Thursday, March 22, 2012

Another feckless accountability mechanism weighs in

The Ethics Commissioner has finally gotten around to deciding on the Rahim Jaffer matter where, if you will recall from way back in 2010 when this arose, Mr. Jaffer was seeing the ministerial door swung wide open to him. This report, coming in March 2012, is just way, way too late to put the fear of any kind of accountability into government actors. Timeliness of such reviews is crucial if such regimes are to work. This is just ridiculous.

Further, even while relating the breaches committed by Christian Paradis, which her office finds, the Ethics Commissioner adds some incredible language to her press release.
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson today released the report on her examination related to allegations made against the Honourable Christian Paradis, while he was Minister of Public Works and Government Services.

She found that he contravened the Conflict of Interest Act by providing special treatment to Mr. Rahim Jaffer, a former caucus colleague, and his company, Green Power Generation, when he directed his staff to arrange a meeting between that company and departmental officials.

Commissioner Dawson found that Mr. Paradis contravened section 7 of the Act related to preferential treatment and subsection 6(1), which prohibits public office holders from making decisions that would place them in a conflict of interest. She found he did not contravene a third provision, section 9 related to influence, that was also a focus of her examination.

“I believe that Mr. Paradis’ inclination to help his former caucus colleague, while inappropriate, is easy to understand,” Commissioner Dawson said. “However, ministers are in a position of power and have a special responsibility to ensure that that power is exercised fairly and in a way that is open to all Canadians.

“In addition to addressing individual cases, I view my reports as educational tools that can help public office holders and Members of the House of Commons understand how Canada’s conflict of interest regimes apply in various situations.”
Easy to understand? What? Just incredible. We need less of an educational lesson from the Ethics Commissioner's office and more meaningful enforcement that will mean ministers don't view these offences as a licence to proceed followed by a rap on the knuckles afterwards. Particularly when the breaches on the Jaffer issue are viewed in light of other additional material in the report, see below.

Here's one gem from the report, on the Jaffer matter (p. 20), speaking to Paradis' judgment:
On October 1, 2009, two weeks after Mr. Jaffer’s arrest had been made public, the Deputy Minister confirmed with Mr. Paradis that he was aware that his ministerial staff had requested that departmental officials meet with Green Power Generation. In light of Mr. Jaffer’s legal troubles, he asked Mr. Paradis whether he still wanted the department to meet with Mr. Jaffer. Mr. Paradis said that he did, because Mr. Jaffer’s solar panel project was unrelated to his legal troubles. I find it odd that Mr. Paradis would have asked his department to proceed with the meeting in these circumstances. I question whether he would have done the same for someone with whom he did not have a prior relationship.
That is odd. More than odd, in fact. Blatant and wrong favouritism are words that come to mind.

Also notable here, in the Ethics Commissioner's report, there are seven instances beyond the Rahim Jaffer preferential treatment that she points out where Paradis or his ministerial staffers opened doors for companies (at least two in his riding) to officials in Public Works. For example (p. 12-13 of the report):
My Office asked departmental officials and current and former ministerial staff to provide details of any other instances in which Mr. Paradis or his staff had asked departmental officials to meet with representatives of a business.
Only a few examples were provided. I presented these to Mr. Paradis and provided him with an opportunity to provide additional examples, which he did. In addition to the request involving Green Power Generation and the solar panel proposal from another company described in the previous section, seven other meetings were identified and described to me.
...
The two meetings of particular relevance organized by departmental officials at the request of Mr. Paradis were with a building materials company and a geothermics company in his riding. In both cases the meetings were arranged between company representatives and technical officials from the Professional and Technical Services Management Group. This was the same group that met with Mr. Glémaud, representing Green Power Generation.

Mr. Paradis had met representatives of each of the companies on separate occasions in his riding and they had presented their products to him. Mr. Paradis said that in each case he thought that what the company was offering was innovative and unique and could be part of the greening of government initiative. He said that he thought it would be worthwhile for each of the businesses to make a presentation to Public Works.

Mr. Paradis said that he asked a ministerial staff member to conduct an initial analysis of each of these companies and their products before proceeding to organize meetings with the appropriate branch of Public Works for the businesses to present their products. Mr. Paradis told me that in both cases ministerial staff completed an analysis of the products before requesting that the Deputy Minister’s office arrange a meeting.
You wouldn't have a sense of this swirling undercurrent of favouritism, beyond the Jaffer matter, if you just left your read at the Ethics Commissioner's press release.

Ministers used to resign for such breaches. So, what's going to happen with Mr. Paradis?