If only we had a commissioner who was responsible for ethics

CBC explores the irony of news that the ethics commissioner will be investigating the ethics of giant novelty cheques.

Canada’s ethics commissioner will investigate dozens of allegations that Conservative MPs are using taxpayers’ money for partisan purposes. But Mary Dawson says she’s not sure how far her mandate allows her to go into ethical issues, despite her job title.

… in her annual report, Dawson highlighted that while the word “ethics” appears in her job title, it does not appear in the Conflict of Interest Act or the Code of Conduct for MPs. ”It’s quite unclear as to the extent to which my mandate extends into ethical issues that are not expressly referred to in either the code or the act and, in fact, one would wonder whether it extends there at all,” Dawson said at parliamentary ethics committee meeting.

If only we had a commissioner who was responsible for ethics

  1. Since Wherry is calling for an unlimited mandate for the ethics commissioner, maybe she could look into the ethics of the misleading information routinely published on this blog.

    • Since it's his blog and he isn't working in your dime, i guess you're free to leave.

    • Excellent point.

      An umlimited mandate would be ridiculous. This is an example of mission creep. More staff, bigger budget, getting involved in more and more things.

      Reminds me of our celebrity PBO Kevin Page. Everybody wants Frasier's profile I guess.

      • riiiight . . . . . when the Conservatives said 'accountability', what were they referring to? Maybe 'accountability, nudge, nudge, wink, wink'?

          • A nod's as good as a wink to a blind man!

      • That's hilarious, given that Frasier has arguably (though admirably) GROSSLY overstepped the traditional role of an auditor, on more than one occasion. You're complaining of mission creep, and then attributing it to everyone wanting Fasier's profile, which is the RESULT of mission creep.

        If mission creep is so terrible, why is it OK for Frasier and not for Dawson or Page?

    • what is it about wherry that makes all you harpies so insecure that you need to make things up. please where does wherry ask for an unlimited mandate?

      • "to the extent to which my mandate extends into ethical issues that are not expressly referred to in either the code or the act and, in fact, one would wonder whether it extends there at all"

        This is the entire point. The rules are the rules. Everyone needs to agree with them and play by them.

        This notion that the ethics commisioner just gives their subjective opinion isn't acceptable. Either they broke the rules or they didn't.

        • sorry Jesse, not sure i see the connection to the substance of my post.

          as a solution to the dilemma that you raise are you suggestion that ever potential breach is considered in legal/ quasi-legal manner (e.g., governed by rules of evidence)? the cost of such a system would be incredible is suspect.

          while i agree with the sentiment of your post – that it is problematic to have a free roaming oversight mechanism that sets standards as it goes – i think it may also be necessary for at least three reasons:

          1) you simply can't have rules for everything;

          2) the range of potential behaviour/actions is not static nor are the standards that we use judge the ethicality of that behaviour, her ability to address emergent issues is important and her decisions and the reaction to them help evolve our standards; and,

          3) all decisions are subjective and the nature of questions of ethics are rarely as black and white as "they broke the rules or they didn't", heck if lawyers and judges consider the 'spirit of the law' in their work.

          • Let me address these three points:

            1) We have an all party ethics committee. As new problems emerge, new guidelines can be created. One woman shouldn't be writing the rules, that's very un-democratic. I'm not saying give her no discretion, you can make more general guidelines and have her work out how that specifically translates into rulings in a way that sets down precedents.

            2) Our political tradition is to give politicians a very wide range of acceptable behaviour/actions and let the voters decide. We're looking at preventing corruption here, not engaging in a masters class on the fine points of moral philosophy.

            3) Subjectivity leaves the commisioner open to bias, a completely untenable position. Her rulings need to be crystal clear and generally accepted by everyone or the job will simply dissapear next time there's a majority gov't. Her job needs to be sustainable over the long term, that's the greater good, and should take precedent over Liberal's short term desire for her to issue a scathing condemnation.

  2. Anyway, since she can't investigate everything, perhaps she could investigate things that actually do fall under her mandate, such as Liberal Ujal Dosanjh broadcasting private information from a closed-doors Commons committee session to the internet. It seems to me that would fall under the "Code of Conduct for MPs".

    • Of course he owned up to it like a man, unlike the cowardly Conservatives like Peter "I never saw the memos" MacKay and Stephen "sending Baird out to lie for me" Harper

    • Totally! Worst offense, ever!!!!
      We need to pull up the bootstraps and make sure that such crazy travesties never transpire again.

  3. In the chess vernacular: Cheque, Mate!

  4. If Kevin Pages's experience is any indication, this investigation of Conservative branding of stimulus money will go nowhere.

  5. Stonewall Stephen has successfully found another loophole to ethics and accountability!

  6. "If only we had a commissioner who was responsible for ethics"

    When the CRTC releases its rulings tomorrow on both Net Neutrality, and metered internet usage, I wonder if we will be wishing for more ethical commissioners!!!!!

    As is my habit this week, I point shame at Maclean's for not reporting on any of the discussion pertaining to the health of the internet here in Canada. Only two major media outlets covered it in live news – CBC and Global. Frankly – that is pathetic. So many issues and angles that could be covered (from all points of view), but why bother? We wouldn't want to actually educate the public and raise awareness of the issues, now would we?

  7. "Canada's ethics commissioner will investigate dozens of allegations that Conservative MPs are using taxpayers' money for partisan purposes."

    I think it is ok for Dawson to decide if government has broken any laws.

    "It's quite unclear as to the extent to which my mandate extends into ethical issues that are not expressly referred to in either the code or the act and,"

    However, it is not ok for ethics commissioner to decide on the hoof what is 'ethical' and what isn't. Ethics quickly become morals and we can''t really apply moral principles to MPs because we would have no recognizable government. Which sounds fine to me but would probably irritate big government types.

  8. "Canada's ethics commissioner will investigate dozens of allegations that Conservative MPs are using taxpayers' money for partisan purposes. But Mary Dawson says she's not sure how far her mandate allows her to go into ethical issues, despite her job title."

    I think it is ok for Dawson to decide if government has broken any laws.

    "It's quite unclear as to the extent to which my mandate extends into ethical issues that are not expressly referred to in either the code or the act and,"

    However, it is not ok for ethics commissioner to decide on the hoof what is 'ethical' and what isn't. Ethics quickly become morals and we can''t really apply moral principles to MPs because we would have no recognizable government. Which sounds fine to me but would probably irritate big government types.

  9. "Canada's ethics commissioner will investigate dozens of allegations that Conservative MPs are using taxpayers' money for partisan purposes."

    I think it is ok for Dawson to decide if government has broken any laws.

    "It's quite unclear as to the extent to which my mandate extends into ethical issues that are not expressly referred to in either the code or the act and,"

    However, it is not ok for ethics commissioner to decide on the hoof what is 'ethical' and what isn't. Ethics quickly become morals and we can''t really apply moral principles to MPs because government business would quickly come to halt. Which sounds fine to me but would probably irritate big government types.

  10. "Canada's ethics commissioner will investigate dozens of allegations that Conservative MPs are using taxpayers' money for partisan purposes."

    I think it is ok for Dawson to decide if government has broken any laws.

    "It's quite unclear as to the extent to which my mandate extends into ethical issues that are not expressly referred to in either the code or the act and,"

    However, it is not ok for ethics commissioner to decide on the hoof what is ethical and what isn't. Ethics quickly become morals and we can''t really apply moral principles to MPs because government business would quickly come to halt. Which sounds fine to me but would probably irritate big government types.

  11. I`ve got a confession to make—-I used to enjoy criticizing Wherry but now that everybody is doing it, I`m thinking, he`s not so bad. As a matter of fact, if he leaves and goes back to the Mother Ship with O`Malley, I`m outta here. But I`m not sure I could join them over there—-that place is bad for the soul.

    Here`s the thing—you need a guy like Wherry now that the CPC are in power because he keeps the true believer Lib followers coming back for more—keeps them riled up—keeps their spirits up.

    And the rest of us should know what to expect from Wherry by now.

  12. "Canada's ethics commissioner will investigate dozens of allegations that Conservative MPs are using taxpayers' money for partisan purposes."

    I think it is ok for Dawson to decide if government has broken any laws.

    "It's quite unclear as to the extent to which my mandate extends into ethical issues that are not expressly referred to in either the code or the act … ,"

    However, it is not ok for ethics commissioner to decide on the hoof what is ethical and what isn't. Ethics quickly become morals and we can''t really apply moral principles to MPs because government business would quickly come to halt. Which sounds fine to me but would probably irritate big government types.

    • LOL. You do realize how that's going to be interpreted? A Conservative supporter saying moral principles can't be applied to MPs?

      It does explain a lot though.

  13. This is interesting background from Mary dawsons testimony to the Oliphant commission.

    http://www.oliphantcommission.ca/english/Document

    She is consistent and correct. The most important point is that the Code of Conduct is made by members themselves. So if it wasnt in there before then there is an issue. It will be interesting to see how she rules on the point of "normal activities for an MP". So is having a PR cheque normal for an MP….based on other photos of other governemnts the answer would appear to be yes….but that is for her to decide.

    More intersting discussion at this Oliphant link

    http://www.oliphantcommission.ca/english/Document

    This second piece takes a broader view about where ethics rules, as opposed to conflct of interest rules should and shouldnt go.

    My trouble with much of this, as much as I enjoy political theatre, is that if everything is an ETHICAL BREACH, WPRST EVER etc etc then nothing is.

    Good background, interesting discussion, but fr the moment this is a political matter

  14. If CONs are reading the small print to avoid ethical accountability, I'd say they've fallen down the Bush-Cheney hidey hole now. Cash your cheques and board up the stores; the War on Accountability is now on…

  15. 1) then why did we hire a specialist on ethics if it is not her job to figure out what is ethical/what is not? i am not talking about giving her free reign to redesign the crim code here. (i am not even sure why i am in this debate, all i pointed out is that wherry never actually said what SCF attributed to him!). but you argument has a number of srs fallacies on this point. 1) she does not do her work in isolation; 2) democracy is not subverted as any new legal rules would still go through it (all kinds of rules emerge from outside of parliament or the executive; 3) they could reign her in with new laws of her own; and 4) she is already working within broader parameters (FedAA; CICMHC).

    3) please point me to any individual or institution that operates with no ounce of bias. that her rulings are or are clear and acceptable does not mean they are not subjective.

    4) none of these points are partisan Jesse.

    2) that the nature of corruption and that how we view issues re ethicality changes is no way academic. it is central to practical issues of this case.

  16. Shhh. Let him keep on going ….. it always ends in disaster.

  17. I have never voted for Cons or donated cash/time to the party and if that makes me a Con supporter, so be it.

    I just happen to believe if we applied morals to politics, government would quickly grind to a halt. As far as I am concerned, there is very little pols do that is not ethically questionable. When I wrote that last night, I was thinking of 10 Commandments and how many of them pols break regularly.

    We are a Nation of laws, not morals/ethics. I am mostly satisfied as long as pols aren't breaking the law.

  18. Well, you certainly tend to attack those who attack conservative positions. However perhaps I've just made a mistake along the lines of my enemy's friends are my enemy. I'll admit, the same mistake has been made about me, so it's entirely possible.

    Imma still gonna use that quote though — especially if I see you complaining about an MP's morality. :)

  19. "Well, you certainly tend to attack those who attack conservative positions."

    I am argumentative conservative who has never supported Con party because they are not remotely conservative. Cons talk the talk but implement a lot of policy that Libs are quite comfortable with so I mostly support fringe parties.

    "I'll admit, the same mistake has been made about me, so it's entirely possible."

    I try my hardest but it happens to me as well. We get this binary thing in our heads – if you are not Con than you are Lib.

  20. Yup. And vice versa as well it seems.. I'll have to watch out for that in future, so thanks muchly for the reminder.

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