New Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger in conflict of interest as she was handpicked by Trudeau through secretive, PMO-controlled process – must refer investigation to person independent of her and all parties or DWatch will go to court
Auditor General should also audit past Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd’s and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s extremely weak enforcement records
Review of federal ethics and lobbying laws next year must close loopholes, strengthen enforcement, make Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner independent, and add high fines as penalties
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, January 8, 2018
OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch released the December 28th letter it received from the Lobbying Commissioner confirming that the Commissioner’s office is investigating its complaint filed on December 20th concerning whether the Aga Khan’s gift of the Bahamas trip given to Prime Minister Trudeau in December 2014 and December 2016, and to Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan in December 2016, violated the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.
The Lobbying Commissioner calls the initial investigation stage an “administrative review” but, in fact, it is an investigation that leads to an investigator giving an investigation report to the Lobbying Commissioner who then makes a ruling on whether a full investigation is warranted.
"An independent investigation about whether the Aga Khan a year ago violated the lobbyist ethics code by giving the trip gift to PM Trudeau and MP O’Regan should have been initiated a year ago,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given that she was handpicked by Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, the Lobbying Commissioner is in a conflict of interest and so must delegate the investigation to a person who is independent of her and all federal political parties.”
Democracy Watch will soon file a court case challenging the appointments of new Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion and new Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger as both commissioners’ offices were investigating situations involving Trudeau and other Cabinet ministers or Liberal MPs when they were chosen through secretive, PMO- and Cabinet-controlled selection processes. In the meantime, it is requesting that both commissioners recuse themselves from all investigations and rulings given they both have a reasonable apprehension of bias in favour of the Liberals.
CBC reported on December 22nd that another person had complained to the Lobbying Commissioner about the Aga Khan’s trip gift to Trudeau sometime in the past year, and that former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd had issued a ruling last September that even though the Aga Khan is on the boards of both the Aga Khan Foundation and the Global Centre for Pluralism, both of which are registered to lobby the federal government, because he wasn’t paid to lobby for them the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct do not apply to him.
Democracy Watch’s December 20th complaint is essentially asking for an independent re-consideration of Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling, given that she was in a conflict of interest at the time she issued the ruling as she was serving on a renewable six-month sole-source contract handed to her by the Trudeau Cabinet last June. Democracy Watch will soon file a court case challenging Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling in court.
Democracy Watch also repeated its call on the Auditor General to audit Commissioner Dawson's record over the past 10 years because she has let 95% of people alleged to have violated the rules off the hook, and made 218 secret rulings. Commissioner Dawson finishes her term in office today.
Democracy Watch is also calling on the Auditor General to audit the Lobbying Commissioner and RCMP because they have let off the hook 84% of people who she has caught violating the Code or the Lobbying Act. Commissioner Shepherd finished her term in office on December 29th.
Hundreds of Canadians have joined the call on the Auditor General to audit the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner and RCMP -- see details here.
"Ethics Commissioner Dawson went out with a bang by finally finding Prime Minister Trudeau guilty of violating the ethics law but her overall record since 2007 is as a lapdog who has let almost everyone off and the Auditor General should audit to find out if she covered up any past wrongdoing," said Conacher. "Lobbying Commissioner Shepherd went out with a whimper by issuing only one public ruling in the past two years since the Liberals were elected, and she also let almost everyone off since 2008 so the Auditor General should also audit her negligently weak record."
Prime Minister Trudeau faces no penalty for violating the federal ethics law even though it is one of the key laws that safeguards Canada's democracy. The ethics rules for Cabinet ministers have existed back to when Trudeau's father was Prime Minister but all prime ministers since have rejected the proposal to impose penalties for violations.
Other ongoing problems with the federal government ethics system are that Ethics Commissioner Dawson didn't catch Prime Minister Trudeau violating the law by taking the trip gift because she has refused to do basic audits since 2007 to ensure everyone is complying with the law. In addition, the law has huge loopholes that allow Cabinet ministers to profit from their decisions, as the scandal involving Finance Minister Morneau has revealed.
As well, the Trudeau Cabinet has just handpicked the new Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion and new Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Belanger through a secretive, PMO-controlled process that Democracy Watch will be challenging in court in January. See details here.
The Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act are required to be reviewed by the House Ethics Committee in 2018. The Conservatives rejected many key proposed changes when the laws were last reviewed by the Committee. See details about the changes needed to close loopholes and strengthen enforcement of the Conflict of Interest Act here.
See details about the changes needed to close loopholes and strengthen enforcement and penalties for the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct here.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179 Cell: 416-546-3443
Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign page