Three months have passed since Ethics Commissioner Dawson resumed her investigation into Wright – what’s taking so long? And is she going to let Wright off the hook yet again, as well as the PMO officials who helped him?
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
October 6, 2016
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch re-filed the letter it sent to federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson on December 10, 2013 and called on her to rule, finally, on whether the intervention into the Senate Committee’s audit of Senator Mike Duffy by Nigel Wright, Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin violated the Conflict of Interest Act (the “Act”). Democracy Watch’s December 2013 letter also requested an inquiry into Mr. Perrin’s actions of assisting Mr. Wright in making the payment of more than $90,000 to Senator Duffy.
Ethics Commissioner Dawson stated in her most recent annual report that she had resumed the investigation into Nigel Wright’s actions in early June. Three months have passed and the full record of what happened has already been revealed in the ruling in Senator Duffy’s court case – what’s taking her so long? And is she going to let the other PMO officials who assisted Wright off the hook?
Democracy Watch’s complaint letter is based on the provisions of the Act, publicly confirmed facts, and the evidence set out in the affidavit of RCMP Corporal Greg Horton.
Another big question is whether the Ethics Commissioner will once again let Nigel Wright off the hook as she has twice already (See Backgrounder below).
“Will Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson continue her weak lapdog enforcement record by letting Nigel Wright off the hook for a third time, and by failing, as she has more than 145 times, to rule publicly on a complaint about possible violations of the federal ethics law?” asked Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch. “Not only is an investigation of Benjamin Perrin helping Nigel Wright negotiate his payment to Senator Duffy warranted, but also investigations into the interventions by Mr. Perrin, Mr. Wright and Patrick Rogers and Chris Woodcock in the audit of Senator Duffy which were as bad as contacting a judge and trying to influence the judge’s ruling,” said Conacher.
Ethics Commissioner Dawson initiated an inquiry in 2013 into whether Nigel Wright’s payment to Senator Duffy of more than $90,000 violated the Act but she suspended that inquiry in July 2013. As a result, in Democracy Watch’s opinion there are justifiable reasons for the Ethics Commissioner to initiate an inquiry into Benjamin Perrin helping Mr. Wright negotiate the payment to Senator Duffy.
Democracy Watch’s opinion is that it seems improper for Nigel Wright, Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin to have intervened in the Senate Committee’s audit of Senator Duffy, and for Mr. Perrin to have assisted Mr. Wright in making the payment to Senator Duffy, for the following reasons:
- It seems that they either violated sections 4 and 6(1) of the Act because they made a decision “related to the exercise of an official power, duty or function” (ss.6(1)) when they “reasonably should know that, in the making of the decision” he “would be in a conflict of interest” (ss. 6(1)) because the decision provided “an opportunity . . . to improperly further another person’s private interests” (s. 4) – namely Senator Duffy’s private interest in having the results of the audit, and recommended penalties, altered to protect his financial interests (and, concerning Mr. Perrin, his interest in having someone else pay the expenses he owed);
- As well, given that they intervened in the audit in secret, it seems they also violated section 8 of the Act which prohibits using “information that is obtained in his or her position as a public office holder and that is not available to the public” to further the interest of a friend “or to improperly further or to seek to improperly further another person’s private interests”; and
- And finally, it seems by intervening in the audit process they also violated section 9 of the Act because they used their “position as a public office holder to seek to influence a decision of another person so as… to improperly further another person’s private interests.”
Democracy Watch’s opinion is that it was improper for Nigel Wright, Benjamin Perrin, Patrick Rogers and Chris Woodcock to intervene in the Senate committee’s audit process, and for all of them to obtain and convey information about the audit processes, simply because it is improper for anyone who is not involved in an audit to attempt to influence auditors.
A spokesperson for Deloitte has stated publicly that it is improper for any information about an audit to be given to anyone other than the people involved in the audit – therefore it was, by definition, improper to seek information about the audit, and to try to influence the audit. Democracy Watch’s opinion is that it is analogous to someone in government contacting a judge of a court or a tribunal in an attempt to influence the judge’s ruling.
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
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.
Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s first cover-up for Nigel Wright
Commissioner Dawson’s first cover-up for Nigel Wright was her creation of an illegal, so-called ethics screen when Wright first took the job that violated the requirement in subsection 25(1) of the Conflict of Interest Act to make a public declaration within 60 days every time Wright recused himself from a decision-making process because of a conflict of interest. This “screen” was supposedly enforced by the Deputy Chief of Staff. As a result of this cover-up, all of Wright’s recusals were kept secret, and there is no way to tell if he ever failed to recuse himself as required by the Act.
Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s second cover-up for Nigel Wright
Commissioner Dawson’s second cover-up for Wright was when she abandoned her investigation in fall 2012 without issuing a notice, let alone a ruling, of whether Wright violated the Act by taking part in discussions of issues that affect Barrick Gold. The Ethics Commissioner is allowed to do this under s. 45 of the Act. The cover-up only came to light because Canadian Press journalist Joan Bryden pressed Commissioner Dawson to make a public statement about the case. Commissioner Dawson’s statement failed to set out any reasons why she concluded that Wright had not violated the Act.
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 the rules in Annex A, Part 1 of the Guide).
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 and has ignored the rules in his code just like Prime Minister Harper did.
Because of section 66 added to the new 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. There are no mandatory penalties for violating the ethics rules in the Act. As well, if Prime Minister Harper approves it, Commissioner Dawson’s term in office can be renewed for another seven years in 2014 so she has an incentive to please him