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News Release

Scientific Studies Show Even Small Gifts Have Undue Influence -- New Federal Ethics Watchdogs Must Enforce Federal Rules That Prohibit Almost All Gifts to Politicians, Staff, Appointees and Public Servants, and All Governments in Canada Must Also Prohibit Gifts

Friday, June 22, 2007

OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch called on the new Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the new Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, and the still-to-be-appointed Commissioner of Lobbyists to require some recent large gifts to federal MPs to be returned, and to issue public interpretations and strictly enforce rules on gifts to politicians, ministerial staff, Cabinet appointees and public servants that have never been enforced.  Former Ethics Counsellor Howard Wilson and former Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro and ongoing Registrar of Lobbyists Michael Nelson completely failed to enforce ethics rules concerning gifts, sponsored travel and other benefits. (To see a summary of Howard Wilson's (former Ethics Counsellor and Registrar of Lobbyists) negligent and ineffective term in office, click here -- To see a summary of former Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro's negligent and ineffective term in office, click here -- To see a summary of current Registrar of Lobbyists Michael Nelson's negligent and ineffective term in office, click here)

Democracy Watch also called on municipal, provincial and territorial governments across Canada to ensure that they have strong rules in place that prohibit even small gifts, as even small gifts have been shown to have undue influence on decision-makers, and to ensure that they have a fully independent, fully empowered ethics watchdog agency to enforce the rules.  Gift scandals have occurred across Canada in the past few years. (For example, to see the report on the City of Toronto computer leasing scandal, click here -- To see two media reports about the recent City of Ottawa gifts scandal, click here and click here -- To see the CanWest News Service report on gifts to federal Cabinet ministers and MPs in 2006-2007,  click here -- To see the annual reports on trips taken by federal MPs sponsored by lobby groups and other governments, click here)

Scientists in both Canada and the U.S. have shown through clinical studies that even small gifts have undue influence because they create a psychological obligation to return the favour.  Research by Dr. Joel Lexchin of York University and others has shown clearly that doctors change their drug prescribing patterns because of gifts, large and small, given to them by drug companies.  In response to this research, and several gift-giving scandals, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations in January 2007 announced a new worldwide code prohibiting essentially all gifts to doctors from drug companies. 

Dr. Robert Cialdini, and other psychologists in the U.S., have conducted clinical studies showing that gifts (even small ones) and other benefits are the most powerful way to influence people.

The federal Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons (MPs Code) specifically bars MPs and their family members from accepting "any gift or other benefit" (including sponsored travel) connected with their position (subsection 14(1)) except normal "hospitality" or "protocol", and all gifts "that might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity" must be declined (subsection 2(e)).  The MPs Code also requires MPs generally to "uphold the highest standards so as to avoid real or apparent conflicts on interests" (subsection 2(b)).  The Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders which covers federal Cabinet ministers, their staff, Cabinet appointees and senior government officials, and the Values and Ethics Code for federal public servants, contain similar prohibitions.

“Many people in government love the gravy train of gifts, wining and dining and event tickets from lobbyists, and wilfully ignore the clear, scientific evidence that such gifts influence their decisions,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  “Governments and ethics watchdog agencies across Canada must immediately stop this unethical gravy train in its tracks.”

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

Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign