Ethics watchdog asked to investigate Tory votes on election bill

A Liberal MP is calling on the federal ethics watchdog to investigate whether two Conservative MPs with ties to a mobile campaign app violated the House conflict-of-interest code by voting on the election bill introduced by the government last spring.

Election law change enhances value of Conservative MPs' campaign app, Liberal MP says

Liberal MP Scott Simms wants the federal ethics watchdog to look into whether two Conservative MPs violated the House conflict-of-interest code by voting in favour of election law changes that could boost the usefulness of ProxiVote, a mobile campaign app they developed. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A Liberal MP is calling on the federal ethics watchdog to investigate whether two Conservative MPs with ties to a mobile campaign app violated the House conflict-of-interest code by voting on an election bill introduced by the government last spring.

In a letter sent to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson on Monday, Newfoundland Liberal MP Scott Simms says he is "deeply concerned" Conservative MPs Rod Bruinooge and Rob Clarke may have breached the rules that forbid MPs from using their parliamentary position to further their "personal interests."

Last week, CBC News reported that Bruinooge and Clarke are the co-creators of ProxiVote, a smartphone-based voter-tracking app that is being marketed to right-leaning candidates by Proximity Mobile, a company headed by Bruinooge's wife, Chantale.

Both Bruinooge and Clarke have disclosed current interests in the parent corporation, 6317414 Manitoba Ltd.

Conflict-of-interest code 'very clear': Simms

"The basic purpose of ProxiVote is to help campaigns keep track of who has voted on Election Day," Simms notes in the letter.

"While this is standard practice for all nearly all candidates, the software produced by ProxiVote would expedite the process by allowing data entry directly in the polling station."

Under the new law, the previous prohibition on using electronic devices at the polls has been removed — a change that Simms contends "has had a direct, positive effect on the value of ProxiVote's software."

ProxiVote is a mobile app that promises to deliver 'instant election day status reports for maximum advantage.' It was developed by Conservative MPs Rod Bruinooge and Rob Clarke. (ProxiVote website)

The conflict-of-interest code for MPs is "very clear," he continues.

"Under Section 8, a member is prevented from taking any action as a member of Parliament that would 'further his or her private interests or those of a member of the members' family,'" Simms writes. 

"Section 13 of the code further clarifies this obligation."

According to that section, an MP "shall not participate in debate on or vote on a question in which he or she has a private interest," he notes.

Simms points out that both Bruinooge and Clarke voted on the bill "a number of times," including at second reading, report stage and third reading.

He also attempts to pre-emptively debunk the defence most commonly put forward by MPs during such disputes: Namely, that a particular provision affects such a broad class of people that it can't be seen as a specifically private interest.

MPs voted in favour of election bill 'numerous times'

"As an experienced politician I can attest that the market for campaign software does not have many providers, and fewer yet who would provide the specific service that ProxiVote provides."

As such, he says, "effectively, the class of people this affects are those seeking federal office and those who provide software to them," which he doesn't see as either broad or general enough to warrant an exemption.

"To that end, I think it is clear that both Mr. Bruinooge and Mr. Clarke exercised their duties in direct violation of the Conflict of Interest Code," he concludes.

"They voted numerous times to support legislation that would make ProxiVote a more enticing product for political campaigns."

In 2011, Dawson concluded that MPs who are also grain farmers would not be required to recuse themselves from debates or vote on legislation to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board.

Simms told CBC News that MPs "have a duty" to avoid potential conflicts.

"Both these MPs voted on this bill six times," he stressed. 

"We feel that as this bill could directly benefit the financial future of their company, they should have recused themselves when it was tabled."

In a written statement emailed to CBC News, Bruinooge indicated that he's not worried by the complaint.

"I have no concerns with Mr. Simms contacting the ethics commissioner in relation to myself or my wife's company," he said.

Clarke did not respond to a request for comment.

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