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Democracy Watch calls for independent ethics inquiry into PM giving contract to his friend David Johnston

Interim Ethics Commissioner should not investigate if handpicked by Trudeau Cabinet – Commissioner should be appointed by all parties after independent committee does merit-based search for a short list of qualified candidates

Monday, April 24, 2023

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the 6-page letter it has sent to the federal Ethics Commissioner’s office calling for an independent investigation and ruling on whether Prime Minister Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act (the “COIA”) by giving his friend David Johnston a government contract to be “special rapporteur” on foreign interference.

As Democracy Watch’s letter details, both Prime Minister Trudeau and David Johnston have said publicly that they are friends.

As the letter also details, the COIA prohibits the PM, Cabinet ministers, their staff and appointees from furthering the private interests of themselves, their relatives and friends (sections 4 and 6(1)), as the Ethics Commissioner ruled recently on Minister Mary Ng handing a contract to her friend Amanda Alvaro, and also ruled in 2021 on former Finance Minister Bill Morneau participating in the decision to hand a grant to his friend and WE Canada co-founder Craig Kielburger.

Even if PM Trudeau and Mr. Johnston are only family friends, the COIA also prohibits “improperly” furthering the private interests of any person or entity, and it is clearly improper for the PM to hand a government contract to a family friend.

No one should call Mr. Johnston the “Independent Special Rapporteur” because he is not independent in any way from Prime Minister Trudeau – he was chosen by Trudeau; serves at his pleasure; has no job security, and; has no powers under any statute or regulation to investigate anything.

Given, unless the Liberals do the right thing and quickly change the watchdog appointment process, Trudeau will appoint the Interim Ethics Commissioner and next full-time Ethics Commissioner, whoever is handpicked as the Commissioner should not rule on DWatch’s complaint as they would be biased in favour of Trudeau (especially if they are applying to be appointed by Trudeau to the full-time Commissioner job). The Ethics Commissioner’s senior lawyer is also Trudeau Cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc’s sister-in-law.

The Federal Court of Appeal ruled unanimously in 2020 that the Cabinet is biased when it chooses democracy watchdogs like the Commissioner. The Trudeau Cabinet should, finally, remove the bias by establishing a fully independent appointments advisory committee whose members are approved by all parties in the House of Commons (which Stephen Harper promised back in 2006), with the committee doing a public, merit-based search for a short list of qualified candidates, and then an all-party House Committee would make the final choice. This appointments system should be used for all the federal democratic good government watchdogs.

“Democracy Watch is calling on the office of the ethics commissioner to ensure an independent investigation into Prime Minister Trudeau handing his friend David Johnston a government contract,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “If the Trudeau Cabinet chooses the interim ethics commissioner, then that person should not rule on this situation because they will be biased in favour of Trudeau.”

“The Federal Court of Appeal has ruled that the Cabinet is biased when they choose watchdogs who enforce laws that apply to the Cabinet, and so the appointments system must change for all the watchdogs by having a fully independent committee doing a public, merit-based search for qualified candidates, and then an all-party committee making the final choice,” said Conacher.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s and Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign