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News Release


Tuesday, June 7, 2005

OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch criticized federal Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro for refusing to rule on whether the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Tim Murphy discussions with Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal violated ethics rules, and pointed out that the law gives the Commissioner the power to rule on any activity of anyone covered by the rules (although the powers need to be strengthened).

“Federal ethics rules clearly apply to full-time ministerial staff, and the law gives the Ethics Commissioner the power to rule on all activities of anyone covered by the rules,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. “The Ethics Commissioner is continuing his biased, extremely weak enforcement of ethics rules by refusing to rule on the activities of the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.”

Under the Parliament of Canada Act (the Act), the primary role of the Ethics Commissioner is “to administer any ethical principles, rules or obligations established by the Prime Minister for public office holders” (sub-section 72.07(a)).  The Act and the Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders (the Code) both define public office holder as including “a person, other than a public servant, who works on behalf of a minister of the Crown or a minister of state” (sub-section 72.06(b) in the Act, and sub-section 4(1) in the Code).

In refusing to rule on Murphy’s activities, the Ethics Commissioner is ignoring his general mandate to enforce the Code and other ethics rules.  It is true that the Ethics Commissioner is only required by the Act to investigate ministers of the Crown, ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries and rule publicly when a member of the Senate or House of Commons files a complaint backed by evidence (under section 72.08).  However, the Code also applies to ministerial staff, and the Ethics Commissioner is the only enforcement body for the Code, and so the Commissioner is clearly the only person who can rule on Code violations by ministerial staff and if he does not do so he is failing to uphold his legal duties legal duties as administrator of the Code.

“As he has several times in the past year, the Ethics Commissioner has unfortunately once again chosen to protect a public official instead of properly enforcing federal ethics rules,” said Conacher.

For example, in his first year in office Ethics Commissioner Shapiro has refused to make public his rulings on the lobbying activities of former Cabinet ministers John Manley and Lyle Vanclief, has refused to rule on Transportation Safety board member Jim Walsh’s attendance at the Liberal caucus Christmas party, and hired a Liberal-connected law firm (without a contract bidding competition) to investigate allegations that Liberal Cabinet minister Judy Sgro had violated the Code.

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Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179

To see a Democracy Watch op-ed about the biased, flawed operations of the federal Ethics Commissioner, click here

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