Duffy-Wright: What can we hope to see from the ethics commissioner's investigation? - Macleans.ca

Duffy-Wright: What can we hope to see from the ethics commissioner’s investigation?

The former parliamentary law clerk on what to expect


Both the Prime Minister and Nigel Wright have deferred to the ethics commissioner as the authority who is looking into the matter of Mr. Wright’s arrangement with Mike Duffy. Unfortunately, it is unclear how well the commissioner’s investigation will do in resolving this matter.

Yesterday, I sat down with Robert Walsh, the former parliamentary law clerk who served in that role from 1999 to 2012, when he retired. As part of that interview, I asked him about the ethics commission’s role in this case.

Q: The ethics commissioner and her place in this or her ability to get at the truth…

A: You say, get at this. Let’s be clear what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a payment by the chief of staff of the prime minister of $90,000 to a senator, Mike Duffy. And the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, commonly referred to as ethics commissioner, although her function has very little to do with ethics, her function under the Conflict of Interest Act is to examine conflicts of interest with public office holders, of which Nigel Wright is one. Her jurisdiction doesn’t touch on senators. And the essential thing she’s looking for in any investigation is a conflict between the public duty of the public office holder, Mr. Wright, and his private interests. And whether, as a public office holder, Mr. Wright was using his position to advance a private interest of his. In the absence of some conflict of that kind I don’t think she has anything to investigate and my question for her, and I would think her question to herself, is what is the private interest that Mr. Wright was advancing by this payment?

Myself, I don’t see one, but maybe there’s something there we don’t know yet. I doubt it. I’m inclined to think that he simply made a generous gesture, however ill-conceived and misguided, and that’s what’s got him into trouble here. But I don’t see her finding a conflict of interest of a kind that gives her jurisdiction.

Having said that, there’s also another concern that she may be ousted by virtue of the fact that the RCMP, it would appear, is investigating this matter and under the Conflict of Interest Act, she is required to suspend any examination she’s doing while such investigation is underway and until it’s completed. If there were any charges laid, any further proceedings, she’d have to wait until all that is finished and then she could re-enter and do an examination, which would probably, in that scenario, be many years from now.

So I personally don’t think that the ethics commissioner is going to provide any solution to this matter and I would hope that she might clarify her position sooner rather than later. She obviously has been in this job for a couple years now and she’s very expert on her statute and she should be able to determine fairly quickly as to whether there’s any basis here for her to make an investigation. And if there isn’t, she should announce that so that her role is well understood and out of the picture.


Duffy-Wright: What can we hope to see from the ethics commissioner’s investigation?

  1. ” And whether, as a public office holder, Mr. Wright was using his position to advance a private interest of his.”

    What precisely is the definition of a ‘private interest’ ?

    If it can include the interest in protecting the political party his employer leads, does that not qualify? And does the private interest necessarily have to be his personal private interest, or the private interests of another (other than the recipient of the other party of the transaction)?

    (PS . . . cue a Francien comment about Justin Trudeau’s speaking fees in 3 . . 2. . . 1. . . .)

    • I think this is an example of Stephen Harper the political genius at work. The naming of the ethics commissioner was brilliant almost eclipsing the Fixed Election Date Act. As noted above, the mandate of the ethics commissioner does not include ethics and Mary Dawson is perhaps Harper’s best behaved appointee. (She is certainly no Kevin Page) There was no conflict of interest for Nigel and Mary Dawson will likely issue a statement such as “she found nothing wrong with the payment by Nigel Wright to Senator Duffy.” rather than a more accurate statement.

      Also, the RCMP are unlikely to unearth enough evidence to conclude that any law was broken by the payment, and at some point will say they are not considering charges.

      So there you have it. Two independent reviews will find nothing wrong with the Nigel Wright payment.

      Stephen Harper: political genius…. crappy PM but political genius.

      • Quite frankly, the ethical lapse of the media on this issue is, well, embarrassing.
        Hey….wait a minute….Duffy was right!!

  2. Harper is trying to build a firewall around the whole mess. Hive it off on a third party investigator who, in fact, has no legal mandate to explore all its unsavoury ramifications, and call in the RCMP, who’ll fail complete an investigation in our lifetime.

    If this is his way of containing the damage, it will fail as long as crucial questions remain unanswered. It’s the gift that keeps on giving indefinitely for the opposition. He’d be wiser, IMO, to get everything out now while he still has time to repair the brand before an election in 2015.

    But, strangely, Harper hasn’t consulted me on the matter.

    • I think your belief that this can’t be stonewalled to death ignores recent history. I think it will be stonewalled to death and I’ll be pleasantly surprised if anything else happens. Already today in QP the Cons are back to chuckling and back-patting themselves about the whole thing. The Cons will just smirk their way through the next few weeks and, come the fall, another half a dozen scandals will have come and gone, Justin Trudeau will have said something else stupid and it’ll be back to business as usual. Duffy,Wallin and Brazeau (and Porter and Wright) will just be another bunch of names buried in the stack, and the Cons will have a whole bunch of new schemes and breaches of public trust to foist on all of us apathetic losers.

      Sorry, feeling a little cynical today.

      • We can at least hope that this hash is warmed up and served in a steady diet to Con backbenchers on the summer BBQ circuit in their ridings and that the media continue to turn over and look under rocks until the House resumes in the fall.

  3. Is it just me, or – having read this, and the narrow scope of the Ethics Commissioner to investigate – does it seem like the PM is trying to scam us all (again)?
    A sort of shell game, or bait-and-switch…

  4. Investigations, fake or otherwise won’t answer the critical question which is why does Stephen Harper persist in appointing corrupt partisans to important positions? If you know that a dog bites and you let it loose in the schoolyard, it’s your fault as much as the dog when it bites someone.

    • But the pm wanted to walk that dog — unleash it into the public park. The dog bit us, but it turns out, it was never Harper’s dog in the first place: he was only dogsitting for Nigel.

      Dog analogies: love ’em. Duffy = shar-pei; Wallin = Rottie; BrazMan = aggressive pit bull. Tkatchuk = retreiver. Fife leak = pointer. LeBreton = old hound: too old to hunt but still can bark.

  5. Not a single dime came out of Wright’s pocket!

    It would be a simple matter of Nigel INVOICING the Conservative
    fundraising account (the money raising arm of The Conservative Party) multiple
    times for some type of phony “Financial Consultant Fees” to accrue back
    the $90K. CPC treates that Fund’s coffer
    as their private “Honey Pot.”

    Are there any conversations between Conservative Senator
    Irving Gerstein (Harper’s bagman) about Nigel getting paid back from the
    Conservative Fund of Canada — the federal party’s war chest Gerstein once

    Or, the money came out of Alberta, where there is no
    shortage of it.


    • Right. I’m sure the CPC just writes checks to whoever invoices them. No receipts needed. Because it’s not like their finances are ever scrutinized. Right?

      • Gotta admit. You’ve got cojones..

        I mean, to claim this in the very midst of us finding out just how often Duffy’s expenses weren’t scrutinized and finding out just what lengths the CPC/Wright will go to to keep it that way .. that just takes a lot of cojones.

        ..though I suppose it could just be a complete lack of any sense of morals or shame.

  6. Cicero – So let us regard this as settled: what is morally wrong can never be advantageous, even when it enables you to make some gain that you believe to be to your advantage. The mere act of believing that some wrongful course of action constitutes an advantage is pernicious.