Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu has to apologize to his Senate colleagues and take a course in contemporary management after twice renewing the contract of a staffer he was dating, a parliamentary committee ordered Monday.

Boisvenu eventually moved Isabelle Lapointe out of his office, but then tried to arrange for two weeks of special leave for her when she moved into her new job, also at the Senate.

Last June, Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard found Boisvenu had broken the rules but acted in good faith, and recommended no sanctions.

The Senate conflict of interest committee reviewed that decision and is ordering "remedial action and sanction."

The committee is recommending:

  • Boisvenu apologize for "the breaches of the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators identified by the senate ethics officer, not having promptly remedied the real or apparent conflict of interest situation, and having failed to prevent a real or apparent conflict of interest from arising and the resulting impact on the public confidence and trust in the integrity of each senator and in the Senate."
  • Boisvenu take a course, pre-approved by the Committee and at his expense, "to ensure a proper understanding of the fundamentals of contemporary management of employer–employee relations in a public institution." 

The affair began after Lapointe began to work in Boisvenu's office. Despite the relationship, Boisvenu twice renewed her yearly contract.

A spokeswoman for Boisvenu said he had been told by the committee not to comment on the report, even though it has been released to the public.

Contract ended after media reports

Boisvenu ended Lapointe's contract in 2013 after media reports revealed he had charged the Senate for out-of-town expenses while staying for 31 days at her Gatineau, Que., condo, just across the river from Ottawa.

When Boisvenu was appointed to the Senate, he was living in Sherbrooke, Que., which was far enough away to allow him to claim extra expenses for staying near Parliament Hill when the Senate is in session. However, once he split with his wife in 2012, he spent most of his time in Gatineau and continued to charge the Senate, to the tune of $20,000.

In June of last year, Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette filed a complaint against Boisvenu for violating the Senate's ethics code by using Senate resources to benefit a "family member."

Ricard found the code identifies a common-law partner as a family member only after co-habitation of at least a year, and concluded Lapointe was not a family member of Boisvenu's.

The Senate conflict of interest committee wrote that Boisvenu told them he had, "at best, a very superficial knowledge of the rules with respect to his responsibilities as a manager" when he arrived at the Senate.

"He had the perception that the nature of a political institution meant that different standards applied as opposed to what is applicable in a public sector organization" the report said.

"In retrospect, Senator Boisvenu told your committee that now he would handle the situation differently."

Position of authority

Unlike Ricard, however, the committee said Boisvenu has to face a penalty for his actions, which included speaking to former Senate ethics officer Jean Fournier, who either told him to be prudent, or to end the relationship — the committee says Boisvenu's recollection of the conversation changed between when he spoke to Ricard and to the committee.

"Any person in a position of authority engaged in a personal relationship with a subordinate must take immediate measures to change the direct reporting relationship… All actions in a modern workplace that could reflect negatively on an organization and its members should be addressed swiftly and promptly in a manner that respects all the rights of the parties involved," the report said.

The committee changed its rules of conduct just days before the ethics officer cleared Boisvenu, laying out stricter guidelines for senators' conduct.

The code of conduct now requires senators to "adhere to high standards of personal and professional conduct in the discharge of their duties, going beyond a strict conflict of interest regime."

The report released late Monday afternoon says the effect of the change "articulates clearly a senator’s obligation to refrain from acting in a manner that could reflect adversely on the position of the senator or on the Senate as an institution."

The rules were changed last April to limit the committee to recommend remedial measures and remove its power to conduct its own investigation or refer the issue back to the Senate ethics officer.

with files from Leslie MacKinnon