberals

Conservative MPs accepting perks
Despite Harper's former criticisms
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Font: * * * * Jack Aubry, CanWest News Service; Ottawa Citizen
Published: Tuesday, May 09, 2006
OTTAWA -- Accepting gifts, including free Ottawa Senators playoff tickets in luxury corporate boxes, continue to be acceptable for Conservative MPs in Stephen Harper's government, despite criticism of the practice when the Tories were in opposition.

The practice means a double standard regarding the acceptance of gifts still exists between politicians, such as government whip Jay Hill who attended last Friday's Senators playoff game, and federal rank-and-file bureaucrats who continue to be prohibited by rules overseeing their conduct.

Charmaine Crockett, a spokeswoman in Hill's office, confirmed the whip had attended the game as a guest of Bell Canada, but said Hill received approval from ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro to attend the game.

Sandra Buckler, the prime minister's spokeswoman, said cabinet ministers must register with the ethics commissioner any gifts worth $200 or more within 30 days, according to the code of conduct. On the apparent double standard with bureaucrats and her party's critical comments while in opposition, Buckler declined comment, saying she was not familiar enough with the issue since she was not in opposition at the time.

"But I'll tell you this much. Prime Minister Harper, if he attends tonight's game, will pay for his own tickets. He'll always pay for his own tickets," said Buckler.

Michele Demers, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said a rank-and-file public servant would be reprimanded for accepting free Senators tickets to a luxury box.

"It's unfortunate, especially with this new Conservative government who was very big on accountability, transparency, and an approach that wanted to be very different from that of the previous government, that they would put themselves in a situation like this. It's questionable," she said.

Demers said Harper's new code of conduct for public office holders, which includes cabinet ministers, still leaves the door open to freebies for politicians.

"There is always a price tag. Sometimes it is more subtle than others but obviously it is very often a question of `you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' type of thing."

Mohammed Makhooda, a spokesman for Bell Canada, said the corporation is "proud" of its involvement in the sports and arts communities across the country and invitations to customers and government officials to join them at such events "are all about our involvement" in those communities. He declined comment when asked about criticism such invitations might be "undue influence" on politicians.

"We're doing it because we're proud to be involved," Makhooda said.

The Conservatives, when in opposition, were critical of Liberal government members for attending hockey games.

During the Senators' playoff runs in 2004 and 2003, many politicians and senior bureaucrats, including then-prime minister Jean Chretien, were seen in corporate seats or luxury boxes at the then-Corel Centre.

In the U.S., the ban on accepting such gifts includes both politicians and bureaucrats.

Conservative MP John Williams has been very critical of freebies, saying that attending free hockey games with clients "is influence-peddling at its most obvious" and should be outlawed for "all decision-makers," including politicians. Contacted Monday, Williams said he still feels there is a double standard, but that the new government's Federal Accountability Act is a step in the right direction in placing restrictions on freebies. He said the act will require lobbyists to register any freebies they give out.

"On the tickets, the fact that the lobbyists will have to register these things is a good first start. I think the Federal Accountability Act is a great piece of legislation that will tighten up a lot of these cosy relationships that have made a number of people in the private sector rich," said Williams.

Demers said Hill's presence in Bell Canada's box is also a concern because of that corporation's penchant for farming out jobs outside the country:

"What's even more worrisome to me, we would have such cosy relationships with a company that has taken hundreds if not thousands of jobs for their call centres and transferred them to India at the same time as the government of Canada, which is probably their biggest client, is not making any kind of effort to keep these jobs here."

Ottawa Citizen

You can critize all you want when ou are in opposition but if you do the exact same thing, it doesn't bring much confidence in the people.
Dexter Sinister
No Party Affiliation
Ah well, we were allowed to have high hopes for a while. But is anybody surprised, really?
Not me.

I am actually getting tired of this political system we hve if we exchange between two parties who do the exact same thing and say they do different. It is frustrating.
Personally the reason I don't like the Liberals isn't because of free tickets to hockey games.

It's bigger than that folks, so if your dreams are all shattered because of a few tickets to a hockey game....
The Liberals stole millions maybe billions. However it didn't start overnight. It started with a hockey game here. Something there. This over here, and that over there.

The Conservatives are doing the exact same thing instead of saying no we don't take stuff, we are honourable.

The Liberals didn't just say let's steal billions over a cup of tea. And the Cons are going down the same exact route as the Liberals

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