THE BLOG

Federal Government Should Be Open About Ethics

06/05/2013 04:15 EDT | Updated 08/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Today, Democracy Watch released the response (PDF) from the Prime Minister's Office/Privy Council Office that dodges and delays responding to the Access to Information Act request for the number of times federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has contacted the PMO/PCO since beginning her job in July 2007. Democracy Watch also released the complaint (PDF) it filed with the Information Commissioner about this unjustifiable delay, and called for clear changes to ensure effective ethics rules and enforcement in Canada.

Democracy Watch filed the request on March 29, 2013 but in its response the PCO/PMO give themselves a 180-day extension, claiming they have to consult "a few" other government institutions. Democracy Watch has filed a complaint with the Information Commissioner about this unjustifiable delay given that its request was only about contact between the Ethics Commissioner and the PMO/PCO, and given that modern technology and the simplicity of the request made the request easy to fulfill within the required 30 days.

More than 79,000 messages have been sent through Democracy Watch's letter-writing campaign to key politicians across Canada, including to MPs on the House of Commons Ethics Committee who are reviewing the federal Conflict of Interest Act right now -- all calling for key changes to ensure strong ethics rules, and independent, effective enforcement.

"This was a very simple request asking only for the number of times the Ethics Commissioner has contacted the PMO or PCO since 2007, so the fact they are dodging the request combined with the Ethics Commissioner's terrible enforcement record raises alarm bells about whether the Ethics Commissioner is operating independently from Cabinet," said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. "With the ongoing Nigel Wright ethics case the government should be providing Canadians with as much information as possible about ethics enforcement, not using delay tactics to keep this information secret."

Democracy Watch has repeatedly raised concerns about the Ethics Commissioner's weak enforcement record which includes letting dozens of Conservatives off the hook for clear violations, and rejecting at least 80 complaints without issuing public rulings.

Democracy Watch has also called for an immediate ruling from the Ethics Commissioner based on its belief that the evidence available makes it clear that the Prime Minister's former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he gave $90,000 to Senator Mike Duffy, and has explained why a public inquiry into this and other current scandalous Senate situations will unfortunately likely be needed because cover-ups by various watchdogs are likely.

Democracy Watch will continue to push the PMO/PCO to disclose details about its contact with the federal Ethics Commissioner since 2007, and along with the Government Ethics Coalition will continue its Government Ethics Campaign until key changes are made to ensure effective federal ethics rules and enforcement.