CANADA: Minister Hussen’s office gave $93,000 in PR work to senior staffer’s sister’s food business

Canada: Minister Hussen's Office Gave $93,000 In Pr Work To Senior Staffer's Sister's Food Business
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Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office admitted Thursday night that his senior staffer is the sister of the director of a foodie communications company that received $93,050 in constituency funds.

Hussen’s office confirmed that his policy manager, Tia Tariq, is the sister of Hiba Tariq, the director of Munch More Media, the company that has been awarded lucrative contracts to help the York South-Weston MP reach voters.

However, Hussen’s office said the arrangement was disclosed to the federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

“(Tia Tariq) has not been involved at all in any of the ways that Munch More Media is helping Minister Hussen as an MP to her constituents,” Brittany Hendrych said in an interview with Global News Thursday night.

“We take those obligations very seriously when it comes to this … Everything – it was disclosed and the rules were followed in this case.”

Hendrych added that the minister’s office, where Tia Tariq works, and Hussen’s constituency office, which pays Hiba Tariq’s company, are two separate entities.

Lobbying shows that Tia Tariq has worked with Hussen since at least 2017, when he was immigration minister, and has held a number of positions in Hussen’s office since then. She now serves as Hussen’s policy manager.

Hiba Tariq, her sister, is director of PR firm Munch More Media Inc., a foodie communications firm in Toronto. In a December 2015 Instagram post, Hiba tagged another Instagram user and identified them as siblings.

In her Instagram profile, Tia describes herself as a “politician” working on “policy for #TeamTrudeau.”

Munch More Media has received at least $93,050 in communications work for Hussen’s York South—Weston constituency office since January 2021. Global News first reported the contracts through an analysis of publicly available expense records.

The contracts coincide with Tia Tariq’s time as a senior advisor to Hussen.

Hussen declined Global’s interview request on Tuesday. When asked directly if Hussen had any personal relationship with anyone at Munch More Media, the minister’s office did not address the issue, saying only that Hussen followed House of Commons rules in awarding the contracts.

After Global News contacted them again on Thursday with additional questions about Tia Tariq, Hussen’s office acknowledged the familial connection between his policy director and the company that handled his constituency communications.

“The minister has no relationship with Hiba, apart from the fact that they have this contract with the communications company,” Hendrych said.

MPs are allowed to use publicly funded constituency money on communications work, although Hussen was one of only three ministers who had spent significant sums on PR in recent months.

However, all federal public office holders must avoid conflicts of interest.

When Hiba Tariq first asked if she had a personal relationship with Hussen before the contracts, Hiba Tariq replied that she did not. After follow-up questions, she confirmed that she knew Hussen’s former policy manager, Abdikhier Ahmed.

Ahmed confirmed that he is the co-director of “Empire of Goodness”, a non-profit organization, along with Hiba Tariq.

A liberal source told Global before the first story was published that Hussen was unaware of the connection between Hiba Tariq and Ahmed. However, after several calls this week, Hussen’s office acknowledged no connection between the director of Munch More Media and one of his most senior advisers.

Neither Hiba Tariq nor Tia Tariq returned requests for comment Thursday evening.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Thursday, before the latest revelations about the connection between Hussen’s office and Munch More Media, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the details of the initial story “obviously problematic.”

“There’s a smell test, and if something smells bad, I shouldn’t do it. Sending money to close friends without a clear process in place obviously doesn’t pass the smell test,” says Singh.

“What we’re seeing in this case, and as we’ve seen in cases recently with other ministers, is that (the Liberals) always seem to find a way to give these contracts to people they’re friends with, or people their friends are friends with ,” conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said in an interview with Global Thursday.

In December, Trade Minister Mary Ng apologized for breaching ethics rules in relation to $17,000 in contracts awarded by the company to her friend, liberal commentator Amanda Alvaro.

“There is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend’s company,” Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said in a statement at the time.

In 2020, then-Toronto MP Yasmin Ratansi resigned from the Liberal caucus after it emerged she had hired her sister to work in her constituency office.

At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “deeply disappointed” by the revelations, describing them as “unacceptable”.

Ratansi described her decision to hire her sister as “an error in judgment.”

The federal ethics commissioner eventually determined that Ratansi had breached the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons, but imposed no sanction.