Fed­eral ethics watch­dog raises con­cerns

The Prince George Citizen - - Front Page - Joan BRY­DEN

OT­TAWA — The fed­eral ethics watch­dog says he’s con­cerned that Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer’s of­fice en­cour­aged a Tory MP to vi­o­late the con­flict-of-in­ter­est code for mem­bers of the House of Com­mons.

In a writ­ten rul­ing Tues­day, Mario Dion says Cal­gary Con­ser­va­tive MP Stephanie Kusie con­tra­vened the code last March 29 when she posted on so­cial me­dia a let­ter she’d sent the ethics com­mis­sioner that day ask­ing him to in­ves­ti­gate Raj Gre­wal, who was a Lib­eral MP at the time.

Kusie was one of two MPs to ask Dion to in­ves­ti­gate whether Gre­wal was in a con­flict of in­ter­est when he in­vited a con­struc­tion com­pany ex­ec­u­tive – who was pay­ing Gre­wal for le­gal ser­vices at the time – to of­fi­cial events with Justin Trudeau dur­ing the prime min­is­ter’s trip to In­dia early this year.

Gre­wal was kicked out of the Lib­eral cau­cus last week amid rev­e­la­tions that he was un­der po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter rack­ing up enor­mous gam­bling debts.

Dion says he’s im­pos­ing no sanc­tion on Kusie be­cause she posted her ethics com­plaint on the ad­vice of the Op­po­si­tion Leader’s Of­fice (the “OLO,” in Par­lia­ment Hill jar­gon).

In­deed, Dion in­di­cates he’s troubled by the cava­lier at­ti­tude Scheer’s staff took to­ward a rule meant to pre­vent dis­clo­sure of an ethics com­plaint against an MP un­til that MP has been no­ti­fied.

Un­der the code, an MP who re­quests an ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tion is pro­hib­ited from mak­ing any pub­lic com­ment on the mat­ter un­til the com­mis­sioner con­firms that the sub­ject of the in­quiry has re­ceived a copy of the com­plaint, or 14 days af­ter the re­quest is made, which­ever is ear­lier.

He says Scheer’s of­fice first gave Kusie’s let­ter to the Na­tional Post, sev­eral hours be­fore the com­mis­sioner re­ceived it, and then urged her to post it on Face­book and Twit­ter.

“I am con­cerned that Mrs. Kusie re­ceived in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice from the OLO en­cour­ag­ing her to make pub­lic com­ments once the OLO had made her re­quest pub­lic as this clearly prompted her to con­tra­vene a pro­vi­sion of the code,” he says.

Dion says Scheer’s of­fice urged Kusie to post her let­ter, de­spite know­ing that other MPs – in­clud­ing Scheer him­self – had pre­vi­ously run afoul of the code by pre­ma­turely dis­clos­ing their re­quests for in­ves­ti­ga­tions. He notes that in Jan­uary 2017 the leader had been forced to apol­o­gize for pub­lic com­ments about a re­quest for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s con­duct.

Yet, Dion says both Kusie and an aide told him that in their deal­ings with Scheer’s of­fice on the mat­ter, “they had never been in­formed of past in­ci­dents in­volv­ing other mem­bers but in­stead were en­cour­aged to post on so­cial me­dia.”

Only af­ter Dion in­formed Kusie a week later that she might have con­tra­vened the code did the leader’s staff men­tion those past in­ci­dents.

And even then, Dion says an email to Kusie from her as­sis­tant summed up ad­vice from the leader’s of­fice this way: “Staff in OLO did not think that the com­mis­sioner’s con­cerns were ‘a big deal,’ had noted that other mem­bers had been ‘sim­i­larly rep­ri­manded’ and had sought to ob­tain ap­proval to ‘leak out the let­ter (Mrs. Kusie) re­ceived con­firm­ing that the ethics com­mis­sioner is in­deed in­ves­ti­gat­ing Gre­wal.’ ”

As well, the leader’s staff pro­posed get­ting the Na­tional Post to cor­rect its March 29 story to delete a ref­er­ence to Kusie’s shar­ing her let­ter to the ethics com­mis­sioner with the news­pa­per. The Post did up­date its story on April 5, spec­i­fy­ing that it got a copy of the let­ter from “a Con­ser­va­tive staffer.”

Dion con­cludes that Kusie’s vi­o­la­tion of the code “was an er­ror in judg­ment made in good faith” and on the ad­vice of the leader’s of­fice and con­se­quently rec­om­mends no sanc­tions be im­posed.

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