POLITICS

Lobbyists' Gift Bags Off-Limits, Ethics Watchdog Reminds MPs

11/21/2014 12:25 EST | Updated 01/21/2015 05:59 EST
CP

Federal ethics watchdog Mary Dawson has one word of advice for MPs who may be wondering whether to grab a gift bag when doing the rounds on the Hill reception circuit: Don't.

In an official advisory opinion sent to MPs earlier this month, Dawson notes that several industry associations, advocacy groups and other organizations are scheduled to hold lobby days this fall.

"Organizations hold lobby days in order to raise awareness of various causes and gain support for them, identify champions, issue calls for action and put forward key messages to advance their agenda — in short, to lobby members of Parliament in their role as legislators and policymakers."

That, as far as Dawson is concerned, means that MPs should likely turn down any gifts or other benefits offered in conjunction with lobby day events.

"You are prohibited under the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons from accepting a gift that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence you," she notes.

"Given that organizations that hold lobby days on Parliament Hill are clearly seeking your support as a Member, you are prohibited from accepting gifts from them."

'Trinkets or favours of token value' allowed

Dawson also reminds MPs the rule applies to all organizations, including non-profits and charities, and also covers staffers who might accept a gift on behalf of an MP "or in [their] stead."

She also warns MPs they can't accept an otherwise problematic gift with the intention of donating it to charity.

She does, however, somewhat grudgingly allow for the possibility that "trinkets or favours of token value" — including pens, pins, notepads or key chains — "would generally not reasonably be seen to have been given to influence you, and would therefore usually be acceptable."

Even so, she suggests that could depend on the context, as well as the role of the recipient MP.

"It may still be inadvisable to possess an article that clearly advertises a particular donor," she points out.

MPs can, however, help themselves to the buffet table, and enjoy other "light refreshments" that are a regular feature on the Hill reception circuit — that is, if it falls within "within the customary standards of hospitality" offered to MPs in the course of their duties.

"Advisers in my office are available to provide guidance on specific situations," Dawson adds.

NDP spokeswoman Greta Levy told CBC News the party hasn't taken any extra steps based on Dawson's letter.

"We're not aware of lobbyists trying to give our MPs large gifts," she said.

The Liberals appear to be taking a similar low-key approach to the issue.

Party spokeswoman Kate Purchase pointed out that the memo was accompanied by a personalized, signed letter from the commissioner.

"It is each MP's responsibility to make sure they are compliant with the rules."

The Prime Minister's Office did not immediately respond to a query from CBC News.

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