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Ethics probe urged over Canadian MP’s flirty emails

Posted by Author on September 15, 2011

OTTAWA— Embattled Conservative MP Bob Dechert should ask the federal ethics commissioner to review his relationship with a Chinese journalist, New Democrats say.

If he doesn’t, they say they may appeal to Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson for an independent review of the controversy that has thrust the Mississauga-Erindale politician into the spotlight.

“There should be an inquiry because there are all these threads loosely hanging out there,” NDP Paul Dewar said Thursday.

“I think that would do him good stead . . . to ensure there are no question marks left on his reputation and his conduct,” Dewar said in an interview.

Dechert has gone quiet since admitting a week ago that he had sent “flirtatious” emails to Shi Rong, a Toronto-based reporter with the Chinese news agency Xinhua.
The Ottawa Citizen reported Thursday that Shi has left Toronto and returned to China on a “scheduled vacation.”

The emails were allegedly hacked from Shi’s personal account and forwarded to more than 200 of her contacts.

The revelation of the amorous emails is not only embarrassing for Dechert but a potential security headache as well.

Intelligence experts say that Xinhua journalists often double as intelligence agents, raising questions about Shi’s dealings with Dechert, who serves as parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

“The key thing is to make sure that there was no security breach,” Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said.

He said this incident also drives home the need for cabinet ministers and the MPs tapped to be their helpers to be better educated about the “responsibilities and risks” that go with the posts.

“A lot of these folks come into office, regardless of political party, keen as mustard and green as grass,” Goodale said.

“They are actually vulnerable. If they are vulnerable, then the country is potentially vulnerable,” he said.

Historian Jack Granatstein said it’s too early to assess the impact of a “foolishly indiscreet” Dechert and his dealings with the journalist.

“We don’t know yet. Do we know that this woman is not an agent? That’s the key thing,” he said Thursday.

“We do know that Chinese journalists often are agents. The emails make her sound inept if she is a spy, but maybe the emails are fake, too. Who knows?” Granatstein said

A call to Dechert’s Mississauga office was not returned Thursday.

While the government has struck a dismissive tone publicly, Granatstein said he’s certain that, behind the scenes, security probes are underway to assess the ties between the pair.

“I cannot believe that something like this would be left unchecked,” he said.

Indeed, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Thursday that the Prime Minister’s Office had done its own investigation of Dechert.

“I understand that the Prime Minister’s Office has looked into this and there’s no indication that there’s anything untoward that has occurred here. I have no information or evidence to the contrary,” Toews said on CBC’s Power and Politics.

“I’m not involved in this investigation,” Toews added.

The PMO has stood by Dechert since the scandal broke, saying it has no evidence that the married Conservative MP, first elected in 2008, had engaged in “inappropriate” behaviour.

But since taking power in 2006, Harper’s style has been to resist political or public pressure to demote MPs or cabinet ministers who have slipped up. Instead, he has preferred to wait out the furor, using a cabinet shuffle down the road to make his move.

Dewar suspects Harper is following a similar “stubborn” strategy with Dechert, hoping the fuss “blows over.”

“No question, he’ll try to weather the storm,” Dewar said. “As a Prime Minister, he has to decide what is acceptable conduct and what is responsible.”

Dechert’s flirty emails promise to be in the spotlight again next week when Parliament returns and, with it, question period, when opposition MPs are expected to press the government for an explanation of Dechert’s relationship with the reporter.

The Star

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