Tuesday, June 07, 2005

June 7, 2005: Edmonton Journal Reports Grewal On Stress Leave After Airport Security Incident With Mystery Packages

Tory in tape controversy takes stress leave: Step comes after allegation of breaching airport security with mystery package
Edmonton Journal
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
Page: A1 / FRONT
Section: News
Byline: Grant Robertson and Anne Dawson
Dateline: OTTAWA
Source: CanWest News Service

OTTAWA - Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal is stepping down from his parliamentary duties and going on stress leave in British Columbia as an ethics investigation into secret talks he conducted with the Liberals unfolds in Ottawa.

Tory Leader Stephen Harper said Grewal informed him in writing Monday that he was stepping down from his position as co-chair of a government committee and returning home amid the controversy that has engulfed Parliament Hill.

He is not stepping down as an MP, and in the case of a possible confidence vote he would be expected to vote with the party.

The Liberals and Tories have been locked in a bitter fight over conversations Grewal secretly recorded during talks with Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and the prime minister's top adviser, Tim Murphy.

Grewal alleges the Liberals came to him offering plum postings if he and his wife, Nina, also a Conservative MP, assisted the government in last month's crucial budget vote.

The government insists the Tory MP approached them to make such a deal.

"I have spoken with Gurmant. I have been aware that for some days now he has been feeling significant personal pressure," Harper said in a statement.

"As a result, he and I agreed that he should take a temporary stress leave from his parliamentary responsibilities."

The matter is now being investigated by federal ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro, while the recorded conversations have been turned over to the RCMP amid allegations by the Liberals and several audio experts that the tapes may have been doctored.

Harper called on the Liberals to also ask Dosanjh and Murphy to step aside while the investigation is carried out, a request the Liberals swiftly refused.

"No, the prime minister will not be asking either man to step down on the basis of tampered tapes," said Scott Reid, spokesman for the prime minister.

The announcement came as Grewal suffered another blow Monday when Air Canada said it's investigating him for allegedly breaking airport security rules in Vancouver by approaching passengers with a request to deliver a package to Ottawa.

However, Grewal denied the allegations, saying Air Canada has its facts wrong. The airline says the MP approached passengers in an airport lounge asking them to transport the package. As well, he wasn't cleared to be in that section of the airport.

"Let me tell you that the allegations are false and wrong. I am denying them. And I will be fighting with them," Grewal told Global National less than four hours before Harper announced the MP was leaving on stress leave.

When asked if his party requested he step down from caucus, Grewal refused comment.

Meanwhile, support for Grewal appears to be eroding within the party as several of his colleagues refused to lend unqualified support to the MP Monday and criticized his recent conduct.

Conservative MP James Moore said the controversy that's erupted in Ottawa over the so-called "Grewal Tapes" is not healthy for Parliament.

Asked what he thought about Grewal's efforts to record the conversations, which the Tories have since made public in a bid to discredit the government, Moore referred to his colleague's actions as "amateur hour."

Tory finance critic Monte Solberg stopped short of supporting the embattled MP.

"I'm concerned about some of these questions and I'll just leave it at that," Solberg said when asked if Grewal should step down from caucus.

Grewal is leaving his role as co-chair for the standing joint committee for the scrutiny of regulations for an indefinite period, the Tories said.

In the Commons, Speaker Peter Milliken read a letter from Shapiro announcing his investigation into the tape matter and whether votes were being offered in exchange for government postings and a request that all MPs refrain from discussing the subject until he completes his investigation.

While the Conservatives completely refrained from even mentioning the tape matter in the Commons, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP House leader Bill Blaikie barrelled ahead.

Blaikie called on the prime minister to ask everyone in his government associated with the tape scandal to step aside until the investigation is over. Martin kept to his stance in recent days -- throwing doubt on the validity of the tapes and stating he has no intention of asking anyone to step aside.