Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good advice for the very busy Ethics Commissioner

Following Mary Dawson's hints of doubt about how her office would go about addressing the many ethics complaints that have been brought forth, Errol Mendes provides her with some advice today that should strengthen her resolve.

Mendes reviews the key provisions of the Conflict of Interest Code and the Act that give her jurisdiction over such questions, central among them articles 8 and 9 of the Code which prohibit the preferring of "private interests" by members of government over the public interest (section 2 of the Code).

The private interests at issue are of course those of the Conservative party as a political institution. This is a key aspect to these ethics arguments. The governing Conservatives are wearing two hats, they serve the public interest as government members. Yet they have private interests in the form of the political fortunes of the Conservative party. When the private interest overtakes the public and government levers are used in favour of those private interests, our ethics mechanisms must be able to stop that line crossing. The logo cheques, the partisanly slanted advertising...the evidence presented suggests that the lines between private and public are indeed being crossed. And the Conflict of Interest Code provides the room to assess those complaints.
...the ethics commissioner has ample jurisdiction to investigate and pronounce on the allegations by the opposition MPs regarding the use of taxpayers' monies for partisan purposes. Such MPs can and must have the power to protect the trust and integrity of our democratic institutions by seeking the oversight of the ethics commissioner for a violation not only of the Conflict of Interest Code but also other policies that have been authorized by the Financial Administration Act and apply to all institutions of the government of Canada under the provisions of the act.

The most important principle at stake in the allegations is to reinforce the point that governing parties, even though they control the levers of governmental authority and taxpayers' monies are still private interests. If we come to accept that such parties can be regarded as one and the same as the government of the country, we are heading for a very disturbing undermining of Canadian democracy.

The countries that have conflated the governing party with the government of the country include the People's Republic of China, Zimbabwe and Sudan. (emphasis added)
Well said.