OTTAWA – Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day's journey into the House of Commons nearly seven years ago faced renewed allegations of impropriety Thursday, with the Liberals asking the RCMP to investigate the circumstances.
The Conservatives shot back by saying the Liberals were engaging in a "drive-by smear," a favourite phrase these days in an increasingly acrimonious Commons.
Liberal MP Mark Holland said documents the party discovered last week raise new questions about whether Day's office negotiated payment to a sitting MP in exchange for his stepping aside in a B.C. riding, something prohibited in the Criminal Code.
The RCMP made some initial inquiries into the issue six years ago but said then that it would not launch a full investigation.
The force said Thursday it had received the documents and is reviewing the matter.
Holland says he believes the RCMP would not have seen the documents in question, which were found among old files in the opposition leader's office.
"Given the gravity of these allegations and the clear nature of the documents presented, will the minister of public safety, the minister responsible for Canada's national police force, do the prudent thing and step down until the RCMP is finished its investigation?" Holland said during question period.
Back in 2000, Day was the newly elected leader of the Canadian Alliance but did not have a seat in the Commons. MP Jim Hart stepped aside in July to allow Day to run in a byelection in Okanagan-Coquihalla, which he won handily that fall.
The main document released Thursday, a fax penned by Hart, outlines the agreement he believed he had negotiated with Day's then chief-of-staff, Rod Love. In it, Hart notes that he would be compensated for lost severance, income and pension benefits for resigning his seat early, an amount totalling about $62,000.
At the time, party officials said Hart had already decided to quit the Commons for another job and left early to help out Day. They said the compensation was negotiated months later because Hart's job offer later fell through.
But Hart's first letter to Love detailing a compensation deal was dated two days before his actual resignation. He also made note of the job he was to start three months later, and states that he wouldn't have quit if compensation hadn't been agreed to beforehand.
"Please realize that I took this step of resigning in good faith," Hart wrote. "I could have remained in office until the general election, finished my term and not experienced these losses. My resignation was contingent upon this negotiation."
Hart, who now lives in the Republic of Georgia, could not be reached for comment. Day defended him in the Commons.
"The only problem with drive-by smears is that innocent people get hurt," Day said. "Mr. Hart is being hurt in this process. In every conversation I had with Mr. Hart from the time I knew him, he has only been honourable about this. He deserves an apology."
Another key question around Hart's resignation is whether public funds were involved in the transaction.
Two documents penned by Canadian Alliance party officials say there was an understanding that the party would pay for half of Hart's living expenses amounting to roughly $20,000. A motion approved by the Canadian Alliance's Fund board, marked carried, says ``the intent is to get half of this amount from the OLO (Office of the Leader of the Opposition) and half from the party."
A fax cover letter from party executive director Glen McMurray to Day's office, attached to Hart's pleas for payment, reiterates the understanding and tells the office to "figure it out."
The budget of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition is paid for through the House of Commons.
At the time, Day's director of communications Ezra Levant said the payment was not an issue for the leader's office because it had been made through the party.
There is no evidence in the documents that any payment was made by Day's office. Hart eventually took the party to court to recoup his money and later settled.
Senior party officials mentioned in the documents, including Love and his deputy Hal Danchilla did not immediately return calls. Peter White, former director of the Canadian Alliance fund, said he would not speak to reporters.
Former Canadian Alliance party whip Dick Harris, now a Conservative MP, would also not respond. Neither Day's office nor the prime minister's office would answer specific questions about the documents.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said the case had already been closed.
"There is absolutely nothing new here," Van Loan said. "The RCMP investigated this matter. It looked into all the things that (Holland) has alleged and concluded that there was no wrongdoing."
During the last federal election campaign, the Conservatives called for then finance minister Ralph Goodale to resign over the leak of information into the government's income-trust policy. The NDP referred the matter to the RCMP.
Goodale's name and that of other Liberal politicians was cleared earlier this year, and a finance department bureaucrat charged in connection with the leak.