Inside Politics

MPs quietly shove code of conduct review down the memory hole

What with the recent flurry of debate over what appears to have been a tidily profitable and entirely ethics commissioner-approved sojourn on the paid speakers' circuit by a certain Liberal leadership candidate -- it's worth noting that those very same MPs whose extraparliamentary activities seem to elicit such keen public interest have quietly sidelined a mandatory five-year committee review of their self-imposed code of conduct.

In fact, since it was assigned to examine the current guidelines last spring, the procedure and house affairs committee has devoted just four meetings to the subject, which, with the exception of the (liveblogged) appearance by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, have taken place entirely in camera.

Given the stringent restrictions on revealing what goes on during such sessions, there's simply no way to know what, if any, concerns with the current regime may have come up behind closed doors.

For instance, a perusal of the minutes shows that three Conservative MPs -- Leon Benoit, Larry Miller and Brent Rathgeber -- testified before the committee last May, but not what they had to say, or even if they did so on three different issues, or presented a united front.

We also know that, just two weeks later on June 5th, committee members agreed to ask the House for an extension to the initial June 11th deadline, a request that was granted without so much as a question on when the report might be finished (although it did take ever affable chair Joe Preston two tries to successfully garner unanimous consent to concur it in without further debate). 

Since then, they've held just two Code-related meetings, both in secret: a Q&A with House of Commons clerk Audrey O'Brien on June 7th, and an update from the research staff on a summary of work to date on September 27th. On October 16th, as part of a more wide-ranging meeting on upcoming business, the committee agreed to earmark $1,675.75 for the study.

As far as the official record goes, that appears to have been the last time the issue has come up, either in public or in camera.

With the committee now thoroughly consumed by those proposed riding changes -- and, it's worth noting, racing against a hard deadline of mid-June to report their recommendations thereon back to the House -- it seems unlikely that the rules governing the ethics and conduct of our elected federal representatives will make it back onto the agenda until next fall at the earliest. 

Even when they do return to their appointed task, the clandestine approach of the committee to its investigations thus far offer little hope that the eventual findings will provide much in the way of candid observations or insight into how well -- or, conversely, not so well -- the Code has worked since coming into force.  

We can only hope that the parallel five-year checkup currently underway at Ethics on the Conflict of Interest Act -- which covers ministers, parliamentary secretaries, senior political staff and civil servants and other governor-in-council appointees -- doesn't meet a similar fate.


Tags: blackberry jungle, code of conduct, ethics commissioner mary dawson

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