06/21/2012 03:35 EDT | Updated 08/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Mary Dawson , Ethics Commissioner, Says MP Gifts Need Tighter Rules

OTTAWA - The ethics watchdog for the House of Commons wants to tighten the rules around the gifts MPs receive, saying politicians don't always seem to understand the principles involved.

Conflict of interest and ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said in her annual report Thursday that she wants the disclosure limit on gifts slashed to $30 from $500.

Anything worth more than $30 would have to be declared.

Dawson said there's a persistent misconception among MPs that as long as the gift is under $500, it's OK to accept it.

"As I have said on numerous occasions in my annual reports ... the monetary value is not the determining factor as to whether or not a member may accept a gift or other benefit," said Dawson.

"Whether it is acceptable is determined solely on the basis of whether it could be reasonably seen to have been given to influence the member, whatever its value."

Dawson added that MPs often don't regard free meals and drinks at the many receptions they attend as gifts, although she has been clear that they are gifts. She suggests MPs should put forward an exception to the gift rules if they don't agree.

Another area of concern for Dawson involves public office holders, including ministers, senior political staff and top bureaucrats.

She said that although those senior officials are supposed to tell her about offers and acceptances of employment before they leave their jobs, she only received 15 disclosures over the last year from the 292 public office holders who had left government.

"Although some reporting public office holders may retire, return to school or take time off after they leave public office, I wonder whether more than 15 may have had an offer of employment in hand at the time they left office," Dawson said.

The commissioner also came across other missing information when she asked this year for the latest financial statements from officials who hadn't updated their file in four or more years.

She discovered that some had invested in assets that they weren't allowed to hold. They were forced to sell those to abide by the Conflict of Interest Act.

Dawson says she now wants to make public office holders file a financial statement every year.

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