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Key Changes – Backgrounder

10 Key Changes Needed to Federal MP Ethics Code

(Democracy Watch: March 2022)

The 10 key changes needed to make the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons (“MP Code”) effective at preventing conflicts of interest and unethical gift- and favour-trading are as follows (Click here to see a detailed submission about these changes):

  1. Add a rule to require MPs and their staff to tell the truth to stop the misleading spin that regularly and fatally undermines reasonable policy debates and discussions, and another rule to prohibit MPs from switching parties in between elections except when their party leader violates the law or breaks significant election promises (and, generally, expand the Code to cover MPs as soon as their election is confirmed by Elections Canada, and to cover MP staff who, because they are not covered by the Code, can currently do the things that MPs are prohibited from doing on their MP’s behalf, and can also accept all gifts and favours);
  2. Close the huge loophole in the definition of “private interest” (in ss. 3(2) and (3)) to cover all conflicts of interest, not only specific financial conflicts, because the loophole means the Code doesn’t apply to 95% of decisions MPs participate in, and that allows them to take part in decisions when they, their family or friends can profit from the decision (and extend the Code to cover the private interests of extended family and friends of MPs and their staff);
  3. Add a new rule (as a restriction on s. 5 of the Code) to prohibit MPs from giving preferential treatment to anyone, especially anyone who has given them a gift or assisted them in any way;
  4. Prohibit MPs and their staff from having investments in businesses (which is allowed under ss. 17 and 24(3)(j)), and from having blind trusts, (both of which the Parker Commission recommended way back in 1987) and change s. 7 to prohibit them from other outside activities, because they create clear conflicts of interest (other than professional requirements like doctors who have to practise a specific amount each year in order to retain their licence);
  5. Require MPs to work full-time, and to disclose a summary of their work activities, including communications with anyone or any entity who is trying to influence their decisions, in an online, searchable database;
  6. Change the gifts and benefits rule to ban MPs and their staff from accepting anything from anyone (including volunteer assistance under ss. 3(1)), who is trying to influence their decisions because even small gifts influence decisions, and delete s. 15 of the Code to ban “sponsored travel” because it is an unethical gift and essentially a form of legalized bribery;
  7. Require MPs to disclose in the Public Registry their assets and liabilities worth more than $1,000 (the current disclosure requirement is for everything worth more than $10,000, which is much too high), and to disclose details about their past five year’s work before they became an MP to make it easy to track which organizations and issues they have ties to, and to disclose in the Public Registry which members of their extended family they have close relationships with including being aware of their business, investments and other private interests;
  8. Prohibit MPs and their staff from communicating with their former colleagues and government officials for a sliding-scale time period after they leave depending on what positions and committees they served in and how close their relationships are with Cabinet ministers, officials etc., and require them to disclose their post-activities online during this time period in a searchable database;
  9. Require MPs and their staff to take a formal training course when they first start their position, and annually, and require the Ethics Commissioner to publish online a summary of his/her advice each time advice is given that covers a new situation to any person covered by the Code, and to publish online all advisory opinions and guidelines issued by the Commissioner, and to regularly conduct an audit of a randomly selected sample of MPs’ financial statements and activities;
  10. Give members of the public, who employ and pay all MPs and their staff, the right to file a complaint with the Ethics Commissioner, and require the Commissioner to investigate and issue a public ruling on every complaint and situation s/he becomes aware of, and to impose a sliding scale of penalties depending the seriousness of the violation, and add a rule that anyone is allowed to challenge any decision by the Commissioner in court.

Many other changes are needed to other federal laws, including: closing similarly huge loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Act (which applies to Cabinet ministers, staff and appointees) and the Senate Ethics Code; closing huge secret, unethical lobbying loopholes; decreasing the donation and loan limit in the Canada Elections Act to $75 (as the current donation and loan limit of $3,300 is essentially legalized bribery for those who can afford to make the maximum donation); closing huge excessive secrecy loopholes in the federal Access to Information Act; strengthening the whistleblower protection law, and; changing the appointment process for the Ethics Commissioner and other democratic good government watchdogs (given MPs currently have a clear conflict of interest as they choose their own watchdogs) and banning re-appointments (as that gives a watchdog an incentive to please MPs in order to secure a re-appointment).

Join the call for these and other key government ethics changes across Canada at Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign