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Tory minister loses another staffer amid ethics furor

Industry Minister Christian Paradis arrives in the foyer of the House of Commons on March 27, 2012.

CHRIS WATTIE/Chris Wattie/Reuters

A Beleaguered Industry Minister Christian Paradis has lost another staff member amid a controversy.

The Conservative government emphasized Thursday that Mr. Paradis's former director of communications Richard Walker was no longer in his employ, after news emerged that he had racked up personal expenses on a government credit card.

CTV News reported Wednesday that it took Mr. Walker five months to reimburse the government.

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Neither Paradis's office nor Government House Leader Peter Van Loan disputed the details. A government source said that Walker had discussed leaving Paradis's office some time ago because of a health issue.

"We are talking about a former employee," Mr. Van Loan told the Commons Thursday. "That is an important point.

"The second point is that all monies have been recovered. The taxpayers are not on the hook for a single dime. That is exactly how our government should act in the circumstances."

Margaux Stastny, a spokeswoman for Mr. Paradis, would not say why it took five months for the expenses to be repaid.

Mr. Paradis himself has faced calls for his resignation. Two weeks ago, the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner ruled he had broken the rules when he gave privileged access to his department to former Conservative colleague Rahim Jaffer.

In Question Period, NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice called Mr. Paradis "the conflict of interest minister."

"Will the minister finally put on some pants and take responsibility for all these scandals and resign, or does he think that playing blackjack at Caesar's Palace is an acceptable government expense?" Mr. Boulerice said.

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Mr. Walker is not the first staffer in Mr. Paradis's office to resign over an ethics issue.

Former adviser Sebastien Togneri quit in 2010 after it was revealed he had meddled in several access to information requests when Mr. Paradis was public works minister. The Information Commissioner later ruled that Mr. Togneri had violated the Access to Information Act, but the RCMP did not lay charges.

Two other staffers who also were involved in the access requests kept their jobs with Mr. Paradis.

The issue of credit card expenses is reminiscent of another controversy that embroiled former Liberal junior minister Ethel Blondin-Andrew in 1996. She admitted to charging personal expenses, including a fur coat, to a government credit card for three years because she did not have a personal card.

In that case, Ms. Blondin-Andrew reimbursed the government each month and said nobody had told her what she was doing was improper.

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