Tuesday Â» December 2 Â» 2003 Martin took rides on private jets Conflict commissioner clears him because planes were owned by 'close personal friends' Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief         CanWest News Service Tuesday, December 02, 2003 CREDIT: Carlo Allegri, National Post Paul Martin, left, with Gerry Schwartz at a Raptors game. OTTAWA - Paul Martin flew on private corporate jets of some of Canada's wealthiest businessmen for pleasure and business during his years as finance minister. The trips were not publicly declared as required under federal conflict of interest rules. Howard Wilson, the federal Ethics Counsellor, said yesterday that Mr. Martin, who becomes prime minister on Dec. 12, took five trips aboard corporate jets between 1995 and 2002, a time when he was making major decisions affecting corporate taxation and programs related to the business sector. Mr. Martin flew to the Caribbean on holidays in 2002 on New Brunswick billionaire Wallace McCain's corporate jet. In 1995 and 1999, he joined Montreal multi-millionaire Lawrence Pathy on his company jet for a family vacation. Mr. Pathy is a former business partner of Mr. Martin's in Canada Steamship Lines. As finance minister, Mr. Martin also flew in 2000 aboard the company jet of Power Corp. of Canada, run by Montreal billionaire Paul Desmarais, and in 2001 on corporate aircraft of Toronto-based Onex Corp., whose chairman Gerry Schwartz is a close friend. "I have been provided with information that he had taken some flights. This is all official business and there was reimbursement made as was our practice at the time for the commercial costs," Mr. Wilson said. Mr. Wilson said Mr. Martin had accepted free trips aboard the corporate jets for personal reasons but said he absolved him of any conflict of interest because the aircraft were owned by personal friends. The Conflict of Interest Code forbids ministers from accepting gifts greater than $200 that are unrelated to their official duties, but allows for benefits from "close personal friends." "He would give me a call -- Mr. Martin directly -- about a few things and our general approach was that ... if it is a personal friend, then we would not have any difficulties," he said. Mr. McCain, who owns Maple Leaf Foods and is a principal shareholder in McCain Foods, was judged a close personal friend of Mr. Martin's, as was Mr. Pathy. Mr. Wilson said he asked Mr. Martin to have Ottawa reimburse Mr. Desmarais and Mr. Schwartz for the trips because they involved some finance department business. Mr. Martin also personally reimbursed Mr. Schwartz for accommodation at a B.C. fishing lodge they went to in 2001 and later flew back to Ottawa on the Onex plane. "From my perspective, that was official business and so therefore our standard response was to have the office pay for the trip and they did," Mr. Wilson said. "I guess the lodging he was in was also reimbursed, but that was probably done by him personally." The disclosure of Mr. Martin's use of corporate jets while he was finance minister came only after persistent inquiries by CanWest News Service. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Martin's officials had refused to say whether Mr. Martin used corporate aircraft during last month's furor over a series of ministers who flew on jets and holidayed for free at a fishing lodge owned by the billionaire Irving family of New Brunswick. The Martin flights were never publicly disclosed on the list of ministerial gifts as required under the conflict code. The code states any gift over $200 requires a "public declaration that provides sufficient detail to identify the gift, hospitality or other benefit received, the donor and the circumstances." The only gift Mr. Martin declared during his nine years as finance minister was an engraving of the Palacio Real in Madrid that he received in 1994 while attending an International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting in Spain. Mr. Wilson said Mr. Martin didn't have to publicly declare the Desmarais and Schwartz trips because he "discharged whatever obligation there might have been" by having taxpayers reimburse Power Corp. and Onex. He added that the rule for public disclosure of gifts over $200 is often not applied, which was why Mr. Martin did not bother to declare the vacation flights with his corporate friends. "If it's an invitation from a family member or a close personal friend, our practice has been not to have a public declaration of those," he said. Scott Reid, a Martin spokesman, said Mr. Martin followed Mr. Wilson's instructions: "He was aware of all five trips and was content the rules were followed." Last month it emerged that Industry Minister Allan Rock, Environment Minister David Anderson, Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart, Labour Minister Claudette Bradshaw and Dominic Leblanc, parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Jim McCallum, accepted free flights or holidays at the Irving salmon lodge. When the issue hit Parliament, Ms. Bradshaw, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Rock reimbursed the Irvings. In most of the cases, Mr. Wilson found the Cabinet ministers either knew a member of the Irving family or were close to people who did, and therefore concluded they did not breach the rules. firstname.lastname@example.org Â© Copyright 2003 National Post Copyright Â© 2003 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest Global Communications Corp. All rights reserved. Optimized for browser versions 4.0 and higher.