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Board of Internal Economy renders a Scotch verdict on Jason Kenney's ethical lapse

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Jason Kenney's been in power for less than a week and already his election promises are falling like dominoes.*

Yesterday, another wobbled when the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that the federal government has the power to establish limits on greenhouse gas production that provinces must meet, and to establish a carbon tax if they won't meet them.

Well, it wasn't Kenney's legal bid to overturn Ottawa's carbon tax that was dismissed, it was the Saskatchewan government's. But the Alberta premier has promised to use taxpayers' supposedly limited money to launch his own appeal of the same federal legislation with the same arguments, the same likely outcome, and the same goal -- to wit, to play partisan politics against the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The court's ruling was a split decision, so it can be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, giving Kenney and his fellow Conservative provincial chapter leaders opportunity to throw additional roadblocks in the way of the federal policy -- just as they accuse B.C. Premier John Horgan of doing to ruin their Trans Mountain pipedream.

But onto every rain-soaked head a little sun must shine, and there was good news for Kenney yesterday as well.

I speak, of course, of the announcement by the Board of Internal Economy, the quaintly named committee responsible for the financial and administrative affairs of the House of Commons, that it has completed its examination of Kenney's claim a room in his mother's Calgary nursing home was his principal residence while he was an MP, and therefore that it was OK for him to claim $10,000 a year from 2012 to 2015 to maintain a "secondary" residence in Ottawa.

According to the CBC, the committee "cleared Alberta Premier Jason Kenney of any wrongdoing."

This assertion is subject to debate. A more accurate summary would be that the board -- which, notwithstanding numerous headlines to this effect, is obviously no "watchdog" -- determined that no rules were broken.

There is a subtle but important distinction between "there was no wrongdoing" and "no rules were broken." It is the difference between "not guilty" and the useful third verdict available in what we used to call Scotch Law, "not proven."

The unavoidable conclusion to any Canadian remotely familiar with the circumstances of Premier Kenney's residential arrangements during his years as a Conservative MP for Calgary is that the "rules" of the Board of Internal Inquiry, such as they are, amount to no rules at all when it comes to living expenses for MPs from outside the region around Ottawa.

No ethical person, even if they really did live in their mom's basement, would have claimed their principal residence in Ottawa was their secondary residence in order to cash in on the generous secondary housing allowance available to MPs. That the rules were so loosey-goosey it could be done is, as my mama used to say, no excuse.

Clearly, the House of Commons' efforts to make its members behave ethically are only aspirational and amount to the sort of self-regulation the Kenney Government advocates for the corporate sector.

Nevertheless, we're bound to hear soon -- probably in the breathless stenography of some award-winning Postmedia columnist -- that Premier Kenney has been "vindicated" in this sorry affair.

But let us not relitigate that point, but move on to what other rules must have been broken.

After all, Kenney has only been vindicated in the way U.S. President Donald Trump was vindicated by special counsel Robert Mueller's report. That is, plenty of actual rules were broken even if the Board of Internal Inquiry was not mandated to look into them.

For example, the Calgary facility in which Kenney claims to have rented a basement room in his mother's suite is known not to permit sub-letting.

So if he were sub-letting the space, as he claims, he was breaking that rule. And if he wasn't, and was lying about it, he was breaking one of the Ten Commandments, a set of rules said to be mandated by a higher authority than that of the Board of Internal Economy.

In addition, the seniors' residence in question doesn't allow non-seniors to reside there permanently -- another rule broken, unless Kenney and the Wikipedia alike are lying about his age.

Moreover, when he donated money to Doug Ford's Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, which was illegal unless he happened to be a resident of Ontario, he was breaking Ontario election law if he was telling the truth to the House of Commons when he famously checked with officials to ensure his housing claim was within the rules.

Kenney really can't have this both ways. Either he was breaking the Ontario law, or he wasn't -- in which case he was lying about where his principal residence was located. Either way, since he never seems to have owned up to breaking Ontario law, the premier's actions in Ottawa do not pass they ethical sniff test.

And by the way, the operator of the maternal nursing home, like all such companies, would have received a significant grant from the province of Alberta to build the place. So, in effect, even if Kenney told the truth, his was mooching off both the provincial and federal governments!

Vindication? I think not.

*I would love to take credit for this great line, but as an ethical blogger, I cannot. It belongs to the well-known Canadian economist and author Jim Stanford, now a resident of Australia, who used it an informative talk in Calgary yesterday on the similarities between the Canadian fur trade of the 17th to the 19th centuries and the Canadian fossil fuel trade of the 20th and 21st. "Canada is never going to run out of oil, just like it never ran out of beavers," Dr. Stanford observed. I plan to write a post on Stanford's thoughtful presentation, but since he speaks extemporaneously as well as forcefully, I will need some time to transcribe a recording. 

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post is also found on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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