EDMONTON — The Alberta NDP caucus has asked the ethics commissioner to look into Opposition Leader Jason Kenney’s trip last week to India.
During the trip, Kenney, United Conservative energy critic Prasad Panda, and trade critic Devin Dreeshen toured the massive Jamnagar oil refinery on India’s west coast.
Kenney has since talked about the refinery, owned by Reliance Industries, and the company’s interest in doing business with Canada.
NDP legislature member Heather Sweet, speaking on behalf of the caucus, noted Tuesday that Panda used to work for Reliance and still has shares in it.
She has asked Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler to determine if the trip and Kenney’s public comments violated legislature rules by benefiting Panda financially.
“Does the amount of publicity Mr. Kenney has given this particular facility, both online and in radio interviews, constitute an increase in publicity and awareness?” Sweet said in a letter to Trussler.
“Does this provide a benefit to the company, and therefore a benefit to Mr. Panda?”
Kenney said he and Panda worked on these issues with the ethics commissioner before going abroad.
“That’s just ridiculous,” said Kenney.
“Everything we did on this trip was already cleared with the ethics commissioner.”
He said the NDP caucus, and Premier Rachel Notley’s government are grasping at straws to smear his good-faith attempt to drum up business for the province.
He labelled it ”ankle-biting criticism.”
“I wish instead they (the NDP) would have looked at this constructively and said, ‘Good on any member of the legislature for trying to advance Alberta’s commercial interests abroad,’” said Kenney.
During the six-day trip Kenney met with senior government officials and industry executives to discuss oil investment along with concerns about tariffs on Alberta pulse crops.
Trade Minister Deron Bilous announced last week his office is doing “damage control” and making follow-up calls to Indian officials to make sure Kenney’s discussions did not cause confusion or conflict with Alberta’s trade policy.
Notley has mocked the trip, calling Kenney “the minister of make believe.”
She also noted that Kenney, speaking to TV media in India, urged investment in Alberta, citing her government’s low tax regime and efficient power pricing.
Kenney has long criticized Alberta’s taxes at home, saying they need to be reduced and that far from encouraging investment are in fact curtailing it.
Asked by reporters to reconcile those two statements, Kenney said, “I’m trying to put the best possible gloss on Alberta as a destination for investment abroad.
“I’m not going to go abroad and down-talk Alberta, but I obviously believe that tax rates and the red tape burden are too high in Alberta.”
Kenney was asked if he mislead the Indian public.
“No,” he replied.
He said he could have qualified his remarks to the Indian media by detailing his party’s concerns with NDP-led changes and hikes to Alberta’s tax system — including the carbon levy — but said that would not have been proper.
“That would have been politicking overseas, which would have been inappropriate,” he said.
“I’m in politics to fight for lower taxes and that will be central to our platform, including the elimination of the carbon tax. That will make Alberta an even more attractive place for investment.”