Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet put new Lobbying Commissioner in a conflict of interest by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process that failed to consult with opposition parties as required
More than 11,000 Canadians have called for key changes to make the Cabinet appointment process actually open, independent and merit-based
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, April 20, 2018
OTTAWA – Democracy Watch released the letter it sent today to new federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger requesting that she not make any decisions concerning investigations of situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals because the Cabinet created a conflict of interest for her by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process. As well, the Cabinet failed to consult with opposition party leaders before making her appointment as required by the Lobbying Act.
As a result, Commissioner Bélanger has an appearance of bias that taints any decision she may make, including the decision she made on January 24th ending the investigation into Democracy Watch’s complaint alleging that Barry Sherman, Chair of Apotex until he passed away recently, violated rules in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by hosting an August 2015 fundraising event at his home that Justin Trudeau attended. In early March, Democracy Watch challenged Commissioner Bélanger’s ruling in Federal Court.
Democracy Watch also challenged former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd’s ruling in Federal Court in late January that the Aga Khan’s Bahamas trip gift to Prime Minister Trudeau was legal under the Lobbyists’ Code.
The office of the Commissioner of Lobbying is investigating four other Democracy Watch complaints about situations involving Prime Minister Trudeau or other Cabinet ministers (See the four situations summarized under A.1 here). Democracy Watch’s letter requests that Commissioner Bélanger not make any decisions concerning any of the four situations or any other situation involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals.
In its letter, Democracy Watch also clarified that its complaints allege that businesses and other organizations violate the Lobbyists’ Code by allowing their board members and others associated with them give gifts to or do favours for politicians and government officials.
On January 15th, Democracy Watch also filed an application in Federal Court challenging the appointment of the new Lobbying Commissioner by the Trudeau Cabinet because of the failure to consult with opposition party leaders, and because the Cabinet was in a conflict of interest as the office of the Lobbying Commissioner was investigating situations involving Prime Minister Trudeau and other Cabinet ministers at the time the appointment was made.
To allow the investigations into Democracy Watch’s complaints to continue, Democracy Watch proposes that Commissioner Bélanger delegate the situations to a provincial commissioner who is independent of her, the Trudeau Cabinet, and all federal political parties. This process has been used at the provincial level by ethics commissioners. For example, in 2016 Marguerite Trussler, Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, recused herself from investigating and ruling on a complaint because she was friends with two people involved in the matter.
“The Trudeau Cabinet put the new Lobbying Commissioner in a conflict of interest by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, and as a result the Commissioner is tainted by bias and must not rule on any situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law, and Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.
“It would be a clear conflict of interest if someone sued Prime Minister Trudeau or a Cabinet minister and the Cabinet chose which judge would hear the case, and it is just as clearly a conflict of interest for the Cabinet to choose the new Lobbying Commissioner when she is judging whether the PM and other Cabinet ministers are involved in illegal situations,” said Conacher.
More than 11,000 Canadians have signed a petition supporting Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign calling on federal parties to work together to change the appointment process for all officers of Parliament and judicial and watchdog positions, to make it actually merit-based and independent from Cabinet, and to prohibit reappointments.
For many appointments, including of the new Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner, the Trudeau Cabinet continues to use the same secretive, PMO-controlled, partisan process that past governments used.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition
Tel: (613) 241-5179