UCP leader's trip to India raising ethics questions back home

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UCP leader's trip to India raising ethics questions back home

UCP leader's trip to India raising ethics questions back home

Some Alberta cabinet ministers are raising questions about Official Opposition Leader Jason Kenney's trip to India, suggesting it may be inappropriate.

Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous said the trip has raised concerns, particularly because he doesn't know how Kenney is representing himself or what his trade policies are.

Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party, is on a six-day trade trip to India with UCP energy critic Prasad Panda and UCP trade critic Devin Dreeshen. Travel costs are being funded by party donations.

Kenney plans to visit Delhi, Mumbai, Amritsar and Jamnagar. According to his Twitter feed, Kenney has met with several cabinet ministers, including Nitin Gadkari, India's minister of infrastructure.

A tweet in which Gadkari referred to Kenney as "Hon'ble minister, Alberta, Canada" raised eyebrows this week, as Kenney holds no such position with the provincial government.

"There is real concern that there could be either misrepresentation, or he could misspeak or he could misunderstand, as we saw in that tweet," Bilous said.

Transportation Minister Brian Mason said he will talk to others within the caucus about whether the NDP should send a complaint to the ethics commissioner.

Mason said if Kenney is representing himself as the UCP leader to Indian government officials, then using party money to fund the trip is a problem.

"He's either there on an approved trip as the leader of the Official Opposition, in which case he's not entitled, as far as I understand … to take outside money, to be funded by partisan donations," Mason told reporters Tuesday.

"Or he's going there as a private individual and not doing government business. But he can't have it both ways."

Bilous said people in Alberta's trade office in Delhi may have to clear up any possible confusion the visit may create about the province's policies or who speaks for the government.

When the trip was announced last week, the UCP said Kenney would "lead a delegation to India to promote trade, economic diversification, and to reinforce ties with the world's largest democracy."

In the same news release, Kenney said he "championed closer ties between Canada and India" during his time in Parliament, "and I hope to put that experience and connections to work for Alberta should voters elect a conservative government next year."

Bilous said he spoke to Kenney about his plans after the visit was announced.

"Basically he wants to position himself ahead of the spring election," Bilous said, adding that Kenney is getting ahead of himself, as the decision rests with the voters of Alberta.

Although Kenney frequently criticizes Alberta's NDP government for raising taxes, he touted the province's tax regime as an advantage for Indian investors in the oilsands in a TV interview with CNN-News18, an Indian news channel.

"Canada, amongst the developed countries, Alberta, in particular, have low taxes, we have one of the best-educated work forces, efficient power prices, so we have a lot of strategic advantages for that kind of investment," Kenney told interviewer Mada Siddiqui.

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier has made a couple of visits to India on behalf of the Alberta government.

Mason said when he was leader of the NDP, he received permission from the Speaker's office to travel to Alaska to learn more about the state's royalty regime. His visit included a meeting with Sarah Palin, then governor of Alaska.

The trip was funded by the legislature and so Mason was allowed to represent himself as an MLA and party leader.