Inside Politics

Liberal senator wants ministers, senior staff to disclose cash 'gifts' from 'friends'

In a valiant attempt to seize a shred of silver lining from the seemingly unending parliamentary expense scandal, Liberal Senator Joseph Day has launched a campaign to close what he sees as a major loophole in the current Conflict of Interest Act: specifically, the exemption that allows reporting public office holders -- ministers, senior political staffers and high-ranking civil servants -- to accept gifts of any value, including cold hard cash, from 'friends' with no requirement to reveal such acts of generosity, either to the ethics commissioner, nor the public.

Earlier today, Day introduced a bill that would narrow the scope of that provision to apply to family members only, while simultaneously expanding the existing disclosure regime to cover all such gifts that are not received from a relative, by filing, within 30 days, a "public declaration that provides sufficient detail to identify the gift or other advantage accepted, the donor and the circumstances under which it was accepted."

Via press release, Day observes that he and his colleagues had tried to change those very same provisions back in 2006, when the Federal Accountability Act was before the Senate.

"Unfortunately, the Government said the amendments were 'an inappropriate intrusion into the private lives of public office holders'," he recalls.   

"Considering the recent events surrounding Parliament, I am hopeful that the NDP and Conservative members will join my Liberal colleagues and me in strengthening this legislation in the interest of greater accountability and transparency,"

While it's tempting to make the link between the proposed up-tightening of the 'gift' exemption and that now famous $90 K cheque from former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright to then-Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, it's worth noting that Duffy is not considered a reporting public office holder, which means that he doesn't fall under the purview of the the Conflict of Interest Act.

In fact, the Senate conflict of interest code already requires full disclosure of all gift with a value of over $500.

You can read the full text of the bill here

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