National Post (Latest Edition)
Wealth of all MPS should be made public
TARRING AND FEATHERING GOES HAND IN HAND WITH LYNCHING — COSH
The U.S. Federal Reserve is looking a lot like a big ol’ corruption swamp. Last week, two regional Fed presidents resigned after it came to light that they made ethically questionable multi-million dollar stock trades during the pandemic. Then, it was discovered Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida traded between $1 million and $5 million out of a bond fund into stock funds the day before the Fed said it would “act as appropriate to support the economy” in February 2020.
But that’s not all. Just as Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s term comes up for renewal — a renewal that was considered a bipartisan shooin — it turns out he owned the same type of assets his central bank bought during COVID-19. Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who’s leading the charge for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to open an insider trading probe, calls Powell “a dangerous man to head up the Fed.”
If anything similar occurred in Canada during the pandemic, when the Bank of Canada (BOC) also poured unprecedented stimulus into the economy via large-scale asset purchases, we’ll never know. This is because, unlike in the U.S., our central bank officials don’t have to publicly disclose their investments. The same goes for MPS, who also unlike their U.S. counterparts, don’t have to make public financial disclosures.
Many Canadians may not realize the investment transactions of everyone from President Joe Biden to Senator Bernie Sanders and every single member of Congress are easily searchable online. They’re entirely out in the open for the public to review. When it comes to preventing conflicts of interest and self-enrichment, this seems like a bare minimum standard of transparency.
Meanwhile, most Canadian politicians and public officials choose to keep their finances shrouded in secrecy — and the law allows them to do it, no questions asked, barring a rather weak conflict of interest code that says MPS who have a private interest that may be affected by a matter before the House of Commons or a committee they’re a part of should disclose it and abstain from debating or voting on it. However, this relies on MPS correctly identifying and choosing to share conflicts, and only requires they disclose the “general nature” of the private interest, which still allows for a layer of obfuscation. There’s also no easily accessible public registry where viewing politicians’ potential conflicts is just a Google search away.
The United Kingdom also posts an annual public registry of MP’S financial interests. Ministers in France have had to publicly disclose their wealth and personal holdings since 2013. Australian MPS also must disclose not just their financial interests in a publicly-available registry, but also their spouse’s assets.
Even in these countries with disclosure rules, there are frequent public scandals over perceived and real conflicts of interest. In the case of the Fed, these officials knew their transactions could be scrutinized, and yet they made them anyway. Various Australian scandals have led to a push for even more stringent disclosure rules and enforcement, with some saying they should meet the same standards as company directors.
Now imagine the level of corruption possible when politicians have little to no fear that their holdings and trades could be scrutinized by the media and public. Even the most ardent Canadian exceptionalists would be hard-pressed to argue our MPS and central bank officials are so much more moral, honest, and high-principled than their counterparts around the world they don’t require even the most basic level of oversight.
Canadians should have the right to know what BOC Governor Tiff Macklem holds in his portfolio. They should also know the wealth of prime ministers, MPS, and senators, as well as when they purchase or trade large assets. We also deserve more transparency when MPS choose to moonlight — and almost half of them do — while holding public office.
As the cliché goes, with great power comes great responsibility. It’s time we stopped allowing Canadian politicians and public officials to enjoy the former without the latter.