Inside Politics

EthicsWatch: Allegations against Senator Housakos "unsubstantiated and without merit" ...

.. that's according to Senate Ethics Officer Jean Fournier, who released his opinion on the matter today, although a copy of the report seems to have been "obtained" by CanWest last Friday. 
The investigation was sparked by questions over the senator's involvement with Montreal-based BPR, which was part of a consortium that successfully bid on a $4.5 million contract to study the Champlain Bridge. 
Last May, Housakos also organized a Conservative Party fundraiser in Montreal, which was attended by at least two BPR executives, as well as several of the directors of JCCBI, the federal agency responsible for awarding the contract in question. The fundraiser took place on the same day that Public Works Minister Christian Paradis announced that the government would be investing $212 million as part of a Champlain Bridge "rehabilitation program." 
Fournier, however, found no evidence that "the Senator used, or even attempted to use, his position as a Senator to influence the decision of JCCBI in awarding the contract in question to Consortium BCDE in order to further his private interest in BPR."  Although he acknowledges that "there was a great deal of confusion concerning the Senator's association with BPR," Fournier concluded that "the evidence clarifies that Senator Housakos was not at any point in time on the board of directors of Groupe BPR Inc. or BPR Inc., nor did he hold an official position in either of these companies."
As for that fundraiser, Fournier notes that the fact that a senator was involved in organizing a political event is "not an unusual occurence, and "as such, the mere fact that the Senator was involved in this event does not result in a contravention of section 9 (use of influence) of the Senate Code." As for the presence of two JCCBI board members, he notes that  "the Senate Code only applies to Senators," and adds that "in any event, the fundraiser was held before the public call for tenders concerning the contract in question," and at that point in time, "it was not clear which entities would eventually choose to bid on the contract." 
As part of the information gathering process, Fournier interviewed the following individuals: Senator Housakos, Mr. Pierre Lavallée, President and Chief Executive Officer of Groupe BPR Inc., Mr. Paul Kefalas, President and member of the board of directors of the JCCBI, Mr. Serge Martel, a member of the board of directors and Secretary of the JCCBI, Ms. Micheline Dubé, President and Chief Executive Officer of the FBCL, and Mr. Glen Carlin, General Manager of the JCCBI ... [and] ... Mr. Jacques Gagnon, the Assistant Deputy Minister at the Ministère des Transports du Québec (Transports Québec).
You can read the full report here; it seems likely that Fournier's findings will elicit the usual  grumbling over the relative -- well, relative to the Commons, at least -- freedom that senators -- at least, those who aren't also cabinet ministers -- enjoy when it comes to carrying on outside business, including taking an active role in private companies that may end up bidding on private contracts, even while simultaneously organizing party fundraisers. Even the disclosure process for senators is distinctly less transparent than it is for MPs -- rather than posting the statements online, the Senate Ethics Office merely invites interested parties to drop by his office to peruse the details "during regular office hours." 
Once the Conservatives finally get a plurality -- no, not a majority -- early next year, the balance of power in the Red Chamber is likely to remain razor thin for the foreseeable future, which will make the occupants even more likely to be targeted by lobbyists. Then again, with the Conservatives finally getting the upper hand in the Upper House, there would be nothing stopping the Tory caucus from proposing a more rigorous Senate Ethics Code. Your move, Accountability Government! 
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