Jaffer’s second kick at committee can results in contempt charge

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA — Rahim Jaffer’s explanations ran the gamut from lax dry cleaning habits to mental distraction.

But the former Tory MP’s second attempt to convince a Commons committee that his business dealings were above board fuelled more anger among MPs of all stripes and an accusation that he was in contempt of Parliament.

The Speaker of the House will to rule in the fall if Jaffer breached the privileges of Parliament by giving inconsistent testimony while failing to provide all documents the committee had requested.

On their final day before the summer break, members of the government operations committee reported to the Commons that they believed Jaffer was thumbing his nose at their work.

“We met a lot of witnesses who placed Mr. Jaffer in full contradiction — as far as I’m concerned, he’s a liar,” said Bloc Quebecois MP Michel Guimond. “I’m sure — I don’t think — I’m sure he was illegally lobbying.”

MPs spent their final morning before the summer break pressing Jaffer on whether he illegally lobbied Conservative officials to back a series of renewable energy ventures, and more seriously, whether he had peddled influence to pump up his profile among potential associates.

His first testimony before them on April 21 had been subsequently shot full of holes, something an “embarrassed” Jaffer blamed on a lack of preparation.

For opposition MPs like Guimond, the conclusion after two months of committee study on the controversy is that friends of the government received privileged access to the halls of power.

Jaffer was able to call a minister directly on his cellphone and chat about his business. Emails tabled by the committee showed Conservative political staff prodded bureaucrats to meet with Jaffer to discuss his proposal to put solar panels atop some government buildings.

Conservatives pointed to the fact that Jaffer never received a penny in government contracts as proof that the system works. Conservative MPs on the committee went to pains to point out the distance they created between themselves and their former caucus chairman.

“We have clearly demonstrated that the paramount concerns of our government are full transparency, accountability and honesty — if he doesn’t feel comfortable with that, that’s fine by me,” said Tory MP Chris Warkentin.

Jaffer vented his frustration at the sharp criticism from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his former caucus colleagues.

“The way my wife has been treated by your party and your government doesn’t represent anything that I’ve ever seen and at that I worked for in my time as an MP,” Jaffer said.

“The prime minister called a process to say that she could clear her name, and then proceeds to kick her out of the party. You call that democracy? I don’t understand, I don’t even recognize this party anymore.”

Some Conservative MPs chuckled during his shot at former colleagues.

The one issue on which all MPs agreed was their feeling they could not trust Jaffer’s testimony.

Among the main issues that MPs wanted cleared up Thursday was why Jaffer initially claimed he never handed out his old MP’s business card to prospective clients and why he had said he never used his wife’s office or email address for personal business — claims that have since been refuted.

His wife Helena Guergis was ousted from the Conservative caucus and her job as a junior minister in April after the party heard unproven allegations she had helped Jaffer peddle influence by helping to build his reputation as a connected operator.

Jaffer said he had found one of his old business cards in the pocket of a suit he hadn’t worn since he had last been an MP in 2008. He handed it to a potential associate last summer as a joke — a “collectors item” he told the man. The committee had heard there was at least one other occasion when he handed out the card.

On using his wife’s office, he insisted that a meeting that took place there with a political aide to Environment Minister Jim Prentice had been casual and initiated by the staffer. He said he explained his latest business venture only when asked.

As far as using an email address connected to a government blackberry, Jaffer said he might have sent some emails “inadvertently.” 

Jaffer was also asked to produce a special passport issued to spouses of ministers that he had used for personal travel — the former MP said he had lost it. He insisted that he had never used it for business.

And on the subject of his relationship with controversial Toronto businessman Nazim Gillani, Jaffer said he simply wasn’t aware that his partner had signed a contract with Gillani when he told the committee in April they had cut off relations. The contract was signed in a period when he had detached from day-to-day details of his company because of distractions in his personal life, he said.

He told MPs he had maintained personal contact with Gillani for months afterward — a fact he failed to mention when he testified the first time.

Jaffer stuck fervently to his stance that he was never engaged in any lobbying activities.

“My whole social network comes from almost 12 years of being an MP. Of course I’m going to have interactions with people, but because my wife was a cabinet minister and because I understood the laws, I wasn’t going to break any confidence by trying to lobby people who would be put in an awkward situation,” Jaffer said.

“Finding out information during the process of when I was trying to establish a business is very different than being paid to get access or privilege.”

But once again, Jaffer tripped over testimony about his personal website.

Back in April, he told MPs at the committee that he had not bragged about his ability to secure government support in a biography on the website — a statement that was contradicted while he still sat in the committee room.

On Thursday, he raised the ire of MPs again by changing his story of when he took the website down midway through his testimony.

“This speaks to the fact that you’re not willing yet to tell us the truth and if we can’t believe you on the small stuff, how can we believe you on the big stuff?” said Warkentin.

Organizations: Commons committee

Geographic location: OTTAWA, Toronto

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