08/25/2016 12:48 EDT | Updated 08/26/2017 01:12 EDT

Liberal MP Kate Young's letter to the CRTC was improper: ethics commissioner

OTTAWA — It was improper for Liberal MP Kate Young, as a parliamentary secretary, to support a television station's licence renewal application, the federal ethics commissioner says.

Mary Dawson ruled Thursday the Ontario MP's letter to the national broadcast regulator on behalf of the CTV station in her London riding ran afoul of the Conflict of Interest Act. 

Dawson ordered Young to refrain from making such appeals without first seeking approval from the commissioner's office.

Young, parliamentary secretary to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, has apologized for sending the Aug. 3 letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission calling for renewal of Bell Media's licence for CTV London, where she was news anchor for many years.

Dawson issued a guideline in October 2013 saying cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries "may not under any circumstances" intervene in the decision-making process of an administrative tribunal, such as the CRTC, on behalf of any constituent in any riding.

Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act prohibits a public office holder — as ministers and parliamentary secretaries are known — from using their position to try to influence decision-making when doing so would improperly further the private interests of another person.

Parliamentary secretaries, though not members of cabinet, serve as key representatives of the government and as important links between ministers and Parliament, says a federal guide published in January.

A parliamentary secretary supports his or her minister by helping advance the government's legislative program, speaks in the House of Commons in the minister's absence, acts as a liaison between the minister and caucus and may be given specific duties for policy development or public engagement.

The Canadian Press came across Young's letter during a routine examination of filings with the CRTC.

When asked about the letter, Jocelyne Brisebois, a spokeswoman for the commissioner, said Wednesday that Dawson was unaware of it but "will look into the matter."

In a statement late Wednesday, Young said that in writing the letter she was acting as a voice for her community "and did not take into consideration the implications of my role as parliamentary secretary and sincerely apologize for any inappropriate actions on my part."

"I have spoken with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner's office about my obligations and will comply fully with any guidance they may have."

Young, a rookie MP, was elected last October following a lengthy career in journalism and public relations.

In her letter advocating the TV licence renewal, Young said she understands the importance of supporting Canadian culture.

"Bell Media's proposals in their application seek to better position Canadian broadcasters to contribute to the broadcasting system in this country while continuing to offer programming that entertains, informs, and engages audiences," the letter said. "I therefore ask that the CRTC approve Bell Media's application."

The CRTC has yet to decide on the licence renewal.

Dawson issued her October 2013 guideline after public controversy over letters to the CRTC from a Conservative cabinet minister and parliamentary secretaries.

The commissioner had admonished Jim Flaherty, then finance minister, and two parliamentary secretaries — Eve Adams and Colin Carrie — for breaching the Conflict of Interest Act by writing letters to the broadcast regulator in support of radio licence applications.

In February 2016, Dawson ruled that former Conservative MP Parm Gill contravened the act by sending letters to the CRTC on behalf of two constituents when he was a parliamentary secretary.  

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter