Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MP blasts Tory senator for helping run campaign

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OTTAWA -- Manitoba Conservative Sen. Don Plett was accused of abusing his office Friday by acting as the full-time campaign co-chairman for the provincial Tory election campaign.

Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin demanded Plett immediately resign from the provincial campaign, saying federally appointed senators have no business engaging in such overtly partisan political activities.

"We are paying for a Senate full of highly paid political operatives," said Martin. "We think it's shameless."

Martin said if senators are exempt from having to run for office themselves they have no business getting paid by taxpayers to help others get elected.

Plett was incensed over Martin's allegations.

"Pat Martin should be ashamed of himself," he said. "I'm a Manitoban and as a taxpayer I have every right to take part in this election."

Plett said he uses no Senate resources for his role in the Manitoba campaign, and keeps separate cellphones and emails to keep the two distinct. He also said he is managing to maintain his Senate duties at the same time, including Friday. When Martin's allegations came out, Plett was attending a ribbon-cutting for the new Bruce D. Campbell Farm and Food Discovery Centre at the University of Manitoba's Glenlea Research Centre.

"I was there representing the government," he said. "That was purely in my role as a senator."

Plett also said he certainly isn't the only senator participating in democracy.

It is not uncommon to see senators and federal MPs helping their provincial counterparts. For example, Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs has in the past gone door-knocking with provincial Grit candidates.

Martin acknowledged Plett isn't alone but said he is taking the practice to an extreme. "I don't think the Conservatives invented this monkey business but they have perfected it to a high art."

He said the Senate should demand its members be independent and non-partisan.

Plett was appointed to the Senate in 2009. He is a longtime Conservative Party campaigner in Manitoba and served from 2003 until 2009 as the party president. He was instrumental in the merger that saw the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties unite in 2003, working as the grassroots machine going from riding to riding across the country to convince right-leaning Canadians of the value of working as one.

He has also been a key figure in the federal campaigns in Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 17, 2011 A6

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