Democracy Watch Takes On Lobbyists Who Sponsor Trips By MPs, Senators

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OTTAWA — A political accountability watchdog has filed an ethics complaint with federal commissioner of lobbying Karen Shepherd about the gifts of paid travel that various lobbying organizations have given to MPs — and a few senators — in recent years.

Ottawa-based Democracy Watch, which promotes high ethical standards in government, says the gifts violate a rule that prohibits lobbyists from doing anything that would put an MP, senator or other public office holder in even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

A number of parliamentarians travel abroad each year as guests of organizations, companies or foreign governments.

karen shepherd
Karen Shepherd, Commissioner of Lobbying, appears at Commons ethics committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday May 1, 2012. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

MPs have defended the practice, saying it allows them to learn more about issues of importance to their constituents through travel they otherwise could not afford.

The Democracy Watch complaint lists 16 businesses and lobby organizations from various sectors that are registered in the federal Registry of Lobbyists and that, since 2009, have paid for trips by MPs and, in one case, also by senators.

The sponsors include the Armenian National Committee of Canada, Westjet, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Engineers Without Borders Canada.

Spouses, staff sometimes come, too

Sometimes the MP's spouse or staff has accompanied the parliamentarian, and often the trips have involved thousands of dollars in travel and accommodation costs, Democracy Watch notes.

However, the group's complaint letter asks that a responsible official other than Shepherd rule on the matter because she has expressed interest in being reappointed by MPs to the position once her term ends in July.

Democracy Watch argues this places her in a conflict of interest when considering a complaint that affects the reputation and activities of MPs.

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