Why the Office of the Federal Ethics Commissioner is a useless, toothless tiger!
There can be no doubt Mary Dawson is an honourable, well-intentioned lady. Problem is, does she really believe the Raybould's will voluntarily build a China Wall around their overlapping activities at the dinner table or in the privacy of their bedroom?
Clare L. Pieuk
Jody-Wilson-Raybould taking all steps to dodge conflict over husband's lobbying
By Kady O'Malley
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
According to his filings, Raybould will represent the First Nations Finance Authority and the Westbank First Nation on a variety of fiscal and financial issues, including transfer arrangements, fiscal management and, in the case of the FNFA, the expansion of an existing credit enhancement fund.
He’ll be focusing his efforts on two key departments — Finance Canada and Indigenous and Northern Affairs — but will not be engaging with Justice, or any other entity that falls under his wife’s ministerial responsibilities.
As long as he keeps well away from her portfolio, there’s no law that forbids him from working as a registered lobbyist.
Even so, the Minister has already discussed the matter with the federal ethics watchdog to make sure both she and her husband are operating well within the letter and spirit of the law.
“I take my ethical obligations very seriously and am taking all steps to avoid any conflicts of interest and more importantly prevent the perception of one,” she told the Ottawa Citizen in a written statement.
“That’s why my husband and I met with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to ensure we are fully in compliance with our obligations under the rules.”
Under the Conflict of Interest Act, Raybould may be required to file a public declaration of recusal from discussions that could touch on those specific areas — although that and any other possible compliance measures will be ultimately be decided based on the recommendation of the Ethics Commissioner.
If she does, the details will be posted to the public registry along with the rest of the Minister’s disclosure filings.
Tim Raybould — who holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge — acted as chief negotiator for the Westbank First Nation for 12 years before hanging out his shingle as President of the Kalona Group in 1998, according to his profile on the LinkedIn business networking site.
Between 2010 and 2011, he was registered to lobby on behalf of several First Nations, including Westbank, Tsawwassen and the Beaverlake Cree Nation, as well as the First Nations Finance Authority, which was then in the process of setting up the credit fund that he will now be urging the government to increase.
He currently offers a wide range of services to First Nation governments, institutions “and other organizations related to public administration and policy development,” including “research, training, facilitation and mediation, negotiation support and intergovernmental relations.”
Lobbying and ethics commissioners should merge: Dawson
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is calling for the merger of the ethics and lobbying commissioner’s offices, saying it will lead to more coherent oversight of the relationship between lobbyists and members of Parliament.
“I think it might help if the two offices were together,” Dawson told members of the Procedure and House Affairs committee. “But that’s for the future. It’s one solution.”
Dawson appeared before the Procedure and House Affairs committee Thursday to discuss her office and the conflict of ethics rules that govern MPs and public office holders.
Currently, there is an overlap between two separate bodies dealing with the interaction between lobbyists and MPs or public office holders, she said.
“One of the problems is that we are dealing with different groups – we’re not dealing with the same group of people…The only person that the lobbyist commissioner is concerned with is lobbyists. I’m concerned with a much larger group of people – stakeholders.”
Merging the two positions could also resolve some of the confusion between the two regimes, Dawson said. For example, the Lobbying Act and the Conflict of Interest Act and the Code sometimes use the same terminology but the same terms have different definitions.
“In the Lobbying Act the term public office holder is used and it means a whole bunch more people, including Members….In my act a public office holder is a minister, a parliamentary secretary, a governor in council appointee or ministerial staff.”
Dawson pointed out that the registration of lobbyists used to be covered under the conflict of interest system.
If Parliament wants to merge the two positions, the opportunity could be coming up. The appointments of Dawson and Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd are both scheduled to expire within two weeks of each other this summer.
Dawson’s suggestion appeared to be well received.
“In one way it makes a lot of sense,” responded NDP MP David Christopherson. “If there are problems with overlapping, let’s get it all into one document where the language and the references are meant to be constant.”
The hearing was dominated by the question of gifts and the people who offer them – often government-relations professionals and stakeholders who are lobbying or seeking to influence MPs.
Dawson said gifts prompt the most confusion among MPs.
“It’s gifts, gifts, gifts, constantly gifts,” Dawson replied when asked by Liberal MP David Graham which part of the Conflict of Interest Code is the most misunderstood.
“It is just such a problematic area….It is just so overwhelmingly at the forefront of problems.”
While MPs are now supposed to report gifts worth more than $200 – which was reduced last June from $500 – Dawson said she’s not even sure all MPs are reporting everything they should.
“I have no idea the extent to which gifts are being reported to me. All I can use as my guidelines are the ones that are reported.”
Among the trickiest areas are dinners and the receptions that are ubiquitous on and around Parliament Hill, said Dawson. She considers dinners and receptions as gifts – particularly if the group organizing them is seeking to influence the MPs or cabinet ministers who attend.
“Generally speaking for Members, they are probably okay. You’re walking by and have a glass of wine or something. I’m not going to complain about that. What I do have problems with is a significant spread being put out and targeting the people.”
Dawson said she is planning to issue an opinion when it comes to gifts – clarifying what does – or does not – pose a problem.
“I have had letters coming in from lobbyists and I have promised them that I am going to get out an advisory…around some of these gifts.”
Travel sponsored by groups or foreign countries is another area that prompts questions but Parliament made an exception to the gift receiving rules for MPs, said Dawson-
“Do parliamentarians really want to give up these goodies?” she asked.
Some gifts are easier to deal with, Dawson said, pointing to a group that sent MPs marijuana around Christmas, along with a call to act quickly to legalize it.
“That was bad on two fronts. First of all, they were considering making marijuana legal and the letter that covered it said here’s some marijuana, make our bill legal. The second thing that was wrong was it was illegal, for heavens sake.”
One way to simplify the system would be to ban all gifts, Dawson pointed out.
“The obvious easy answer is that you can receive no gifts – but I don’t think you want to go there.”