Controversial Tory MLA Peter Sandhu a surprise guest on Alison Redford’s Punjab tour

DEAN BENNETT
THE CANADIAN PRESS

EDMONTON — A controversial Edmonton member of the legislature has made a surprise guest appearance at Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s business trip in India.

Peter Sandhu

Alison Redford in Punjab (l) and Peter Sandhu (r). Handouts/Postmedia

Peter Sandhu was on hand Monday in the Punjab as Redford signed a deal to increase trade relations with the state government.

Redford’s spokesperson, Neala Barton, said Sandhu is not part of Redford’s group on the trip, which is costing taxpayers $120,200.

Barton said he flew over to India on his own and will not be reimbursed for any expenses.

“He basically said, ‘I’m going to be there anyway. Is it OK if I join you for this part of the mission?”‘ said Barton, who said his offer was accepted.

Sandhu’s spokesman, Felicia Dewar, said Sandhu flew to India on Jan. 5. He has family in the region and other commitments, but asked to help out at the signing, she said.

Sandhu spent much of 2013 outside Redford’s PC caucus while Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson investigated him for breaching ethics rules.

In a report released last Oct. 17, Wilkinson determined Sandhu, who represents the riding of Edmonton-Manning, broke the rules when he failed to notify the legislature about six outstanding liens against him and his home building company. Wilkinson ruled that Sandhu should not be punished because he had been acting on the advice of his lawyer, who said the lawsuits were so close to being completed they didn’t need to be reported.

Sandhu was also investigated by Wilkinson for lobbying cabinet ministers and bureaucrats for changes to what Sandhu termed “vexatious” liens against his building company and against other builders.

Wilkinson noted that even government officials felt Sandhu was crossing the line from public advocacy to lobbying for personal benefit. However, Wilkinson noted that because Sandhu was lobbying for changes that would benefit others as well as himself, it did not constitute an ethics breach.

Redford’s caucus reinstated Sandhu on Dec. 10.

Barton said no snub was intended by not inviting Sandhu on the India trip.

She said the delegation had to work to keep costs down, which meant the line had to be drawn somewhere.

“You can’t take everybody every time you go.”

Redford is being accompanied on the trip by Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar and Naresh Bhardwaj, the associate minister responsible for persons with disabilities.

Redford has been in India since last Friday and already signed a similar trade pact with the Indian state of Meghalaya. Monday’s deal with the Punjab government involves agriculture and animal genetics and will establish a working group to expand trade ties on other projects.

Critics say the India trip is too lavish and borders on junketeering. They have criticized pictures posted by the premier’s office of Redford as a tourist snapping pictures at the Taj Mahal.

Redford will tour India for the rest of the week before heading to Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.

The province estimates more than $102 million worth of products and services are exported to India from Alberta each year.

16:32ET 13-01-14

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