OTTAWA — Former Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has fired his wife’s sister after questions were raised about him having employed her in his constituency office.
The Saskatchewan MP said in a statement issued on Tuesday that he has spoken with his sister-in-law, Erica Honoway, who had been working as a constituency assistant in his Regina—Qu’Appelle riding office, and decided to let her go after first hiring her in 2007 to do bookkeeping.
“I understand that in this case, following the rules may not have been enough. Even the perception of a conflict concerns me. As such, I have met with Erica and I have ended her employment in my office,” Scheer said.
“As an elected official, I understand expectations on me are high. Whenever there has ever been a question of following the letter and the spirit of the rules, I checked with the Ethics Commissioner first,” Scheer said.
His office noted that Scheer sought clarity from both the ethics watchdog and the House of Commons administration about his hiring decisions and was told no rules would be violated by employing her.
Further, Scheer’s staffer Kenzie Potter confirmed to CTVNews.ca that between 2008 and 2012 Scheer had employed his sister, Anne Marie Grabetz in his MP office. Over these years Scheer held the roles of deputy Speaker and then House of Commons Speaker, where he chaired the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE), the historically secretive board of MPs that governs MPs’ spending, approves House budgets, manages employment and other House administration matters.
In 2012 the House of Commons rules around employment changed the definition of family to include siblings and so she was let go.
“Following her dismissal, she sought employment elsewhere,” Potter said.
In a statement to CTV News, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s office cited confidentiality restrictions in saying it couldn’t “divulge or comment on any dealings” Dion’s office may or may not have had with Scheer.
Scheer spent much of his time as leader of the party criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government over ethical controversies and perceived conflicts of interest.
The most recent example of this is the Conservatives levelling accusations of corruption at the Liberals over awarding a student grant program to WE Charity to administer, despite Trudeau’s wife, mother and brother having been paid thousands of dollars by WE for speaking engagements in the past.
Asked about Scheer’s staffing choices on Tuesday, Trudeau deflected and said it’s a question best posed to Scheer and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.
Earlier in the day, O’Toole told reporters that he’d be speaking with Scheer about meeting his “very high bar of ethics.”
“I expect my team to live up to, and exceed the expectations Canadians place upon us,” O’Toole said, before launching into criticism of Trudeau over his past contraventions of federal ethics law.
Broadly speaking, Trudeau said it may be worthwhile for the BOIE to look at whether the current House of Commons rules that allow for MPs to hire relatives need to be revaluated.
“I think that’s certainly a reflection that’s going to be had… around how we ensure that we’re upholding the confidence that Canadians place in all parliamentarians,” he said.
As they stand, the House of Commons rules around members’ allowances and services include a hiring restriction on immediate family.
Scheer is the second MP to come under fire in recent weeks over employing close relatives in their offices.
Ontario MP Yasmin Ratansi left the Liberal caucus after admitting to hiring her sister to work on her Don Valley East constituency office.
“I made an error in judgement by employing my sister in my constituency office, and I have remedied the situation, but this does not excuse the error I made,” she said in a Facebook post at the time.
Dion’s office has since expressed concern and said he’d be following up, and Trudeau said he was “deeply disappointed” in how she ran her office.
Reacting to Ratansi’s staffing choices at the time, the Conservatives described the decision to employ her sister as “wrong” and “just another example in a long line of arrogant and entitled behaviour by Liberals.”
This is not the first time Scheer has come under fire for spending decisions. After losing the 2019 federal election, he resigned as party leader amid questions over using Conservative Party funds to cover costs related to his kids’ private schooling.
Reacting to the news during a panel on CTV’s Power Play, Conservative MP Michael Chong said that MPs need to uphold “the highest standards of ethics and accountability,” and that he thinks Scheer did the right thing by letting his sister-in-law go.
Liberal MP Omar Alghabra said it will be up to O’Toole to decide if Scheer has done enough to maintain public confidence, which NDP MP Jenny Kwan echoed. “It raises a real question for Mr. O’Toole in terms of what his action is going to be in light of this latest revelation with Mr. Scheer,” she said.