Gambling MP made ‘right’ call to resign
Grewal now wants to stay on, but PMO says Liberal’s first instinct to quit is better move
OTTAWA— Brampton MP Raj Grewal’s initial decision to quit politics to take care of his admitted gambling problem was the “right” call, the Prime Minister's Office says, suggesting that it disagrees with his surprise announcement that he might not resign after all.
An official from the PMO said on background Saturday that no one from the office has had contact with Grewal since Nov. 22.
Asked about Grewal’s Friday statement that he is rethinking his decision to resign, the official pointed out that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already said he believes Grewal’s first impulse to step down was “the right one.” More than a week after Grewal shocked Parliament Hill with his resignation announcement, he posted a video on Facebook in which he apologized for his silence amidst reports of his sizable personal debts and police investigations into his gambling activities.
He said that his initial decision to resign was “ill-advised” and made in a hurry when he was “highly emotional” and exhausted.
Instead, Grewal said he would leave the Liberal caucus and take a leave of absence to treat “mental health issues” that caused him to borrow millions of dollars from family and friends — money he said he has fully repaid — to fuel his gambling.
He said he will decide whether to step down as the MP for Brampton East by the time Parliament returns after the winter break in January.
But NDP MP Nathan Cullen said that Grewal’s video raises many more questions, notably where did the MP get the millions of dollars to repay his debts at a time when he has a sizable mortgage on a downtown Toronto condo.
“I think in attempting to answer what are really disturbing questions about his behaviour, Mr. Grewal ended up raising even more questions,” Cullen said.
“He says he borrowed millions of dollars from his family to pay off his gambling debts. Now he says he’s paid those family members back with what money from whom?” Cullen (Skeena-Bulkey Valley) said in an interview Saturday.
“We have sympathy, we have compassion for people with addictions. That’s not the problem here,” he said.
The development caps a week of turmoil and speculation around Grewal, who was first elected in 2015.
Grewal broke his weeklong silence in the video posted on Facebook, saying he now wanted to “share my story, because Canadians deserve to know what happened,” and to dampen speculation about his spending and reports of a police investigation.
In the video, the 33-year-old politician detailed how recreational gambling during university became a crippling and costly addiction that has cost him millions of dollars.
He says he never thought that he would suffer from “mental health and addiction issues, but it became a significant personal problem that I now recognize and take responsibility for.”
During his time in Ottawa, the MP stayed at the Hilton hotel in Gatineau, which is connected to the Casino du Lac-Leamy. Grewal said his casino visits starting in 2016 “quickly escalated” as he played high stakes, high limit blackjack, playing 15 to 30 minutes at a table.
“I either won a lot of money, which made me continue to chase wins, or I lost a significant amount of money, which threw me into complete despair,” Grewal said.
The gambling losses ran into the millions of dollars, but Grewal said he kept playing, using cash borrowed from friends and family.
The Globe and Mail has reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been in- vestigating Grewal, and that his spending also attracted the attention of the federal agency that monitors unusual finance transactions.
But Grewal sought to dispel questions about his spending and the origins of his money, saying that every personal loan was by cheque.
“Everybody has been paid back, and every loan and repayment is transparent and traceable,” he said.
“This has nothing to do at all with anything sinister except to feed my own addiction,” Grewal said.
“My sins are not ones based in corruption and dishonesty, they are born out of human frailty.”
In light of his disclosure, Grewal also faced questions about his work on the Commons’ finance committee this year and his queries to witnesses about money laundering.
But Grewal said those topics were based on his briefing for the committee work by his own staff. To suggest that he was trying to figure out if authorities were on to his gambling habit, he said, “is to stretch reality.”
Grewal said he left the com- mittee in September because of his desire to try something different.
The politician said he first told his family about the problem on Nov. 5 and spoke to the Prime Minister’s Office on Nov. 19. Three days later, he announced he was resigning his seat for “personal and medical reasons.” The Prime Minister’s Office revealed that next day Grewal had a gambling problem.
Grewal is already the subject of an investigation by Parliament’s ethics commissioner that may also now be involving the RCMP. Opposition parties raised concerns about a conflict of interest when Grewal invited the chief executive of a Brampton construction company to hobnob with cabinet ministers and high-ranking government officials during the prime minister’s February trip to India.
That company, ZGemi Inc., paid Grewal for legal work after he became an MP in the 2015 election. The former Bay St. lawyer was also paid by a Brampton law firm called Gahir and Associates, according to his most recent disclosure with the ethics commissioner, from last December.
In his statement Friday night, Grewal said both sources of income — on top of his $175,000 salary as an MP — were approved by the ethics commissioner. He said he ended his relationship with one of the employers in January 2018, and continues to work with the other in a limited capacity to maintain his “legal skill set.” He did not say which one he continues to work for.
Speaking Saturday in Buenos Aires, where he was attending a meeting of G20 leaders, Trudeau said his officials had learned police were also asking questions related to the ethics investigation “but we had no information at that point that there was any connection to a gambling problem.”
Grewal also addressed details reported in the media about his three lines of credit, which he said are related to student debts, as well as a mortgage and co-signed loans on vehicles.
Public registries show he had a $1.5-million mortgage on a Bay St. condo, as well as loans that he co-signed on three vehicles since August 2017: one for a 2017 Land Rover, co-signed with ZGemi Inc., worth $116,824 and two others with Jaskarn Dhillon from earlier this year to purchase a 2018 Jeep Wrangler and a 2019 Dodge Ram 1500.
Grewal said in his video that he co-signed one lease for a friend who needed a car and has one for his personal vehicle. He also said that he and his wife jointly purchased a condo for $1.4 million and that their mortgage is currently $1 million.
Grewal said his wife, who he married just four months ago, was in the dark about his gambling problem since their finances are separate.
The MP said he cannot express the “shame and embarrassment that comes with his gambling problem.
“I know I have shocked many and left everyone wondering how someone with education and privilege could do something so senseless,” he said.