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NRI Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar should resign, Toronto Paper report


Toronto, January 17, 2006
Gary Singh

Ontario Integrity Commissioner, Coulter Osborne has issued a reprimand report on Transport Minister Harinder Takhar that he committed a "serious" breach of the Members' Integrity Act by failing to maintain a proper arm's-length relationship between his business and political interests. After becoming a cabinet minister in October 23, 2003,, Takhar was obliged to place all of his business holdings in a blind trust maintained by an independent trustee and not be involved in its day-to-day operation.

The Progressive Conservatives released a photograph of Liberal Takhar chatting on a cellphone outside the Chalmers Group of Companies in Mississauga. A Conservative party operative armed with camera and notebook reported Takhar spent more than three hours at the firm, which makes transmission systems and hospital products. Apparently someone had tipped off the Conservatives that Takhar was still involved in the firm of which he was president before entering politics.

The Conservatives said their evidence proved Takhar violated rules intended to distance cabinet ministers from business interests. They demanded he step aside while Takhar's connections are investigated. Takhar insisted he was merely seeking $14,000 from the trust to help cover his daughter's university tuition.

The Integrity Commissioner Coulter Osborne said Takhar violated that directive by appointing the chief financial officer of his riding association as the person responsible for handling his business affairs. Osborne said in his 35-page report. Osborne also described Takhar's decision to hold a meeting at his company's office as "egregiously reckless."

"There is ... no doubt that the minister was egregiously reckless in participating in the April 29 meeting at Chalmers," Osborne states in his 35-page report.

According to Osborne's report that Premier Dalton McGuinty should reprimand Takhar. The inference seemed to be that Takhar should be removed from cabinet - and that would be a fitting punishment in this case.Osborne, though, stopped short of calling for Takhar to pay a higher "political price," such as resignation.

Premier Dalton McGuinty says he won't take any action against Takhar because his minister has already been punished enough as a result of Osborne's report."It is clear the minister demonstrated a lapse in judgment in this circumstance," McGuinty's statement reads.

"I continue to have confidence in Minister Takhar as my minister of transportation and as a valued member of my cabinet and caucus."

Joseph Jeyanayangam - was appointed as the treasurer of Takhar's riding association in December 2004 after he had served as the chief financial officer of Takhar's 2003 election campaign. Jeyanayangam is also chief financial officer of the company in question, the Chalmers Group

According to Toronto Sun report, We at the Sun broke the original allegations of Takhar's visit to his company in a front page story on June 12. (Later I was interviewed by Coulter as part of his probe.)

Although the visit to the company took place April 29, Jeyanayagam saw fit to inform the integrity commissioner of the visit only on June 10 -- the day I called Takhar for comment.

At the time, Takhar told me he was at the company to discuss details of his daughter's education with his wife, who is the company's CEO. His daughter was planning to go to university in the U.K. and Takhar wanted to know if he could afford it. Osborne clearly has problems with that scenario, and with the notes Jeyanayagam produced to back up this story.

"Perhaps my skepticism is in part caused by my concern as to why this meeting at Chalmers was held in the first place and why Mr. Jeyanayagam was invited to participate," he said.

"After the meeting had concluded, for reasons that I find somewhat bewildering, Mr. Jeyanayagam concluded his notes by referring to Mrs. Takhar making lunch arrangements, the minister going out to make some mobile phone calls and to the fact that Mr. Jeyanayagam went out to the parking lot with the minister," Osborne said in the report.

According tp Toronto Star, he also found Takhar attended a riding association meeting in December 2004 at Chalmers Group, the firm in which he has controlling interest. The company office is listed as the riding association's address and Takhar maintains a parking space there, despite having given up his title as president and CEO.

Takhar also had just vague recollection of attending his business office — something strictly forbidden under the Act — "on a number of other occasions" besides a controversial April 29 visit last year, during which he was photographed.

But it is also quite clear that Takhar broke rules. Rules that are in place to instil confidence in the integrity of an MPP, and particularly a cabinet minister.

As Conservative Leader John Tory said: "If you are guilty of a lapse of judgment, if you are guilty of this kind of conduct, what does it take around here for you to lose your job in cabinet?"

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NRI Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar