Please stop pestering the CRTC

The ethics commissioner issued two more compliance orders yesterday concerning letters sent to the CRTC, this time by parliamentary secretaries Eve Adams and Colin Carrie. Both rulings come to the same conclusion.

It is improper for you to have written a letter of support to a tribunal in relation to its decision-making. Writing such a letter would be improper regardless of whether or not you explicitly identified yourself as a parliamentary secretary.

When Jim Flaherty wrote to the CRTC and was reprimanded by the ethics commissioner, the Finance Minister blamed the “oversight” that his ministerial title had been listed under his signature on the letter—essentially arguing that he was permitted to send such a letter so long as he didn’t explicitly identify himself as the finance minister in doing so.

The commissioner’s rulings on Ms. Adams and Mr. Carrie suggest to me that’s not the standard to be applied. I’ve asked the commissioner’s office for clarity and will pass along whatever I receive in response.

Update 11:44am. A note from the ethics commissioner’s office.

While the wording of the orders differs, the interpretation and application of the rules is the same. The Commissioner is of the view that the provision of the Conflict of Interest Act applies in these instances regardless of whether Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries use their titles or not.




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Please stop pestering the CRTC

  1. Other important guidelines for parliamentary secretaries: Make sure you wear a hat when you go out in the cold. The outside of your head is a large exposed surface area even if there isn’t much going on inside.

  2. Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson continues her 5-year very questionable enforcement record by failing to issue consistent, coherent rulings about similar situations, and by failing to find Minister Flaherty and MPs Adams and Carrie guilty of violating the Act (issuing an compliance order that says they cannot write such letters again is not the same as issuing rulings that say they violated the Act).

    And she continues to fail to issue interpretation bulletins about key measures in the Act, and in the MPs Code (again, even though she has been Commissioner for more than 5 years). For example, the MPs Code (sections 8 and 9) prohibit MPs from using their influence to further their own or their family’s interests, or to improperly further another person’s interests. The MPs Code also contains principles in section 2 that say MPs are expected to serve the public interest (not private interests) and uphold the highest standards “so as to avoid real or apparent conflicts of interests, and maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of each Member and in the House of Commons.”

    Section 5 of the MPs Code says that an MP is not, in any situation, in violation of the Code “if the Member’s activity is one in which Members normally and properly engage on behalf of constituents.”

    Until the Ethics Commissioner issues interpretation bulletin that makes it completely clear what activities are “normal and proper” for MPs to engage in on behalf of constituents, no one can tell what line the above rules draw, and as result no one will ever be found guilty of crossing that line.

    • Which, presumably, is exactly why there has been no interpretation bulletin issued. PMO puppets don’t cross the boss.

  3. Soooo… now MPs who are appointed to cabinet positions (or even Parliamentary Secretaryshipss) are effectively barred from representing their constituents to government? That’s tough to square with the Westminster tradition.

    • They can do many things including publicly comment on the matter but may not directly contact the administrative body which will be making the decision. No need to get all Ezra about it.

      • They weren’t scheduling meetings to privately berate and threaten the administrative body in question – they sent letters as part of a process that solicited input from anyone who cared to provide it. Their letters provided their opinions as Parliamentary representatives and nothing more. If the Ethics Commissioner can’t square that circle, that doesn’t say very much about her ability to differentiate on matters of substance.

        • Er, no. just no.

          • When bureaucrats run the country, MPs will be intimidated into silence. We may well be there already.

          • If MPs are going to have the unfettered ability to determine which private interests of their constituents they’ll support, and which private interests of their constituents they’ll oppose, I’d rather they be silent.

        • And what about the OTHER companies operating radio stations in Flaherty’s riding? What if they oppose Durham Radio’s application to the CRTC for a new station? Is it really appropriate for an MP to choose to write a letter supporting the private interests of local company X when they potentially conflict with the private interests of local company Y?

          • Well, plainly the duly elected representatives for the constituencies in question made their judgement calls. It’s not for you, me or the Ethics Commissioner to decide whether they were good calls – that’s for the voters in those ridings to decide in the next election.

          • So, you’d impose no limits whatsoever on a Member of Parliament’s ability to choose which constituents he or she supports once in office, and which he or she screws over?

          • Of course not. I just prefer to err on the side of established custom and free speech.

          • Except what you’re actually erring on is the side of corruption and oppression.

            The established custom, as defined by law, is for ministers to not do such things. And you need to understand what the difference between free speech and exercising authority is.

            When your boss tells you to do something, is that him exercising free speech? You’ll note there are limits on it. For instance, a boss cannot tell you to do something illegal, or to do things of a personal or sexual nature, etc. If he does, he’d be in violation of the law. Why? Because what he’s doing isn’t exercising his free speech, he’s exercising his authority.

            Similarly when a government agency is told by the people who are basically their boss to act in a certain matter, that is not the exercise of free speech, that is the exercise of authority. If we allow the exercise of authority to influence what should be free decisions of these boards, we set ourselves up for a system where bribery can determine winners and losers. Thus, we’ve passed laws to prohibit that from happening by prohibiting the bosses, ie ministers and parliamentary secretaries, from attempting to influence arms length committees.

          • I’d ask the cabinet ministers who’ve resigned from previous governments over writing letters to regulatory bodies that were even less explicitly supportive than this about “established custom”. Prior to this government the “established custom” for ministers who inappropriately involved themselves in advancing the private interests of constituents was removal from cabinet.

            Tory Diane Ablonczy once referred to the removals of Michel Dupuy and David Collenette from cabinet (over this exact issue) as “examples of what used to be a reasonable standard of ethics, even for Liberals”.

            On this file, the Tories aren’t even living up to the standards of what they used to think was the BARE MINIMUM that they could expect from the Liberals.

    • I don’t believe that it would be appropriate for ANY MP to write a letter to a government regulatory body either supporting or opposing the application of a private corporation or citizen that is before said body. While the commissioner could be clearer, the fact that her office has explained that this issue is not about whether the Minister or the Secretaries identified themselves as members of Cabinet in their letters seems to pretty clearly indicate that this is not just about Cabinet.

      Maybe it’s just me, but this seems pretty cut and dry to me. Cabinet Ministers in past governments have resigned or been shuffled out of Cabinet for writing letters like this, including letters that didn’t even explicitly support or oppose the specifics of the application in question.

      • But we all know all past governments were corrupt and evil, while the Harperites are angels sent from heaven to guide us to enlightenment…

  4. pj o’rourke ~ when buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators

  5. Why would you even contact one of these boards as a minister, secretary, or any other govt official if there wasn’t some implicit expectation that your opinion ought to carry more weight than that of others? Flaherty’s argument in particular is ridiculous given his stature in this govt.

    • Too true! One would have to be a complete and utter idiot not to know who Flaherty is, and the influence he wields. There is no doubt in my mind that his intent was to exert that influence.

    • Maybe because you’re also a Member of Parliament, and as such your function is to represent your constituents to government? But I guess since proportional representation is all the rage amongst the enlightened classes these days, old fashioned ideas like MPs that actually represent people are on their way out.

  6. One such letter might be a slip. Letters from multiple members sounds more like a deliberate campaign and party policy.

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