Democracy Watch calls on Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to launch inquiry into Prime Minister inviting dozens of Liberal Party donors to gala dinner for Chinese Premier

Some donors represent companies seeking decisions from the federal government – violation of ethics law to give them preferential access to event

Approximately 33% of non-government attendees at event were Liberal Party donors – also a violation of ethics law to give them preferential access to event

Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s enforcement record since 2007 is so bad it would be tragic if she was reappointed even for another six-month term, let alone for 7 years

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, December 16, 2016

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch sent a letter to federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson calling on her to launch an inquiry into Prime Minister Trudeau giving preferential treatment to the companies and/or organizations or other individuals represented by several Liberal Party donors when he invited those donors to a gala dinner in honour of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on September, as reported in the Globe and Mail today.

According to the article, some donors who attended the event represent companies that seek decisions from the federal government, including BMO Capital Markets, Huawei Technologies Canada Co., Power Corp., and Wealth One. As well, approximately 33% of non-government attendees at the event were Liberal Party donors – another indication that Prime Minister’s Trudeau’s invitations were based on preferential treatment for donors.

It is a violation of the federal ethics law (section 7) to give preferential treatment to anyone or any business or organization based on the identity of the person who represents them. A full inquiry is needed to determine to determine whether there were other invitees who are Liberal Party fundraisers or assist the Liberal Party in some other way(s), and also represent an individual, company and/or organization that seeks decisions from the federal government and/or has lobbyists registered to lobby the federal government.

“Inviting dozens of Liberal Party donors to a gala government event where they had access to the Chinese Premier, Prime Minister Trudeau and several Liberal Cabinet ministers, clearly violates rules in the federal ethics law that prohibit giving preferential treatment to anyone based on their donation, especially when some of the donors who attended represent companies that seek decisions from the Liberal government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given that about a third of the people at the event were Liberal Party donors also amounts to preferential treatment because one-third of Canadians are not Liberal Party donors.”

The letter also requests that Ethics Commissioner Dawson disclose whether she has applied to be reappointed by Prime Minister Trudeau when her current term ends in early January. The deadline for applying to be Ethics Commissioner passed at the end of November, and then was extended by the Liberal Cabinet. The extension came after the deadline passed, so Commissioner Dawson must know whether she is applying to be reappointed.

“The public has a right to know if Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has applied to be reappointed for another term, and if she has she is in a conflict of interest and can’t rule on any situation because Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet will decide whether she gets to keep her job,” said Conacher.

In another letter sent to the Ethics Commissioner on December 6th, Democracy Watch also called for a reconsideration of Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s ruling that none of the sections of the Conflict of Interest Act apply to the fundraising events attended or hosted by Prime Minister Trudeau and/or Cabinet ministers, and an investigation into the approximately 90 high-priced, exclusive events the Liberals have held since January 1, 2016.

If Commissioner Dawson is not applying to be reappointed, she should issue the new ruling as soon as possible; if she has applied to be reappointed, she should recuse herself and designate someone else to issue the new ruling (such as a provincial ethics commissioner).

“Any high-priced, exclusive, invite-only fundraising event attended or hosted by the Prime Minister, Cabinet minister or their staff clearly violates rules in the federal ethics law that prohibit giving preferential treatment to anyone based on their donation, and prohibit soliciting or accepting their donation because of the conflict of interest it causes,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch’s position is that, based on the main purpose of the Conflict of Interest Act of preventing conflicts of interests and resolving them in the public interest (as set out in section 3), the events are a violation of one or more (depending on the situation) of the following sections of the Conflict of Interest Act:

  • section 7 which prohibits giving preferential treatment to anyone based on their identity (including being a top-level donor);
  • section 5 that requires ministers to arrange their private affairs to prevent conflicts of interest;
  • section 16 which prohibits soliciting donations if it would cause a conflict of interest (which includes real, apparent or potential conflicts of interest);
  • subsection 11(1) which prohibits accepting any gift or other advantage that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence the minister.

Democracy Watch also pointed out in another letter it sent on December 14th to the Ethics Commissioner that Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet are also in a conflict of interest that means they can’t decide who will be the Ethics Commissioner after Commissioner Dawson’s term ends in early January.

“Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet are in a clear conflict of interest when choosing who will be the ethics watchdog who watches over them, especially when there are active complaints about them filed with the watchdog,” said Conacher. “The only solution is to change the Cabinet appointment process to have a fully independent commission, whose members are approved by all federal party leaders, do a public, non-partisan, merit-based search for the next ethics commissioner, and require the Trudeau Cabinet to choose from a short-list of candidates that the commission proposes.”

To stop patronage and cronyism, and the appointment of weak government watchdogs and law enforcement officers, Democracy Watch has called for this change to the process for all Cabinet appointments in its Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign. Ontario uses this appointment system to appoint provincial judges, and it is considered to be a world-leading process.

Democracy Watch also urged federal politicians not to reappoint Ethics Commissioner Dawson given how negligently weak her enforcement record has been since 2007. “It would be tragic if Ethics Commissioner Dawson was reappointed because it would mean Canadians would have to wait even longer for effective enforcement of the federal government ethics rules,” said Conacher. (See Backgrounder below for details)

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Money in Politics Campaign


BACKGROUNDER

1. Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s weak enforcement record

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has had a very weak enforcement record since 2007, including (as of June 2015) making 149 secret rulings, issuing only 25 public rulings, and letting 75 (94%) of people who clearly violated ethics rules off the hook.

Because of section 66 added to the then-new Conflict of Interest Act by the Conservatives in 2006, the Ethics Commissioner’s rulings cannot be challenged in court if she has factual or legal errors in her rulings. If this section had not been added to the Act, Democracy Watch would have challenged several of Commissioner Dawson’s rulings since 2007 in court.

Democracy Watch is currently challenging Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s use of conflict-of-interest screens in court on the basis that the screens are unlawful.

2. Conflict of Interest Act missing key rules and accountability measures

The Conservatives broke a 2006 election promise (one of their many broken accountability promises) to include key ethics rules in the new Conflict of Interest Act prohibiting dishonesty and being in even an appearance of a conflict of interest, as Prime Minister Harper instead put those rules in his Accountable Government code for ministers and other senior officials so he could ignore the rules (as he did until the Conservatives were defeated in the 2015 election – see especially the rules in Annex A, Part 1 of the code).

The Liberals made no promises in their 2015 election platform to close the huge loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Act (and they also made no promises to close the huge loopholes in the Lobbying Act or the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act). Instead, Prime Minister Trudeau re-named and re-issued the Accountability Government code as his Open and Accountable Government code. He has ignored the rules in his code just like Prime Minister Harper did.