Ethel on offensive
Credit cards dog junior Minister

by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 08/96) - Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew has accused the Reform party of maligning her without just cause over her use of government credit cards.

"I have been villainized, I have been criticized, I have been damaged politically by these people," she said in the House of Commons, Wednesday.

"This is a party that is coming apart at the seams, that has absolutely nothing to take to the public ... They're trying to build a reputation on my back and I won't stand for it any more."

However, Reform Party members say they take no pleasure in making these accusations, they only want more information on Cabinet ethics guidelines.

The government has failed to publicly produce any guideline documents despite repeated requests from opposition parties.

Blondin-Andrew came under fire last month for using government credit cards for personal expenses.

She has repeatedly admitted doing so but has tabled expense claims, cheques and receipts in the Commons to show she always paid back the personal portion of her bills.

Blondin-Andrew said last week that in some instances her debit card couldn't be used to withdraw cash from some foreign bank machines.

However, on other occasions a credit card purchase or retainer was required.

Until last month, Blondin-Andrew had no personal credit card. She used her government-issued card and paid the money back, she said.

Howard Wilson, the government ethics counsellor, has looked into the matter twice and cleared her both times.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who has staunchly defended Blondin-Andrew through the entire credit card affair, defended her again Wednesday.

He challenged Reformers to make their accusations outside the House where they are not immune from lawsuits.

Outside the Common's, Blondin-Andrew broadened her attack to include the media, saying the facts of her credit card expenses had been blown out of proportion by some reporters.

Initial news reports said she used government credit cards to pay for vacations in Hawaii and Mexico and a fur coat.

Blondin-Andrew maintains she paid with cash or cheque for those trips and re-paid a down payment on the fur coat that required a credit card imprint.