MP Greg Fergus becomes the latest Liberal caught violating ethics rules
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion calls for ethics training in wake of latest breach
The conflict of interest and ethics commissioner is recommending that all federal ministers and parliamentary secretaries report to his office for training after MP Greg Fergus became the latest high-profile Liberal to violate the Conflict of Interest Act.
"Offers to provide training and educational sessions on a variety of topics have been offered to all federal parties and to regulatees, yet we continue to see a succession of mistakes that are largely attributable to the inability to recognize the need to seek consultation," Commissioner Mario Dion said Tuesday.
"I therefore recommend that the government consider mandating all ministers and parliamentary secretaries to receive training from the office."
Dion made the remarks in his ruling against Fergus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's parliamentary secretary. Fergus was found to have violated the act by writing a letter of support for a television channel's application to the CRTC for mandatory carriage.
Under parliamentary rules, MPs can write letters of support to the CRTC in support of an application, but parliamentary secretaries and cabinet ministers cannot.
"Ministers and parliamentary secretaries are subject to both the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons in their role as parliamentarians, and to the Conflict of Interest Act in their role as government officials," Dion said. "That is because they wield more influence than backbench MPs.
"Being dual-hatted does not mean Mr. Fergus can circumvent the rules of the Act by simply wearing his MP hat to sign a letter of support to an administrative tribunal."
In a statement posted online, Fergus said his letter of support for Natyf Inc., an international Francophone broadcaster with a focus on diversity, was meant to ensure that "Black Canadians see themselves reflected in Parliament."
Fergus thanked Dion for his report and apologized for his "unintentional error."
"I will redouble my efforts to be more diligent in the future to ensure my obligations under the act are fully met," he said.
Liberals and ethics violations
Dion said that over the last five years, and despite offers to provide ethics training, his office has continued to see senior government officials "unaware of their obligations and mistakenly making assumptions."
After years of serving in senior government positions, Dion said, Fergus should have been aware of the rules or should have sought advice.
"I am quite concerned that someone with the breadth of experience of Mr. Fergus would fail to recognize the possibility of a contravention," he said.
Trudeau has had a troubled relationship with the Conflict of Interest Act since coming to office. In 2016, he was found guilty of breaching the act when he vacationed on a private island owned by the Aga Khan.
Dion announces retirement
During the SNC-Lavalin scandal, Dion's office found that Trudeau broke the act by pressuring then-justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to get her to grant a deferred prosecution agreement to the Quebec-based engineering firm.
In 2018, Trudeau accepted two pairs of leather-covered sunglasses made by Fellow Earthlings eyewear, based in rural P.E.I., which retailed for between $300 and $500. Trudeau was fined $100 for failing to report the gift.
While Trudeau was cleared of any conflict of interest during the We Charity probe, Dion concluded former finance minister Bill Morneau did breach the act for failing to recuse himself from cabinet deliberations about the summer student grants contract.
In 2021, then Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi was found to have violated the act for employing her foster sister in her constituency office for years.
More recently, International Trade Minister Mary Ng was forced to apologize after Dion ruled she had placed herself in a conflict of interest by awarding communications contracts to public relations agency Pomp & Circumstance, co-founded and run by Amanda Alvaro, a friend of Ng's.
After issuing his report, Dion announced that because of persistent health issues, he can no longer continue to serve as commissioner. He said his last day in the role will be Feb. 21.
"I have been honoured to serve Parliament and Canadians as Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for the past five years and am grateful for the confidence Parliament has placed in me," he said in a statement.
"It is my hope that I have contributed in some measure to transparency and accountability in support of Canadian democracy."
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