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O'Toole attacked for using Parliamentary resources on leadership campaign

OTTAWA — A Liberal MP is calling for an investigation into whether Conservative leadership candidate Erin O'Toole is inappropriately using taxpayer-funded resources on his campaign.

OTTAWA — A Liberal MP is calling for an investigation into whether Conservative leadership candidate Erin O'Toole is inappropriately using taxpayer-funded resources on his campaign.

Robert Morrissey says he received an email from O'Toole's personal Parliament Hill email address on May 12, with the subject line "endorsement," that thanked him for his support.

It was not Morrissey, however, but Conservative MP Rob Morrison who was about to publicly endorse O'Toole.

The email went on to offer up both O'Toole's campaign and Parliament Hill office staff to help facilitate, Morrissey said. 

Morrissey detailed the allegations and included a copy of an email in a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota, who also runs the board of internal economy.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the letter.

The board governs MPs and upholds rules and regulations around their conduct, including one that specifically prohibits the use of House of Commons resources in relation to leadership campaigns.

By using his MP email account to discuss his campaign and by linking up his Hill and campaign staff to work on it, O'Toole broke that rule, Morrissey alleges.

"I believe that this use of resources constitutes a violation of the members bylaw," he wrote.

"I ask that the board investigate any potential violation."

Morrissey said he'll also raise his concern with Elections Canada as it could be in violation of campaign finance rules.

O'Toole's campaign chalked it all up to a mistake.

"An error was inadvertently made sending an email," campaign spokesperson Melanie Paradis said in an email.

"We always do our best to faithfully follow the letter and spirit of the rules."

Morrissey, in his letter, pointed out that it was the second time in a week that the O'Toole campaign appeared to be offside.

"This email shows a concerning pattern by the O'Toole campaign," he wrote.

"Earlier this week, a complaint was filed against Senator Leo Housakos for using his parliamentary account to campaign for Mr. O'Toole."

Global News reported this week that Housakos had sent an email from his official Senate account using the subject line "CPC Leadership," endorsing O'Toole and then asking recipients to buy a membership in support of the O'Toole campaign.

A letter of complaint was sent to the Senate equivalent of the House of Commons committee that Morrissey wants to investigate O'Toole.

Housakos also said it was a mistake.

The deadline to purchase a Conservative party membership to vote in the contest was Friday.

All four candidates in the race — O'Toole, his fellow MP Derek Sloan, Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis and former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay — hustled down to the wire Friday night to recruit new support.

In an online seminar with some supporters Friday night, O'Toole was asked why people should vote for him and not MacKay.

Among his answers was that the O'Toole campaign does not make mistakes.

"I've had an error-free, strong campaign in every part of the country," O'Toole said.

"Peter's campaign has not been the same."

MacKay's campaign has attracted a fair share of negative attention for gaffes.

Among them, an email they sent out using the offensive phrase "bathroom bill" to refer to efforts to expand the rights of LGBTQ Canadians.

He also raised eyebrows for letting his staff cut off an interview in the early days of the campaign, and for a pitch that the Conservative leadership race ought not to have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but in fact sped up.

Now that membership sales have closed, the party will work to verify all the newly signed-up members are in fact real people, before they will say how many are eligible to vote in the contest.

Party spokesman Cory Hann said that in the 2017 leadership race, 260,000 members were eligible to vote. About 141,000 people did.

Ballots for this one must be returned by mail by Aug. 21 and a winner will be announced shortly after. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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