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Group files ethics complaint with federal Lobbying Commissioner about travel junkets lobbyists have given to MPs and senators for years

Calls on Lobbying Commissioner to remove herself from ruling on complaint because she has expressed interest in being reappointed by MPs – a similar commissioner from another jurisdiction should rule on the complaint

Tuesday, May 26, 2016

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch filed an ethics complaint with federal Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd about the gifts of paid travel that various lobbying organizations have given to MPs (and a few senators) since spring 2009. Democracy Watch believes the gifts violate a rule in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct that prohibits lobbyists from doing anything that would put an MP, senator or other public office holder in even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The complaint lists 16 businesses and lobby organizations from various sectors that are registered in the federal Registry of Lobbyists and that, since 2009 according to the Sponsored Travel reports and registry of federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, have paid for trips by MPs (and in one case, also by senators). Sometimes the MP’s spouse or staff has accompanied the MP or senator on the trip, and often the trips have cost thousands of dollars.

As well, the complaint lists six other lobby organizations that are not registered in the Registry of Lobbyists but have given many paid trips to many MPs (and, in one case, also to senators) from 2009 to 2016. The complaint requests an investigation to determine whether any of these organizations have done enough lobbying to require that they should have registered their lobbying under the Lobbying Act at any time in the past seven years.

However, the complaint requests that the Commissioner Shepherd not rule on the complaint because she has expressed interest in being reappointed by MPs to the position (her term ends this July) and is therefore in a conflict of interest when considering a complaint that affects the reputation and activities of MPs. Democracy Watch is also concerned about Commissioner Shepherd’s very weak enforcement record, and its position is that in order to have proper enforcement of the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code Commissioner Shepherd must be replaced by someone who has a demonstrated strongenforcement attitude and record.

Democracy Watch’s complaint letter calls on Commissioner Shepherd to remove herself from ruling on the complaint and to delegate consideration of the complaint to a similar commissioner in another jurisdiction. However, the complaint should not be delegated to federal Ethics Commissioner Dawson because she also has a very weak enforcement record (including ruling in 2010 that it is fine for Cabinet ministers to have lobbyists who are lobbying them raise thousands of dollars for them). As well, federal Cabinet and MPs will also soon consider whether to reappoint Commissioner Dawson for another term (her term also ends in July) and so she is also in an appearance of a conflict of interest when considering a complaint that affects the reputations and activities of MPs.

“Federal ethics rules say it is illegal for lobbyists to do anything that puts an MP or government official in even an appearance of a conflict of interest, and paying for an MP’s trip that costs thousands of dollars definitely crosses that line,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa. “Neither the federal Commissioner of Lobbying nor the federal Ethics Commissioner should rule on this complaint because they are up for possible reappointment and also have a very weak enforcement record.”

Democracy Watch pushed for 15 years, including 10 years of court cases, until 2009 to win the enforcement of Rule 8 of the Lobbyists’ Code (now Rule 6 in a new version of the Code in force since December 1, 2015). In March 2009, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled unanimously in the case Democracy Watch v. Barry Campbell, the Attorney General of Canada and the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists, rejecting the Registrar’s “deeply flawed” interpretation of Rule 8 (Commissioner Shepherd was Deputy Registrar at the time) and making it clear that Rule 8 prohibits lobbyists from doing anything that puts a public office holder in even an appearance of a conflict of interest.

Democracy Watch also called on MPs and senators to act with integrity, finally, and eliminate the rules in their ethics codes that say they are allowed to accept the gift of paid travel from anyone. Democracy Watch and the nation-wide, 31-member group Government Ethics Coalition will continue pushing for these and other key changes to federal ethics rules, and enforcement and penalties, so that Canadians will finally have the ethical government they deserve.

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign