Mary Dawson’s challenge to friendship in cases of conflicts of interest

Photo: Adrian Wyld, The canadian Press
The former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson appeared in the parliamentary committee to discuss its report on the vacation of the prime minister in the Aga Khan.

The friendship has nothing to do in the Law on conflict of interests, writes the commissioner, outgoing Mary Dawson. According to it, the concept is too vague, and above all, unnecessary. It should be removed.


The former commissioner of conflict of interest and ethics — the mandate of which ended on Monday — appeared in the parliamentary committee to discuss its report tabled just prior to Christmas on the holiday of the prime minister on the private island of the Aga Khan. The Act prohibits public office holders from receiving gifts, but it provides an exception where the gift came from a friend. Justin Trudeau had referred to this exception to justify his trip, but the commissioner Dawson said that the Aga Khan was not a true friend. Thus, it was concluded that Mr. Trudeau had violated four provisions of the Law.

The addition of this exception [for friends] creates a burden that is not necessary.
The former commissioner of conflict of interest and ethics, Mary Dawson

“I do not think that it is useful to have this exception in the Law, said Ms. Dawson to the members present. In no way, being a friend does not diminish systematically someone to the application of article 11 of the Law [prohibiting gifts that may “reasonably be inferred” that they were given to influence]. The true test should be whether the gift has been given in order to influence. This exception for friends creates confusion. “


“If it had not been this exception, she added, in most cases, a gift given by a friend would not be reasonably perceived as being given to influence. The addition of this exception creates a burden that is not necessary. Not to mention that it is insulting ! This is not sympathetic to Mr. Trudeau have to say that the Aga Khan is not a friend. He loved it ! “Mr. Trudeau has publicly reiterated that he regarded the Aga Khan as a friend, even if Ms. Dawson has determined that the two had never had contacts significant over the past 30 years.


Ms. Dawson recalled that it had every year several cases related to friends. “I don’t think that we could define [the friendship] correctly. This means many different things according to people, ” she argued.


NDP mp Nathan Cullen said after the meeting that he agreed with totally with the recommendation of the commissioner outgoing. “This looks like a vulnerability that allows public office holders to obtain benefits that they would not have if they were not elected. “The conservative Peter Kent has shown to be more circumspect, arguing that” the contrary argument should also be heard ” before making a decision.


Mary Dawson stated to the deputies that, despite the absence of sanction for the violations committed by Mr. Trudeau, “the Law did what she had to do” : the public rebuke has prompted the prime minister to commit to do validate in the future all of its holiday plans for the future commissioner. After his court appearance, she told reporters that ” it is not necessary to have penalties because of the bad publicity [arising out of a breach] is quite wrong.”


As for whether Mr. Trudeau should reimburse security costs incurred because of her trip, Ms. Dawson is opposed to it. Even if Mr. Trudeau had gone to another place that did not pose a problem, ” these costs would have been incurred anyway.” “It should not be a prisoner of it. Even politicians should be allowed to take a vacation from time to time. “


Blind trust


The appearance of Ms. Dawson has been the opportunity to return to the case of the minister of Finance Bill Morneau and the fact that he has not had to place his shares of the family business in a blind trust because he controlled those out of the way ” indirectly “, through a company. Ms. Dawson has already in the past recommended that this distinction be abolished. However, it said on Wednesday that a shade should be considered.


Require any holder of public office that he place his assets in a blind trust would be ” a bit draconian “. “Some people like to manage their own financial affairs. I think that there should be a “test of conflict of interest” to people of a certain level. “Ms. Dawson has also exposed the limits of the trust. “If you have 100 % of your assets in a single entity, and put them in a blind trust, what do you think that there is in the trust ? You know ! Then, we need additional measures. “


In general, the commissioner of outbound wanted to deflate the importance of the breaches of public office holders in Canada, arguing that ” we are not so bad if compared to the rest of the planet. And the people are good in general. All of this is greatly exaggerated “. By contrast, it qualified the decision of Mr. Trudeau to accept the journey of the Aga Khan ” unfortunate “.