Current Senate Ethics Officer Jean Fournier is dangerously disconnected from reality about his independence (Letter -- Nov. 30), just as former federal Cabinet Ethics Counsellor Howard Wilson was and current Registrar of Lobbyists Michael Nelson is.
As courts around the world have ruled in many cases in the past, a watchdog must have several key characteristics in order to be independent:
The Senate Ethics Officer is protected from firing during his term in office, but the Senate ethics rules put him under the direction of a committee of senators, prohibit him from investigating or ruling (including on the meaning of the rules) without the committee‚s approval, and give the committee the power to overrule him, as well as the power to design the conflict-of-interest-disclosure forms senators fill out and to set the deadline for filing forms.
The Registrar of Lobbyists can be fired for any reason, and the Treasury Board minister has the power to control his budget and office staff, but like the Senate Ethics Officer he still claims that he is independent.
If it passes in its current form, Bill C-2 (the so-called "Federal Accountability Act") will eliminate the Registrar and create a fully independent Commissioner of Lobbying, in the same way a law passed in 2004 in response to Democracy Watch's court case eliminated the Ethics Counsellor and created the more independently structured Ethics Commissioner (one key flaw that remains is that the Ethics Commissioner is allowed to make secret rulings).
Unfortunately, Bill C-2 will do nothing to change the fact that the Senate Ethics Officer is a lapdog of senators. Only senators can make that change, and as usual they show no interest in increasing their accountability in this or any other way.
the committee is the appeal body if a senator disagrees with the Officer (subsection 39(4)).
Democracy Watch homepage