NDP MP Pat Martin used donations from unions to pay off debt from defamation law suit

Andy Radia

For months the NDP has been railing against Mike Duffy for accepting a gift — from Nigel Wright — to pay off his debt for inappropriately claiming a Senate living allowance.

Well, it looks like one of their own has done the same thing — sort of.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, New Democrat MP Pat Martin, received cash gifts from several unions to pay off debts incurred with regard to a defamation law suit against him for accusing an Edmonton call centre of being behind the Guelph robocall scandal.

Documents filed with the federal ethics commissioner by the Manitoba MP earlier this month show he accepted contributions to a legal defence fund from the Canadian Labour Congress, the United Steelworkers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and 14 other unions or locals.

The donations are being used the repay a loan Martin received from the New Democratic Party of Canada to settle the legal case.

Political contributions from unions have been illegal at the federal level since 2004, but Martin says these donations to his legal defence are considered “gifts” to him personally under ethics rules, even though he will never see the money.

According to the Ottawa Citizen report, Martin did get approval from federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson prior to accepting the union donations. But while he must recuse himself from voting on legislation that "affect his donors specifically" he is free to vote "on legislation that affects labour unions generally."

[ Related: Opposition parties make most of parliamentary prorogation ]

Certainly, this isn't the exact same thing as the prime minister's former chief of staff secretly gifting Mike Duffy $90,000 so that he could repay taxpayers. Martin was upfront about his gifts, he sought and received approval from the ethics commissioner and seemingly played by the rules.

But , according political consultant Gerry Nicholls, there's a definitely a perception of impropriety here.

"The problem for the NDP with this issue is one of perception. Yes maybe Martin did everything by the book, but that won’t stop the Liberals, the Conservatives and the media from comparing him to Duffy," Nicholls told Yahoo Canada News in an email exchange.

"That could undermine the NDP’s efforts to make political hay on the Duffy scandal. It’s hard to attack and defend at the same time."

If the Liberals and the Conservatives need some help developing some good talking points, they might want to look to Twitter:

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

Are you a politics junkie?
Follow @politicalpoints on Twitter!