POLITICS

ProxiVote complaint triggers preliminary review by ethics watchdog

12/19/2014 09:17 EST | Updated 02/18/2015 05:59 EST
The federal ethics watchdog has launched a preliminary investigation into whether Conservative MPs Rob Clarke and Rod Bruinooge may have breached House conflict of interest rules by voting to drop a longstanding ban on the use of smartphones, tablets and other communications devices at polling stations.

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has determined that there are sufficient grounds to begin an initial review of the file after receiving an official request for an inquiry from Liberal MP Scott Simms earlier this week.

Bruinooge and Clarke are the co-creators of ProxiVote, a mobile campaign app being marketed to right-leaning political hopefuls by Proximity Mobile, a company headed up by Bruinooge's wife, Chantale.

According to disclosure statements filed with Dawson's office, both MPs have current ties to Proximity Mobile's parent company,  6317414 Manitoba — Bruinooge is an officer, and Clarke acknowledges what he describes as a "nominal interest."

Given their continuing connection to the app, Simms contends that Bruinooge and Clarke should have recused themselves from votes related to the Fair Elections Act, which was introduced by the government this spring, and was passed into law in June.  

Law changes had 'direct, positive effect'

"The basic purpose of ProxiVote is to help campaigns keep track of who has voted on Election Day," Simms noted in his letter to Dawson.

"While this is standard practice for all nearly all candidates, the software produced by ProxiVote would expedite the process by allowing data entry directly in the polling station."

Under the new law, the previous prohibition on using electronic devices at the polls has been removed — a change that, according to Simms,  "has had a direct, positive effect on the value of ProxiVote's software."

Section 8 of the MPs' conflict of interest code forbids members from acting "in any way" to further their private interests — or those of a family member, including a spouse —  while performing their parliamentary duties. 

A separate provision found in Section 13 of the code also explicitly bars MPs from  participating in debates or votes "on a question in which he or she has a private interest."

MPs have 30 days to respond

But while Simms' request suggested the two MPs may have contravened both sections, Dawson has already cleared Bruinooge of any violation related to the second.

"Section 13 is limited to matters in which the Member, himself or herself, has a private interest, and you have not identified a relevant private interest of Mr. Bruinooge," Dawson notes in her reply to Simms acknowledging his request. 

As a result, she has asked him to respond only to his possible contravention of Section 8.

Clarke, however, will have to address his actions under both sections, as he has disclosed a direct interest in the company. 

The two MPs will have 30 days to respond to the request for an inquiry, after which Dawson will decide if the matter warrants a full examination.

In a written statement sent to CBC News earlier this week, Bruinooge said he has "no concerns" with Simms' contacting the commissioner "in relation to myself or my wife's company."

Although she has no power to penalize MPs who breach the code, Dawson is obliged to report her eventual findings back to the House, and can recommend sanctions.