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Ethics Commissioner ruling exploits huge loophole in federal ethics law to let Finance Minister Morneau off the hook for clearly unethical actions

Loophole allows Cabinet ministers and top government officials to make decisions even when they have a financial interest and can profit from their decision

House Ethics Committee must review ethics law this fall — must recommend closing loophole and government must close it or Trudeau Liberals will confirm they are as unethical as past governments

Monday, June 18, 2018

OTTAWA — Today, Democracy Watch issued the following comments on federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s ruling letting Finance Minister Bill Morneau off the hook for taking part in the decision to change a law in a way that would benefit his family’s pension management company.

“As Democracy Watch has pointed out for the past 10 years, the federal government ethics law does not apply to 99 per cent of the decisions and actions of Cabinet ministers and top government officials because of a huge loophole in the law that the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling exploited to let Finance Minister Morneau off the hook,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law and Politics at the University of Ottawa. “Because of the huge loophole in the federal ethics law, the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and top government officials are allowed to make decisions that make money for themselves, their family members and friends.”

“It’s not ethical, but the loophole makes it legal, and makes Canada’s federal ethics law a sad joke,” said Conacher.

“Former Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson did everything she could to hide that loophole by secretly burying a similar investigation in 2012 into former Harper Chief of Staff Nigel Wright’s participation in decisions that affected businesses he was invested in, and also issuing other secret rulings on other ministers’ investments, including Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford who owned shares in an energy hedge fund while participating in decisions about tar sands’ pipelines,” said Conacher.

“Now that this huge loophole is exposed, the question is whether the Trudeau Liberals will finally close it so that the now ‘Almost Impossible to be in a Conflict of Interest Act’ will finally become an effective law for preventing ministers and top government officials from taking part in decisions when their decisions can make them money,” said Conacher. “The House ethics committee is required to review the Conflict of Interest Act this fall, and if doesn’t recommend closing this loophole, and the government doesn’t pass a bill closing it before the next election, it will show that the Trudeau Liberals are just as unethical as all past governments.”

See more details about this loophole, and other flaws in Canada’s federal ethics law and enforcement system, in this April 2013 Democracy Watch news release.



Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition
Adjunct Professor of Law and Politics at the University of Ottawa
Cell: 416-546-3443

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign