POLITICS

Diane Finley Breached Conflict Rules, Federal Ethics Watchdog Rules

03/10/2015 11:54 EDT | Updated 05/10/2015 05:59 EDT
CP

Public Works Minister Diane Finley acted improperly and violated the Conflict of Interest Act by funding a Markham, Ont., community centre in 2011 as minister of human resources and social development, the federal ethics commissioner said Tuesday.

Mary Dawson said Finley provided money under the Enabling Accessibility Fund to the Markham Centre for Skills and Independence, a proposal submitted on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Chabad Lubavitch by Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn.

Dawson said the project was added at Finley’s request to four projects already selected from 167 eligible proposals.

An HRSD release from August, 2011 said the Markham centre was awarded $1,044,000 for making the facility fully accessible to people with disabilities. That money was later withdrawn after the group was unable to garner the necessary construction permits.

According to Dawson's report, about $50,000 of the money had been spent, with the rest being returned to the program.

In a written statement, the Prime Minister's Office stated that Stephen Harper has accepted that Finley "acted within her discretionary authority and in good faith in approving a project to improve the accessibility of a community centre in Markham."

Dawson said in a release Tuesday that Finley's decision contravened subsection 6(1) of the Act prohibiting public office holders from making decisions that "they know, or reasonably should know, would place them in a conflict of interest."

'Clearly received preferential treatment'

“I found that the Markham proposal clearly received preferential treatment,” Dawson said. “The Federation was the only applicant that was allowed to provide additional information, after its proposal failed the Department’s internal assessment. The proposal was also the only one to be given a last-minute external evaluation at Ms. Finley’s request.”

The release says there were a number of interventions in relation to the proposal by the Prime Minister's Office, two ministers, staff in Finley’s office and senior departmental officials.

Dawson said that she began the investigation on her own initiative when she was made aware of media reports "suggesting that the Markham proposal may have received special treatment from the minister."

In making the decision, Dawson said Finley violated several guidelines, including the Treasury Board’s Policy on Transfer Payments and the Prime Minister’s guidance document, Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State.

"It appears that some of these guiding principles were not top of mind in the handling of the Markham proposal,” Dawson said in her report.

Dawson said the preferential treatment did not appear to have been based on the identity of Rabbi Mendelsohn as the Federation’s representative, and therefore Finley did not contravene section 7 of the Act, while noting that she has commented in the past that section 7 is very limited in its application.

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