Inside Politics

UPDATED: NDP proposes stricter conflict rules for MPs and senators

Chalk one up for the NDP research office: Thanks to one largely overlooked line in the latest batch of supplementary estimates, New Democrat ethics critic Charlie Angus may have finally found a way to get the ongoing Upper House expense scandal on the agenda at the House of Commons ethics committee.

The estimates request in question is an otherwise unremarkable $60 K top-up to Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard's annual office budget, which, according to the explanatory note, will allow her to "conduct an inquiry regarding compliance with the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators."

That, however, is enough for Angus to argue that the details of that particular inquiry are of sufficient public interest that MPs should be permitted to question Ricard before voting on whether to hand over additional funding -- and in classic in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound strategy, he'll also attempt to make the case for calling Treasury Board President Tony Clement as well.

Here's the motion that he'll be putting forward at Ethics this morning:

That, pursuant to the Order of Reference of Thursday, November 7th 2013, the Committee undertake a study on the Supplementary B Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014 in particular vote 20b under PARLIAMENT which is $60,000 to the Senate Ethics Officer for an inquiry regarding compliance with the conflict of interest code for Senators;

that the Committee invite President of the Treasury Board to appear before December 5th 2013

and that in the context of this study the Committee table a report in the House asking that the House send a message to the Senate requesting the appearance before the Committee of the Senate Ethics Officer before December 5th 2013.

At press time, that portion of the meeting is scheduled to take place in public, but as committee watchers are all too aware, that can change on a moment's notice if an MP moves to go in camera.

In any case, I'll let you know what, if anything, comes of the NDP gambit as soon as I find out.

UPDATE: Although the committee did manage to stay in public for a few minutes, the motion itself seems destined to be squelched behind closed doors due to the distinct lack of keenness on the part of the government -- at least, as articulated by the lone Conservative MP to speak on the matter before the press and public were ejected from the room -- to throw its majority weight behind Angus.

As Ethics chair Pat Martin pointed out to his enthusiastic colleagues, calling the Senate Ethics Officer to appear at a Commons committee would also require the consent of the House. 

In any case, due to the cloak of parliamentary secrecy that protects in camera committee proceedings from prying eyes, there's no way to know for sure what happened to the motion once the doors were closed, but if it subsequently vanishes from the to-do list, one can draw one's own conclusions.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: It would appear that the Angus motion will survive another day -- or at least until the next meeting. 

According to a just-released notice, committee members will resume closed-door consideration of his proposal when they reconvene on Thursday morning. 

Meanwhile, in a related move, the three NDP MPs who sit on the ethics committee -- Angus, Charmaine Borg and Mathieu Ravignat -- provided a preview of the "specific proposals" that they plan to put forward during the statutory review of the current Conflict of Interest Act, which will include, but presumably not be limited to, measures that would:

  • Empower the Ethics Commissioner to administer financial penalties for breaches of the Act
  • Give the Commissioner the power to continue investigations that have been referred to the RCMP
  • Enshrine the ministerial code of conduct into law
  • Establish clear and well-defined post-employment and secondary employment rules for MPs and Senators

Currently, neither MPs nor senators are covered by the Conflict of Interest Act at all -- it only kicks in when a member is promoted to cabinet.

That means that the New Democrats will either have to convince the government to make all parliamentarians subject to its provisions, or, alternately, enshrine the current House and Senate conflict of interest codes to law as well as the ministerial code of conduct. 

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