MPs voting today in secret on changes to their own unethical ethics rules
Current code is so full of loopholes it should be called the
“Almost Impossible to be in a Conflict of Interest Code”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch pointed to Pierre Poilievre’s investments in cryptocurrency mutual funds while he advocates for crypto in his Conservative Party leadership campaign, as reported in the media here and here, as highlighting #4 in the list of 10 huge loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons (“MP Code”). Under the MP Code, MPs are allowed to have secret investments in mutual funds (we only know about Poilievre’s investments because he disclosed them) and are allowed to lobby in secret for changes to laws, taxes, subsidies etc. that would increase the value of the companies the funds invest in so that the MP makes money.
“It’s clearly unethical for MPs, or party leadership candidates, to advocate for changes that will help businesses they are invested in, and the ethics rules for MPs, and disclosure rules for candidates, need to be changed to prohibit having secret investments,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.
Democracy Watch called on Poilievre and all Conservative Party leadership candidates, all MPs (including Liberal Cabinet ministers – for example Prime Minister Trudeau has a trust with secret investments), and all top government officials, to disclose all their investments, and for MPs to change the MP Code to prohibit MPs from having investments and prohibit secret trusts that hide those investments from the public – the Parker Commission recommended both prohibitions way back in 1987. Investments and secret trusts also need to be prohibited under the Conflict of Interest Act (which covers Cabinet ministers and top government officials) and the Directive on Conflict of Interest for federal government employees.
Democracy Watch also called on MPs on the House Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) to come out from behind closed doors at their meeting today and discuss the 10 loopholes in public, invite further experts, and hold more open meetings, before they vote on changes to the MP Code. The public has a clear right to know how each party’s MPs are voting on Code changes, given the Code sets out key rules on all MPs’ decisions and interactions with voters.
The Committee is undertaking a secretive, rushed, superficial review of the Code for the first time in seven years (two years overdue). It held only three brief public meetings before it first went behind closed doors on Thursday, March 3rd to begin voting on proposed Code changes.
“The MP’s ethics code is so full of loopholes it should be called the Almost Impossible to be in a Conflict of Interest Code, the Ethics Commissioner doesn’t do basic enforcement actions like auditing MPs, and MPs decide whether to penalize other MPs which is a kangaroo court,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “MPs are rushing their first review of their ethics code in seven years behind closed doors and, unless they slow down and do their job properly and publicly, they will likely once again fail to close loopholes or strengthen enforcement or penalties, leaving it open for MPs to continue to corrupt federal politics by being inside lobbyists for their own interests, their investments in big businesses, and the interests of their families and friends.”
Democracy Watch and the Government Ethics Coalition it coordinates, made up of 30 citizen groups from across Canada, filed its submission to PROC on February 27th calling for changes to close huge loopholes in the MP Code that allow MPs to take part in most decisions even when they have a financial conflict of interest, and that allow MPs and their staff to accept unethical gifts and favours, and also calling for key measures to strengthen enforcement and for mandatory penalties to discourage violations.
The Code, which was enacted in 2004, is supposed to be reviewed every five years, but was last reviewed in 2015, and before that in 2008 to 2009, and before that in 2006-2007. The original version of the Code had loopholes in it, a weak enforcement system, and penalties that MPs themselves decide in a “kangaroo court” process, and past reviews by the Committee have added more loopholes, allowing for even more conflicts of interest and unethical favours, or have done nothing to close loopholes or strengthen penalties, and little to strengthen enforcement.
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has made six recommendations for changes to the MP Code (and also for nine other technical changes), and while they will all somewhat improve the Code, they completely ignore huge loopholes that allow for unethical decision-making by MPs, and do nothing to strengthen enforcement. As well, Ethics Commissioner Dion has made the self-contradictory claim that the Code is working well and doesn’t need to be reviewed, and issued several highly questionable rulings since he began in January 2018 that allowed clear violations of federal ethics rules. Democracy Watch has an ongoing case in the Federal Court of Appeal challenging Commissioner Dion’s weak ruling that Prime Minister Trudeau didn’t violate the Conflict of Interest Act when he approved the grant in June 2020 to WE Charity, for which his wife served as an ambassador at the time.
All of this is not surprising given Mr. Dion had a record of eight unethical and questionable actions when he was the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, and was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, dishonest process that the Federal Court of Appeal ruled was biased, and given the sister-in-law of Trudeau’s old friend and Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc is the Ethics Commissioner’s senior lawyer (which may explain why the Ethics Commissioner has failed to issue a ruling on whether LeBlanc violated the ethics law by participating in the appointment process for judges in New Brunswick with financial and other connections to him).
“Ethics Commissioner Dion has failed to enforce federal ethics laws effectively, even when the law has been clearly violated, and also made self-contradictory, confusing and unclear statements about the rules,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “It’s clear that the only way to ensure federal ethics rules are enforced effectively is for MPs to require the Ethics Commissioner to issue a clear guideline for every rule, investigate and issue a public ruling on every situation and complaint, and to impose a penalty for every violation.”
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).
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Email: [email protected]