Inside Politics

UPDATED - Liberal courting of Mark Carney reveals gap in lobby reporting regime

Yesterday afternoon, the Bank of Canada put out a statement absolving departing governor Mark Carney of any ethical impropriety with regard to his now notorious summer sojourn at a Nova Scotia cottage owned by Liberal finance critic Scott Brison.

As per the bank's general counsel, the week-long visit "did not breach [BoC] conflict of interest guidelines in any way" -- even though it took place at the very same time that various and sundry named and unnamed Liberal operatives were trying -- and failing -- to convince him to run for the party leadership. 

So, case closed? Most likely, at least unless further revelations of far more obviously improper cosiness were to surface. 

Even then, it's difficult to see what, if any, sanctions could be brought to bear, considering how few of the rules that govern the conduct of elected officials and senior civil servants apply to the man in charge of the country's central bank.

As Maclean's writer John Geddes explains, Carney is bound, at least in part, by the government's guidelines on political activity by public office holders, although he notes that it's an indirect, seemingly almost inadvertent restraint, as it relates not to Carney's Bank of Canada job, but his subsidiary role as special representative to the International Monetary Fund.

According to a spokesperson for the Office of the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Commissioner, however, Carney is not subject to the Conflict of Interest Act, which applies to all public office holders appointed directly by cabinet, as well as ministers and their exempt staff. 

UPDATE: In response to a followup query sparked by Geddes' piece, the same spokesman confirmed that, in his role as IMF representative, Carney must abide by the general provisions of the Conflict of Interest Act, as far as it applies to all public office holders, but not the additional measures imposed upon reporting public office holders, which include disclosure of assets and liabilities, as well as all outside job offers. 

In fact, he isn't even a Designated Public Office Holder under the Lobbying Act, which means there is no requirement for lobbyists to log and report their meetings with him, nor is he covered by the five-year ban on post-employment lobbying. The same applies to all heads of crown corporations, including Canada Post, 

(A quick scan of the public communications registry suggests there may be some confusion on that last point, as his name appears in no fewer than 38 registrations filed since 2008. Although the Office of the Lobbying Commissioner unfailingly declines to comment on specific cases, particularly the hypothetical ones, a spokesperson did acknowledge "over reporting," and noted the office does "take measures to correct it.)

All of which does raise the question: If Carney's position isn't even considered as potentially sensitive to the appearance of conflict, or as susceptible to influence as a backbench opposition MP or junior ministerial staffer, should an ultimately unsuccessful recruitment campaign by a handful of backroom Liberal party operatives really give cause for concern? 

And if it does, wouldn't it make sense to extend the ethical framework under which senior government officials operate to cover the Bank of Canada and other crown corporations in future?  

Comments are closed.