Liberal MP tops all others with $21.9K spending on ‘protocol gifts.’ Here’s what he spent it on

Click to play video: 'Hussen defends issuing contracts to food marketing firm'
Hussen defends issuing contracts to food marketing firm
WATCH: Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen is defending the contracts he doled out to food marketing firm Munch More Media. – Jan 25, 2023

Liberal MP Chandra Arya used House of Commons funds to purchase $21,931 worth of “protocol” gifts from the same local company that handles his constituency printing and communications work, a Global News analysis of expense data shows.

Arya’s total spending of taxpayer funds on “gifts given as a matter of protocol” far outstrips any other MP, including cabinet ministers who frequently meet with foreign officials and dignitaries, between July 2020 and Sept. 30, 2022.

House of Commons rules allow MPs to give protocol gifts not exceeding $150 before taxes “in recognition of the value and importance of a person, an event or an organization in the Member’s constituency that has contributed positively to the community.” According to Arya’s office, he purchased 1,025 plaques for a total of $20,426, with the items ranging from $15.65 to $28.59 each.

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MPs are permitted to purchase protocol-related gifts using constituency funds under House of Commons rules, but a Global News analysis of expense data shows most MPs spend a comparatively modest amount.

That includes cabinet members like Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Canada’s top diplomat who meets regularly with foreign officials and may present them with a token item. Her constituency purchased $1,632 in protocol gifts over the same period as Arya, a backbench MP representing the Ottawa-area riding of Nepean.

Asked why his spending on gifts outstripped the other 337 MPs in the House of Commons, Arya told Global News that he used the money to purchase customized plaques for “many front-line workers and volunteers who served our community during the COVID pandemic,” as well as “volunteers serving in many community (and) charity organizations.”

Arya gave three gift contracts – ranging in value from $1,685 to $10,955 – to a single company: SINIX Media Group.

SINIX, which includes divisions dealing in printing, design and signage, received a total of 53 contracts for a total of $53,681.50 from Arya’s constituency office over the period analyzed by Global News. Most related to printing services, advertising and promotional items.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau checking if ‘all rules’ were followed in Hussen’s hiring of foodie firm'
Trudeau checking if ‘all rules’ were followed in Hussen’s hiring of foodie firm

SINIX also received smaller contracts from other Ottawa-area MPs, including Treasury Board President Mona Fortier, Anita Vandenbeld, and former MP Karen McCrimmon.

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In a May 2020 press release, SINIX’s CEO Hamed Zadeh credited Arya with helping to shepherd the company’s request to produce personal protective equipment during the pandemic.

“Nepean MP Chandra Arya was also of valuable assistance tracking the application until Health Canada’s authorization was granted,” the press release reads.

“During the COVID pandemic, due to the urgent nature of the time (and the associated delays in new company/product approvals at Health Canada), an application to Health Canada to register a company and its product was followed up by our office,” Arya’s office said in a statement.

Arya did not respond to questions related to his relationship with Zadeh. A representative for SINIX said Zadeh was not available on Tuesday, and a request for comment was not returned.

In January, Global News reported that Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen spent $93,050 in constituency funds on public relations help from Munch More Media, a foodie-focused communications firm. After Global’s initial report, Hussen’s office admitted that the firm’s director, Hiba Tariq, is the sister of Tia Tariq, the minister’s director of policy.

MPs’ constituency expenses are publicly available, but typically receive little public scrutiny. Federal politicians are permitted to spend on a range of goods and services related to their constituency offices, from promotional items to public relations help to typical office-related expenses like rent and supplies.

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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

Global News also reported that Marci Ien used $10,000 in constituency funds to hire Munch More Media’s services before she became a cabinet minister.

Using the same data, the National Post reported that MPs were using constituency funds to cover their home internet costs during the pandemic. In response to that report, the Conservative Party said they would not permit their MPs to continue doing so.

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