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Tory senator hit with complaints over official email urging support for O’Toole leadership

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Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole tells Mercedes Stephenson his campaign is out-fundraising his chief opponent, Peter MacKay, and beating their campaign on all measures – May 10, 2020

The Senate’s powerful internal economy committee says it has received a complaint against Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos for an email sent from his official account that asked recipients to buy party memberships in order to support Erin O’Toole’s bid to become the Tory leader.

But Housakos says the email was in error and that he meant to send it from his personal account.

READ MORE: Senate ethics committee urges second suspension of Sen. Lynn Beyak

“You’ve drawn my attention to my inadvertent use of my Senate email instead of my personal account,” Housakos told Global News in an email when asked about the matter.

“As you can probably appreciate, when you have more than one account, it sometimes happens, especially in my case where I’m not the most tech-savvy person. No excuse but I do appreciate the heads up and will certainly correct the error.”

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The email in question was sent on May 5 from Housakos’ official Senate email account using the subject line “CPC Leadership” and stating that “I believe the choice for leader is clear and that choice is Erin O’Toole.”

It then asked recipients to “click here to support Erin O’Toole by becoming a member today” and provided a link to the website for buying Conservative memberships.

However, Senate ethics rules forbid senators from using their position to advance the private interests of another person, including taking actions for the purpose of either directly or indirectly achieving an increase in a person’s income.

If elected as the new leader of the Conservative Party, O’Toole would receive a salary top-up of $87,200 in addition to his base salary of $182,600 as a member of Parliament.

READ MORE: 66% of Canadians believe MPs should take a salary cut

In addition to the Senate ethics rules, senators are also governed by the Senator’s Office Management Policy, which states that Senate resources must not be used to support certain “partisan party activities.”

Those banned activities include the solicitation of party memberships and political party leadership events.

Both the office policy and the ethics rules are cited in two complaints written by Liberal MP Steve MacKinnon on May 7 and addressed to Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault and Independent Sen. Sabi Marwah, chair of the Red Chamber’s internal economy committee.

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Copies of both complaints were shared with Global News.

MacKinnon has not yet responded to a request for comment made late Tuesday afternoon.

“I believe that by sending this endorsement and appeal for funds from his Senate email account, Senator Housakos has violated that section of the code,” wrote the complaint from MacKinnon to Legault.

“I urge you to investigate this matter, make appropriate recommendations, or seek appropriate penalties should you find that Senator Housakos violated these rules.”

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A spokesperson for the Senate’s internal economy committee — which does everything from set office budgets to reviewing disputes and expenses — confirmed it has also received MacKinnon’s complaint and that it would be considered.

“The Chair did receive a letter of complaint on this,” said Alison Korn, spokesperson for the committee.

“The Chair has advised the Steering Committee of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy Budgets and Administration (CIBA), and together they will be considering the matter.”

Korn noted that agreeing to consider the matter does not mean the committee has launched or plans to launch a formal investigation, but that it can decide how or if to proceed when it meets on the matter.

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Global News also reached out to Legault’s office but has not received a response.

The Senate Ethics Officer can launch investigations in cases where ethics violations may have occurred and issue reports of his findings to the Senate ethics committee, which can then lay a range of penalties.

Housakos is a prominent and longstanding member of the Conservative caucus, which is the last remaining caucus in the Senate with a formal party affiliation.

He is also the former chair of the internal economy committee and presided over it when the committee adopted the Senator’s Office Management Policy in April 2017.

He has tweeted frequently about his support for O’Toole’s leadership campaign.

The Conservative leadership will take place via mail-in ballot from members given the coronavirus pandemic. While the ballots will be due by Aug. 21, it’s not clear yet when the winner will be announced.