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Ethics Commissioner reveals she is not investigating Trudeau Cabinet fundraising events, refuses to investigate Aga Khan’s trip gifts to Trudeau in 2014 and to Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan in 2016, and refuses to respond about Murray Edwards’ trip gift to Conservative Party Interim Leader Rona Ambrose

Ethics Commissioner also refuses to rule on whether Trudeau Cabinet broke ethics law when it reappointed her for a 6-month term in December while she was investigating the Cabinet, and refuses to recuse herself even though she is essentially serving at the pleasure of Cabinet

Liberals must change Cabinet appointment system to match Ontario’s judicial appointment process to stop patronage and weak lapdog appointments

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it received recently from federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson in response to the four complaint letters Democracy Watch has filed with the Ethics Commissioner since December.

On page 3 of her letter, Ethics Commissioner Dawson says that she is not investigating the Trudeau Cabinet fundraising events and that “further action is not warranted.” She has made this decision even though, in its December 16, 2016 letter, Democracy Watch had complained about a new situation that had not been revealed or considered by the Ethics Commissioner before – Prime Minister Trudeau giving preferential treatment to the companies and/or organizations or other individuals represented by several Liberal Party donors when he invited those donors to a gala dinner in honour of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on September, as reported in the Globe and Mail.

On page 2, Ethics Commissioner Dawson says she is not investigating the Aga Khan’s trip gifts to then-MP Trudeau in 2014, and to Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan in 2016, and she does not even mention lobbyist Murray Edwards’ trip gift to Conservative Interim Party Leader Rona Ambrose. In its January 31, 2017 letter, Democracy Watch complained that both of those trip gifts violated the Conflict of Interest Code for MPs (MP Code), as did the trip gift the Aga Khan gave Prime Minister Trudeau in December 2014, while the Aga Khan’s December 2016 trip gift to Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act (COIA).

On page 2 of her letter, Ethics Commissioner Dawson also refused to rule on whether the Trudeau Cabinet violated sections 4 and 6 of the Conflict of Interest Act when Cabinet gave her the gift of a $100,000, six-month renewable contract in mid-December, and a similar contract to the Commissioner of Lobbying, at the same time both commissioner offices were investigating complaints that the Prime Minister and/or ministers violated the Conflict of Interest Act or had a relationship with a lobbyist that violates the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.

On page 1 of her letter, Ethics Commissioner Dawson also refused to recuse herself from ruling on situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet even though she is essentially serving at the pleasure of the Cabinet given that it has the power to decide whether she will be given another contract in July after her current contract ends.

Democracy Watch complained about the Trudeau Cabinet’s reappointment of Dawson in its December 6, 2016 and December 14, 2016 letters, and called on the Ethics Commissioner to recuse herself from ruling on any matters concerning the Trudeau Cabinet in those letters and also the December 16th and January 31st letters.

“It would be outrageous if someone filed a lawsuit against Prime Minister Trudeau and he chose the judge to rule on the lawsuit and handed the judge a six-month contract worth $100,000, and it is equally outrageous that people have filed ethics complaints against the Prime Minister and he chose and handed a six-month, $100,000 contract to the Ethics Commissioner who will judge and rule on those complaints,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“By refusing to rule on alleged violations of federal ethics rules by Prime Minister Trudeau, his Cabinet ministers and Liberal MPs, and by rubber-stamping some of their clear violations as ethical, while at the same time finding a former Conservative Cabinet minister guilty of violating the rules, Ethics Commissioner Dawson is continuing her pattern of protecting whichever political party gave her the job and has the power to decide whether she keeps her job,” said Conacher.

“It’s a conflict of interest and violation of the federal ethics law for Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet to choose their own ethics and lobbying watchdogs, especially when they are being investigated by those watchdogs, and receiving a valuable contract from the Cabinet puts those watchdogs in a conflict of interest that undermines their investigations,” said Conacher.

Another reason not to have Ethics Commissioner Dawson rule on the complaints is her negligently weak enforcement record since 2007 and lack of accountability (See Backgrounder below for details). Democracy Watch and the nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition continue to call for key changes to strengthen federal political ethics rules and the enforcement system (See Backgrounder for details).

Democracy Watch proposes that the solution is to have a fully independent commission whose members are approved by all federal party leaders along with entities such as the Canadian Judicial Council do a public, non-partisan merit-based search for the next Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying, and to require the Trudeau Cabinet to choose from a short-list of candidates that the commission nominates, with approval still by the House of Commons.

To stop patronage and cronyism, and the appointment of weak government watchdogs and law enforcement officers, Democracy Watch has called for this change to the process for all Cabinet appointments in its Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign. Ontario uses this appointment system to appoint provincial judges, and it is considered to be a world-leading process.

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign


1. 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 has greatly undermined various sections of the Conflict of Interest Act (COIA) in past rulings by creating loopholes in the COIA that do not exist – such as:

  1. her April 29, 2010 “Cheques Report” ruling claiming that political parties are not “persons” under the COIA and therefore it was fine for Conservative MPs and Cabinet ministers to hand out government cheques with the Conservative Party logo on them;
  2. her May 13, 2010 “Raitt Report” ruling that it was fine for two lobbyists who were lobbying Minister Lisa Raitt to help raise thousands of dollars for her riding association because, you claimed, that only helped the association not her;
  3. her December 2016 ruling that it was fine for Health Minister Jane Philpott to use the driving service company of one of her former campaign volunteers because it was the only such company Minister Philpott claimed she knew about (a ruling that creates a loophole allowing any Minister or other senior government officlal to use the same invalid excuse Minister Philpott used to give contracts to their friends or other party loyalists);
  4. her baseless decision that the COIA only applies to financial interests despite the fact that the COIA’s section 2 definition of “private interest” does not in any way even suggest that the definition of “private interest” is restricted to only financial interests, and;
  5. her baseless decision that the COIA only applies to close personal friends (there is no such definition of “friends” in the COIA).

Because of section 66 added to the then-new Conflict of Interest 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. If this section had not been added to the Act, Democracy Watch would have challenged several of Commissioner Dawson’s rulings since 2007 in court.

Democracy Watch is currently challenging Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s use of conflict-of-interest screens in court on the basis that the screens are unlawful.

2. Federal ethics law and codes 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. 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 especially rules in Annex A, Part 1 of the code).

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. He has ignored the rules in his code just like Prime Minister Harper did.