If the Irvings are paying

Environment Minister David Anderson… He insists he wasn't familiarizing himself with the Irvings' production of low-sulphur fuel, months before his department introduced regulations requiring lower sulphur content in diesel fuel.

The Globe and Mail
October 29, 2003

If the Irvings are paying
Comment

Seems as if anyone who's anyone has travelled free on Air Irving.

Environment Minister David Anderson is the fourth federal cabinet minister this month to own up to having accepted an expensive freebie from the powerful Irving family of New Brunswick, whose many interests includes shipbuilding, energy and forestry. He has decided to pay $1,500 for the free flights and the free two-day stay in 2001 at their exclusive fishing lodge on the Restigouche River, which speaks to his instincts for damage control. At the same time, he floats the excuse that, since the Irvings' invitation was extended through his old friend (and former minister) Roméo LeBlanc, he didn't really think of it as a gift from the Irvings themselves. There will be a pause while the Canadian public shakes its head.

Mr. Anderson's other explanation is that he was "familiarizing myself with Atlantic salmon" while enjoying the Irvings' rich hospitality, which is a charming way of describing the activities at a fishing lodge. He insists he wasn't familiarizing himself with the Irvings' production of low-sulphur fuel, months before his department introduced regulations requiring lower sulphur content in diesel fuel.

Meanwhile, Industry Minister Allan Rock, who enjoyed a free flight and free fishing trip with his family at the Irvings' pleasure when he was health minister in 2001, has fought accountability for his freebie every step of the way. It took him three days last week to acknowledge that he had erred, and even then he did so only after Labour Minister Claudette Bradshaw, who had accepted a flight on the Irvings' corporate jet after missing a commercial flight, shamed him into it. She said her department would pay the Irvings for her flight. Mr. Rock said he would repay the Irvings only if ethics counsellor Howard Wilson said it was necessary.

(Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault, who stayed overnight at the Irvings' lodge while on official business as junior minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, hasn't reimbursed the Irvings because Mr. Wilson told him he didn't need to.)

Given the ethical laxity that has characterized the Chrétien years — not helped by an ethics counsellor who was hired by and reports to the Prime Minister rather than Parliament — the casual acceptance of expensive freebies from powerful private interests such as the Irvings may no longer be shocking, but it continues to offend. It was no surprise, either, that Jean Chrétien would pooh-pooh all concerns yesterday. A new broom, please.


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