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Democracy Watch in court today challenging Trudeau Cabinet’s biased, secretive appointments of Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner

Cases ask court to overturn the appointments as both commissioners were investigating PM and other ministers when Cabinet handpicked them after secretive process that failed to consult with opposition parties

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch is in the Federal Court of Appeal in Ottawa for the hearing of its combined cases challenging the Trudeau Cabinet’s appointment in December 2017 of their own watchdogs – the Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying. David Yazbeck of Ravenlaw is representing Democracy Watch in the cases (FCA File #s A-142-19/A-143-19).

Both cases ask the court to overturn the appointments because the Cabinet failed to consult with opposition party leaders as required by the Parliament of Canada Act before making the Ethics Commissioner appointment, and also failed to consult as required by the Lobbying Act before making the Lobbying Commissioner appointment.

The Cabinet hid from opposition parties that it had qualified candidates for both commissioner positions, and controlled their secretive, partisan appointment processes. The Cabinet then made the very questionable decision to appoint Mr. Dion (who had an unethical record as Integrity Commissioner), and the equally questionable decision to choose the watchdog for their relations with lobbyists.

As well, Democracy Watch argues that the Cabinet was biased and in a conflict of interest because, when the appointments happened, the Ethics Commissioner was investigating Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and the Lobbying Commissioner was investigating two situations involving Trudeau (Barry Sherman/Apotex Inc.’s fundraiser and Mickey MacDonald/Clearwater Seafoods fundraiser), and also situations involving Minister Morneau, and Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The Conflict of Interest Act and PM Trudeau’s code for ministers, as well as Supreme Court of Canada rulings, prohibit ministers from taking part in decisions when they have an opportunity to further their own interests or improperly further another person’s private interests. The Trudeau Cabinet had a clear opportunity to further their own interests when they were choosing both commissioners.

“The Trudeau Cabinet failed to consult with opposition party leaders, as required by law, before appointing the ethics and lobbying commissioners, and at the time the commissioners were investigating Trudeau and Finance Minister Morneau, and also Minister Freeland, so the Cabinet was in a clear conflict of interest when making the appointment of these key democracy watchdogs,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given it is essential that the ethics and lobbying watchdogs are independent and impartial, Democracy Watch hopes the court will overturn the appointments and establish high standards to prevent conflicts of interest, and also require meaningful consultation with opposition parties, for all future watchdog appointments.”

“It would be a clear conflict of interest if someone sued Prime Minister Trudeau or a Cabinet minister and the Cabinet chose which judge would hear the case, and it is just as clearly a conflict of interest for the Cabinet to choose the ethics and lobbying commissioners who will judge whether the PM, his Cabinet ministers or their lobbyist friends violate the ethics law or lobbying law,” said Conacher. “Given both opposition parties complained about the Trudeau Cabinet failing to consult with them before the commissioners were appointed, it’s clear the Cabinet also failed to consult as required by the law.”

Prime Minister Trudeau recused himself in mid-May 2017 from the Ethics Commissioner appointment process because the Commissioner was investigating him for accepting the Aga Khan’s Bahamas trip gift. The PM chose Minister Bardash Chagger to lead the appointment process for the Ethics Commissioner, but the PM still oversaw the Lobbying Commissioner process even though the commissioner was investigating situation’s involving him.

Minister Chagger repeatedly defended the PM’s acceptance of the Aga Khan’s gift in the House of Commons in January and April 2017. After the May 2017 fiasco in which the Liberals tried to impose a blatantly partisan appointee for Official Languages Commissioner, the opposition leaders wrote a joint letter to the PM calling on the Cabinet to consult with them, as required by law, on all officer of Parliament appointments. The Cabinet failed to consult them.

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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 Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign