MPs say many questions remain despite ex-Liberal MP Grewal breaking silence
Published Sunday, December 2, 2018 12:00PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 4, 2018 4:17PM EST
OTTAWA – Many questions remain despite MP Raj Grewal breaking his silence about his gambling debts and political future over the weekend, opposition MPs said Sunday on CTV’s Question Period.
“For all of the allegations that are now swirling around this MP, I mean, it is difficult to understand the truth from fiction and how this got this far, and nobody seems to have known anything about it in the Prime Minister’s Office,” said NDP MP Nathan Cullen. “The story hasn't been consistent since the start.”
In a statement and in an 11-minute video posted to Facebook late Friday night, Grewal spoke publicly for the first time since his stated resignation for “personal and medical reasons” began unravelling more than a week ago.
In the statement, Grewal said he has repaid millions in gambling debts and would be leaving the Liberal caucus but staying on as the MP for Brampton East, as he seeks treatment for his addiction.
“Over a 3 year period, I accumulated personal debt in the millions of dollars. Like many addicts and people suffering from mental health issues, I started to personally borrow money solely from friends and family to continue to gamble,” Grewal said.
“I want to make it clear, that every single personal loan made to me was by cheque. Everybody has been paid back, and every loan and repayment is transparent and traceable. This has nothing to do at all with anything sinister except to feed my own addiction.”
In the Friday night statement Grewal said he told the Prime Minister’s Office about his financial issues and gambling problem days before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau became aware of it.
“Not only are there are a number of questions about Mr. Grewal, the Prime Minister's Office handling of this in fact misleading MPs several occasions causes a lot of concern,” Conservative MP Erin O’Toole said.
“They've never been forthright about what's going on. My assumption is they knew several months ago that there was this large debt, that there were potentially investigations, yet we’ve had to push for any information and the story keeps changing,” said O’Toole.
Hard to believe PMO didn't know more, earlier: Fadden
Also on CTV’s Question Period, Trudeau’s former national security adviser questioned how it could be possible that the PMO was not aware earlier of Grewal’s troubles.
“All of the PMOs that I’ve had anything to do with have been very, very effective at knowing what their MPs are up to. It's one of their jobs, so I find it difficult to believe that they would not be aware it was a problem,” said Richard Fadden, who was the former national security adviser to both Trudeau and former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.
“Now, whether they told the PM or not is another issue. To say that nobody in the PMO knew about this I have a great deal of difficulty believing it,” Fadden said.
Fadden questioned whether Grewal’s debts could have compromised his work as an MP, and wondered how Grewal’s activities went unnoticed by top Liberal officials if the rookie frequented an Ottawa-area casino to the extent that has been alluded to.
Grewal’s home away from home was the Hilton hotel in Gatineau, staying there when he was in Ottawa for work. Often MPs take up long-term occupancies in area hotels while in Parliament. In Grewal’s case, the hotel was “coincidentally”—as Grewal put it in his statement— interconnected to the Lac Leamy casino. It is here that Grewal says his gambling problem escalated.
Cullen also raised the prospect of Grewal’s debt leaving him vulnerable to influence, and questioned whether part of Grewal’s decision to stay on as an MP was because as a member of Parliament he is afforded certain protections, including making it difficult to be subpoenaed.
“How could he owe millions of dollars two weeks ago to friends and family and suddenly not owe millions of dollars, on an MP salary? Where did the money come from?” Cullen said.
MPs are paid an annual base salary of $172,700.
Timeline of Grewal, PMO statements
As part of the message, Grewal said he first notified the PMO about his gambling addiction on Nov. 19.
The issue first became public on Nov. 22, when the Brampton East MP announced on Facebook that he would be resigning his seat citing “personal and medical reasons.”
That same day Trudeau tweeted that he learned on Nov. 21 that Grewal was facing “serious personal challenges,” and that while it may have been a tough decision, it was the right one. “I hope he receives the support he needs,” Trudeau said.
The PMO then released a statement on Nov. 23, revealing that Grewal would seek treatment for a gambling addiction that had led him to rack up "significant personal debts." As part of that statement, the PMO said that they were not aware of any police investigation related to Grewal's gambling, but that they are aware the RCMP made inquiries related to the ethics commissioner’s investigation into Grewal potentially being in a conflict of interest for inviting a business associate to events during the prime minister's trip to India. Commissioner Mario Dion has not yet issued his report or findings on the matter. Because Grewal remains an MP this probe is expected to continue.
Over the course of last week, through a series of news stories from The Globe and Mail and others, more details emerged about Grewal’s gambling and personal finances.
Throughout opposition questions, the government has maintained that “it was last week that the member informed us that he was addressing certain challenges,” as Government House Leader Bardish Chagger said during question period on Friday.
As reported by the Canadian Press, Trudeau said on Saturday during a news conference in Buenos Aires, that when his office learned about the India trip related RCMP inquiries, they had no knowledge of any connection to a gambling problem.
He also acknowledged that his office became aware and did not inform him immediately about Grewal’s current troubles. Tracking with Grewal’s stated timeline, Trudeau said he was then told “within a day or so.”
Defending the government’s handling of the situation, Liberal MP Marco Mendicino said that while he couldn’t speak to why Grewal has decided not to step down, when he first revealed his issues to the highest office in Ottawa, “it was on the expectation that [his resignation] would be occurring imminently.”
“Let me just say that we should not gloss over the fact that this is indeed a difficult subject. We all know someone who suffers from personal mental health issues, and we should be hoping that he gets the support and the treatment so that he can get better,” Mendicino said.
Out of caucus, still an MP
In a tweet on Saturday, Chief Government Whip Mark Holland said that he confirmed in writing to the House of Commons Speaker that Grewal was out of the Liberal caucus. His MP page on the parliamentary website now reflects this and his seat in the Chamber has been moved.
Saying he first announced his “ill advised” intention to resign in a “highly emotional state,” Grewal has decided to take a leave of absence to focus on his recovery and will be making a “final decision” about his political future before Parliament resumes in late January 2019.
He also sought to explain what he classified as “half truths” about his work on the House of Commons Finance Committee—which raised eyebrows because of the nature of the questions he was posing to top finance and security officials about money laundering—and the reason why he was removed in September from the high-ranking committee, to the House Health Committee.
In the statement, Grewal made no mention of any reported police investigations into his behaviour, investigations that CTV News has not independently verified.