Hussen spent $93k constituency funds on PR help from foodie firm Munch More Media

Click to play video: 'Housing minister’s contracts with foodie firm Munch More Media raises eyebrows'
Housing minister’s contracts with foodie firm Munch More Media raises eyebrows
WATCH: Questions are being raised about Housing and Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussen's spending $93,000 in constituency funds for public relations help from Munch More Media, a food marketing firm. Mackenzie Gray has the opposition's reaction, what public documents reveal about the contracts, and the company's links to a former senior staffer of Hussen's – Jan 19, 2023

Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen used $93,050 in constituency funds for public relations help from a foodie communications firm with a connection to a former senior staffer, public records show.

House of Commons rules permit MPs to use constituency funds for professional communications work, but Hussen is one of just a handful of cabinet ministers who spent a significant amount on public relations contracts over the past three years.

The firm that conducted the work, Munch More Media, advertised itself as a marketing agency specializing in the food industry, working with “food companies, chefs, food bloggers and restaurants to kitchen equipment and hardware.”

Munch More’s website was taken down before Global News approached them with questions about their political work but remained accessible through an internet archive service.

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In all, Munch More Media has received $93,050 over 14 contracts from Hussen’s office between July 2020 and September 2022, according to House of Commons expense figures.

The company appears to have a minimal social media presence, with accounts in their name having just one follower on Twitter and 862 on Instagram — with their most recent posts appearing to have been made in 2018.

Of the 20 accounts the Munch More account followed on Instagram as of Wednesday afternoon, 19 were restaurant or food-industry related. The other was Hussen’s official account. By Wednesday night, however, the Instagram profile did not follow any accounts.
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Canada needs skilled immigrants to help build home supply: Housing minister

Hiba Tariq, listed as the director of Munch More Media Inc., told Global News that she had no personal connection with Hussen prior to doing constituency communications for the Housing, Diversity and Inclusion minister.

“Yes, many of my clients are in the food industry but strong communications share common features,” Tariq said.

Tariq later acknowledged that she knew Abdikhier Ahmed, Hussen’s former director of policy.

“I knew Abdikhier prior to him joining Minister Hussen’s office from a community activist perspective. Him being hired as Minister Hussen’s director of policy is independent from me and has no relation to me,” Tariq wrote in an emailed statement.

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Tariq and Ahmed are listed as co-directors of a corporation called “Empire of Goodness,” which is registered in Vaughan, Ont.. In an email, Ahmed confirmed he worked for Hussen as director of policy in 2020 and he works with Tariq at Empire of Goodness, which he described as a non-profit organization where he serves as a volunteer director on the board.

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“I have never received any contracts from Minister Hussen’s parliamentary or constituency office before or after my time with his office,” Ahmed wrote in response to Global’s questions.

“I have never had any relationship with Munch More Media Inc. and I have never received any payment from this company.”

Hussen declined Global’s interview request on Tuesday. But in a statement, the minister’s office said that all House of Commons rules were followed in awarding the contracts.

“Munch More Media is a local, small-scale communications firm from Toronto that provides their communications expertise across the city. Under the House of Commons, members of parliament are permitted to expense a communications firm to carry out ways of communicating information to their constituents,” wrote Hussen spokesperson Brittany Hendrych in a statement.

“These rules were followed and the contracting to Munch More Media was publicly disclosed.”

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Hussen is one of just three cabinet members who used significant constituency funds for PR work over the last three years, according to public financial disclosures reviewed by Global News.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan paid out roughly $51,000 in constituency funds since 2020 for communications help from John Whelan, which included speech writing, strategic advice and other work.

“Mr. Whelan brings strong experience to this role, having contracted his services to other politicians and corporations throughout his career. All House of Commons regulations and rules have been followed in this process, and Minister O’Regan’s office continues to proactively disclose all compensation for Mr. Whelan’s services,” wrote Jane Deeks, a spokesperson for O’Regan, in a statement.

Filomena Tassi, the minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario, spent at least $91,000 over that same period on 24 contracts with Regnum Communications. Regnum is a communications firm led by Alex Sévigny, a director of McMaster University’s MCM Research Lab.

“The two did not know each other prior to her foray into politics, and she has followed all House of Commons rules in relation to this contract,” Tassi’s press secretary Edward Hutchinson wrote in an email.

Cabinet ministers’ outsourcing of communications help made headlines recently after Mary Ng, the federal trade minister, apologized for breaking ethics rules in awarding a contract to a personal friend.

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Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found in December that Ng’s decision to award a $17,000 contract to Pomp and Circumstance, a communications firm run by Ng’s friend and Liberal commentator Amanda Alvaro, broke ethics rules.

“There is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend’s company,” Dion said in a statement.

Ng subsequently apologized in the House of Commons, and said she should have recused herself from the decision.

“These types of connections are obviously problematic,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters in Ottawa Thursday.

“There’s a smell test and if something smells bad, I shouldn’t do it. Sending money to close friends without a clear process in place obviously doesn’t pass the smell test.”

“Any time members of Parliament are engaging outside services or hiring someone to perform a service in their office, it’s critical that it’s done in a way that it holds up to the highest level of scrutiny,” Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said in an interview with Global News.

“And what we see in this case, and like we’ve seen in cases recently with other ministers, is that (the Liberals) always seem to find a way to give these contracts to people they’re friends with or people who their friends are friends with.”

There is no indication that the contracts awarded by Hussen, O’Regan or Tassi violate House of Commons or ethics rules — unlike the contract to Alvaro, which used ministerial office money rather than constituency funds.

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Nor are the Liberal ministers the only high-profile federal politicians to spend constituency money on communications help. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre spent $16,075 to pay for a constituency communications officer in between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2022, which is the most recent quarter constituency financial disclosures are publicly available.

Hussen faced scrutiny last August over $133,000 in grant money given to an organization whose senior consultant Laith Marouf had tweeted about “Jewish white supremacists.” The messages, which surfaced as screenshots from Marouf’s private Twitter account, were decried as antisemitic, and Hussen moved to cut their funding.

— with files from the Canadian Press.

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