Saturday January 13, 2018

Former ethics watchdog still hopes MPs will enact stricter rules

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson appears before the House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee in Ottawa.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson appears before the House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

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Mary Dawson's time as ethics commissioner may be over, but she's still hoping MPs will follow up on her past recommendations to tighten the rules.

In conversation with The House, Dawson said despite improving the MPs' ethical code, federal politicians have yet to touch the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Act.

"They choose what they want to deal with and maybe you're trying to make me say it's because they don't want to make the rules more stringent for themselves. Who knows? You know it's not just at the top of their priority list to date but I suspect it may be now," she said.

The now former ethics watchdog faced a committee of MPs this week to answer questions about her recent report on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's vacation to the Aga Khan's private Bahamian island.

For two hours Mary Dawson resisted attempts by the opposition to go beyond the scope of her investigation, which found Trudeau violated four sections of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Act by accepting such a gift from a man who heads a charitable organization that lobbies the federal government for money. 

She did though, repeat and expand her thoughts on toughening up the legislation and closing loopholes. 

And in light of comments from her successor, Mario Dion that Parliament should consider more stringent penalties for those who violate the Act, Dawson did not waver from her belief that there's no need for that.

"That's not my bent. But I quite recognize it may be somebody else's bent, and if that's the case,that's fine. But I'm just not an advocate of heavy penalties. I think ethics is something that is a little bit different from criminal offences," she said.