Ethics watch­dog makes pitch for greater pow­ers

Seeks abil­ity to fine min­is­ters up to $10K

Calgary Herald - - CANADA - Teresa Wright

• Canada’s ethics watch­dog says he would like to have greater pow­ers to im­pose penal­ties against cabi­net min­is­ters and pub­lic-of­fice hold­ers who vi­o­late con­flict rules, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to levy fines of up to $10,000.

Con­flict of In­ter­est Com­mis­sioner Mario Dion says he be­lieves strongly in the im­por­tance of up­hold­ing ethics rules in gov­ern­ment, but the con­flict-of-in­ter­est law gives him lim­ited pow­ers of ac­tion when some­one does break the rules.

“I would re­ally like to have the power to ex­press a point of view as (to) the grav­ity of the con­tra­ven­tion when we find a con­tra­ven­tion, (and) what kind of sanc­tions should be taken,” he said in an in­ter­view.

“It’s im­por­tant to know that there will be con­se­quences if you don’t respect some­thing.”

Ques­tions about penal­ties, or lack thereof, for cabi­net min­is­ters who break ethics rules were raised fol­low­ing a rul­ing Wed­nes­day that In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Do­minic LeBlanc breached con­flict of in­ter­est law when he ap­proved an Arc­tic surf clam li­cence to a com­pany that em­ployed a fam­ily mem­ber.

Dion de­ter­mined that LeBlanc knew his wife’s first cousin was in­volved in the Five Na­tions Clam Co. and also knew the cousin stood to ben­e­fit fi­nan­cially when award­ing the com­pany a multi-mil­lion dol­lar li­cence last Fe­bru­ary.

LeBlanc should have re­cused him­self from the de­ci­sion, Dion ruled.

De­spite the find­ing, no penal­ties were at­tached to the rul­ing and so far, LeBlanc has not been sanc­tioned pub­licly by the prime min­is­ter.

Rex Matthews, mayor of Grand Bank, N.L., says LeBlanc should re­sign or be re­moved from cabi­net for his role in the li­cens­ing deal, which the gov­ern­ment has since halted. It would have ended a mo­nop­oly on the Arc­tic clam fish­ery held by Clear­wa­ter Seafoods, lo­cated in Matthews’ com­mu­nity.

“He should have known, if there’s any pos­si­bil­ity of a con­flict of in­ter­est, you should re­move your­self,” Matthews said.

“What kind of mes­sage does that send? When the ethics com­mis­sioner says that you’re in vi­o­la­tion of pub­lic of­fice, to me, what more do you need to say? You have made a big mis­take and you should pay for that mis­take.”

The Con­flict of In­ter­est Act came into ef­fect in 2007 as part of the Harper ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Fed­eral Ac­count­abil­ity Act, which came in the wake of the Lib­eral spon­sor­ship scan­dal of the early 2000s.

The act gov­erns the ac­tions of 2,400 pub­lic-of­fice hold­ers.

The only penal­ties are fines of no more than $500, which ap­ply if a pub­lic-of­fice holder fails to re­port within cer­tain time frames re­ceiv­ing things such as gifts or of­fers of em­ploy­ment.

No penal­ties ex­ist for in­frac­tions such as LeBlanc’s — ex­cept the act of ex­pos­ing the ac­tions by way of a re­port, Dion said.

He said the $500 penalty is “very low” and should be in­creased and broad­ened as an “in­cen­tive not to breach the obli­ga­tions.”

“Some­thing in the or­der of $10,000 as a max­i­mum for both the fail­ure to do what you’re sup­posed to do in the time that you’re sup­posed to do it, but also for sub­stan­tive con­tra­ven­tion of the act, as well.”

Speak­ing to re­porters in Saska­toon Thurs­day, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said he be­lieves Cana­di­ans are “re­as­sured” that Canada has “one of the strong­est ethics frames in gov­ern­ments around the world.”

“We work with the ethics com­mis­sioner, we accept the ethics com­mis­sioner’s find­ings and we will al­ways work to rec­tify and move for­ward in the ways the ethics com­mis­sioner rec­om­mends,” Trudeau said.

But the act does not per­mit the com­mis­sioner to rec­om­mend any­thing. That’s some­thing Dion would like to see changed.

“I think this is a cen­tral is­sue with the act. The buck stops with the re­port. Then it’s com­pletely up to politi­cians to make de­ci­sions and I’m not even able to ex­press a point of view about that,” he said.

“We get to know the sit­u­a­tion very well, and we’re in a good po­si­tion to ex­press a point of view as to what would be an ap­pro­pri­ate rem­edy. And I would like to be able to do that, but un­til the act is changed I don’t have the au­thor­ity to do that.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/FILES

Con­flict of In­ter­est Com­mis­sioner Mario Dion says he would like to have greater pow­ers to im­pose penal­ties against cabi­net min­is­ters and pub­lic-of­fice hold­ers who vi­o­late con­flict rules.

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