Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tony Clement conflict of interest allegations

Recall the Ethics Commissioner's recent response to the conflict of interest allegations raised against Helena Guergis arising out of the letter Guergis wrote on behalf of a constituent's business. The facts of that case are somewhat similar to the present allegations against Tony Clement. There, the Ethics Commissioner denied a Conflict of Interest Act investigation but proceeded with a Conflict of Interest Code of Conduct investigation, which is I believe, still ongoing. The Act applies to Ministers, the Code applies to MPs.

Her reason for declining the Conflict of Interest Act investigation request in Guergis' case was this: "...you have not provided any information indicating that Ms. Guergis was acting in her capacity as a Minister of State." Will it be enough for the Ethics Commissioner this time that Clement states, on video, that he's the Minister of Health? Will she believe her own eyes?

The Conservatives are arguing, nevertheless that it was all just part of an MP's regular duties, downplaying the ministerial role:
But the government maintained Clement has done nothing wrong — he was simply trying to help a company in his riding, as all MPs have a duty to do.

The furor erupted following the revelation Clement took part in a 2008 promotional video for Lord and Partners Ltd., a company that produces environmentally friendly cleaning products. The company is based in Clement's Ontario riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka.

In the video, Clement identifies himself as the minister of health, as he was at the time, and extends greetings to the people of China "on behalf of myself and the government of Canada."

As industry minister, Clement subsequently appointed the producer of the video, longtime supporter George Young, to the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Moreover, Lord and Partners this year received three federal contracts, worth a total of $41,000.
Section 4 of the Conflict of Interest Act looks to be relevant here:
For the purposes of this Act, a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.
Let's hope that the Ethics Commissioner will refrain from going too far into the weeds of statutory interpretation now on what constitutes an "official power, duty or function."

There have been indications that the Commissioner is not conducting rigorous examinations of allegations, see the government advertising case that suggested the Ethics Commissioner relied too heavily on one submission, and recently, the "Yes"/"No" phone interview with Snowdy, P.I. Then there are the delays with investigations and the recent Raitt decision where more of that narrow interpretation skill set of the Ethics Commissioner was on display. This is another test.

There's a lot of "but, but, the Liberals" spin going on around these Clement allegations but the statute of limitations is up on that one. Ministers stand on their own two feet and they need to account for their own actions here and now. We'll see what comes of the latest ethical stench.