Canada environment minister pressed over probe

Mon Dec 10, 2007 4:53pm EST
 
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Opposition legislators on Monday pressed Canadian Environment Minister John Baird to explain what connection he might have to a potential influence-peddling scandal involving the mayor of Ottawa.

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien was charged on Monday with trying to bribe an opponent to drop out of a mayoral race last year and of pretending to have influence with a minister in Canada's Conservative government.

Police laid the charges after rival candidate Terry Kilrea alleged O'Brien approached him and suggested he quit the race in return for a job and help with his expenses. Kilrea said O'Brien suggested Baird -- also the political minister for the Ottawa region -- might be able to help find him a job.

Baird denies he ever talked to O'Brien about Kilrea, who eventually dropped out of the race.

"There are conflicting statements between Mr. Baird and witness statements that seem to have been provided to (police) that say a meeting took place between Mr Baird and Mr O'Brien concerning this matter," Liberal member of Parliament Mark Holland told reporters.

"These concerns clearly have to be answered and Mr. Baird should step aside until they are ... frankly the minister should not be in his position while this cloud is hanging over him," he said.

Baird is in Bali for a meeting of environment ministers. His chief spokesman did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment on the matter.

O'Brien said he was innocent and declared himself ready to continue in his job.

"In order to do the right thing, however, and to allow a proper discussion of the implications of this matter, I will hold back my final decision until I've had a chance to listen to the public and ... convene and listen to a special meeting of council," he told councilors.

O'Brien -- who acknowledged to a newspaper that he had met Kilrea to discuss his rivals' expenses -- is due to make his first court appearance on January 9 next year. Kilrea says he did not accept any money from O'Brien.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Edited by Peter Galloway)

 
<p>Canada's Environment Minister John Baird stands to speak in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 6, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>