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DWatch criticizes so-called Independent Senators Group for planning a kangaroo court hearing to expel Senator Marilou McPhedran for questioning weak, loophole-filled Senate ethics and harassment measures

Senate Ethics Officer has ignored how several senators’ business board and employee positions and investments violate key ethics code rules

Monday, October 18, 2021

OTTAWA –Democracy Watch criticized the so-called “Independent Senators Group” (ISG) for planning to hold a secretive, closed-door hearing today to decide whether to expel Senator Marilou McPhedran for questioning weak, loophole-filled Senate ethics and anti-harassment rules and enforcement.

“If they want to claim to be independent, senators in the so-called Independent Senators Group should have rejected the attempt to use a secretive, kangaroo court process to punish a senator for questioning the Senate’s weak, loophole-filled ethics and anti-harassment measures,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Senators in the ISG should be ashamed for trying to expel Senator McPhedran, and it shows yet again why the Senate should be abolished as senators continue to refuse to reform it in any meaningful ways to make it democratic, ethical and accountable.”

The Senate’s anti-harassment measures, like the measures across the federal government, are far from a best-practice system to protect complainants who blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

In terms of ethics, the Senate’s Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators is full of loopholes, and Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault continues to fail to issue guidelines for key (but vague) rules in the Code. In fact, in July 2021, the Ethics Officer finally issued the first guidelines ever issued since the office was created in 2005, but only for two of the many rules in the Code.

Specifically, the Senate Ethics Officer continues to fail to explain how more than 60 senators (To see list, click here) can be paid to be board members of businesses or organizations and/or have stock market or mutual fund investments (but not disclose which companies they are invested in) and/or other paid work, and yet not be in violation of:

  1. subsection 2(1) of the Code which requires senators to give precedence to their parliamentary duties and functions over any other duty or activity;
  2. subsection 2(2) which sets out principles senators are expected to uphold, including avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest,
  3. section 7.1 that requires senators to “uphold the highest standards of dignity” and prohibits acting in a way that “could reflect adversely” on the position of Senator or the Senate overall, and;
  4. section 7.2 requires senators to perform their parliamentary functions and duties with “dignity, honour and integrity.”

“No senator can claim to be independent or provide sober second thought on any issue when they are on the board of or working for a private business or firm or have secret financial investments in the stock market,” said Conacher. “Senators should be required to work only as senators, and should only be allowed to invest in term deposits and government bonds, to prevent conflicts with their duty to act in the public interest.”

Democracy Watch sent a letter in September 2018 to Ethics Officer Legault calling on him to issue a ruling that Senator Larry Campbell’s then-position as a board member with Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (with stock options in the company), a position he retired from only in June 2021, violated the purpose and rules 2(1), 2(2) and 7.2 of the Senate ethics code.

In the letter, Democracy Watch also called on the Ethics Officer Legault to review the board positions and investments of all senators, and to issue the same ruling for any senator who holds a position as a board member, executive or employee, or who has investments, in any corporation that has interests in the province they represent or interests affected by federal laws duties because their board and financial interests conflict with the overall public interest that senators have a duty to represent and uphold under their ethics code.

“The Senate ethics rules require senators to dedicate themselves to their duties as a senator over all other activities, and to always act with integrity and avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and no senator can comply with those rules when they are a board member, executive or investor in a corporation that is regulated by federal laws or operates in the province they are supposed to represent,” said Conacher. “Senators can unethically help their company’s interests not only by taking part in discussions, debates and votes that affect the company’s interests but also by not doing anything such as not making any public statements or proposals that would hurt the company’s interests.”

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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 Government Ethics Campaign and Shut Down the Senate Campaign