OTTAWA – Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin has settled a defamation suit against him but is now fending off accusations a legal defence fund he set up may contravene Parliamentary ethics rules.
Martin was sued by Edmonton telemarketing company Racknine, for comments Martin made about Racknine’s involvement in the robocall scandal of the 2011 election.
Martin apologized publicly for the comments, which linked Racknine to the scheme to confuse voters about the location of their polling stations, although Elections Canada has always said the company and its president were not aware of the content of the calls.
Martin and Racknine settled the lawsuit last week. Martin said he was sort of relieved but had also been tempted to "see it out to its conclusion."
However the cost of fighting the suit as well as paying whatever the settlement is – the details cannot be disclosed – are high and Martin last June launched a trust fund to try and raise money to pay the legal bills.
Now Erin O’Toole, the newly elected MP in Durham, Ont., is asking the ethics commissioner to investigate whether this fund is a conflict of interest.
"I have asked for certain fundraising efforts to be examined to ensure the rules to keep corporate and union money out of politics are not being circumvented and the ethics rules are being respected," O’Toole said in his letter to the commissioner.
Among his concerns are reports the fund received a $10,000 donation from a union, as well as the fact the way the fund is being promoted he says mimics political fundraising.
The Pat Martin Legal Defence Fund was established as a trust fund, and Martin said the whole thing was cleared with Elections Canada, Revenue Canada and the ethics commissioner.
"We had lengthy consultations and opinions from the ethics commissioner and it was with her cooperation and direction the trust fund was formed," said Martin.
The fund is not eligible for tax receipts, and all donations will be publicly disclosed through the ethics commissioner, said Martin. He said the main concern she had was whether donations would influence his vote at any time, and she warned him if legislation comes up which directly affects a donor, he may have to recuse himself from the vote.
Martin said he isn’t involved in the day to day operations of the fund, but he believes it has raised around $90,000 at this point.
"We’re nowhere near what we need," he said. "It’s a staggering amount of money but we’re not allowed to divulge that."
Martin said he’s not surprised the Conservatives are going this route however.
"I don’t know why he’s doing this but he’s within his rights," said Martin. "I did fully expect it but I didn’t expect it to come from a guy who hasn’t unpacked his bags yet."
The defamation suit has somewhat subdued the normally outspoken Martin and he hasn’t been allowed to comment at all on any matters related to the robocalls scandal since the suit was filed.