Opposition cries foul after minister's in-law appointed interim ethics commissioner

The appointment of an interim ethics commissioner who is also the sister-in-law of a cabinet minister has opposition parties crying foul.

New interim ethics commissioner is Dominic LeBlanc's sister-in-law

Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities Dominic LeBlanc rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, March 27, 2023.
Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc rises during question period in the House of Commons on Monday, March 27, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The appointment of an interim ethics commissioner who is also the sister-in-law of a cabinet minister has opposition parties crying foul.

It was announced earlier this week that Martine Richard had been appointed to the role for a period of six months after the previous commissioner, Mario Dion, retired last month.

Richard is the sister-in-law of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who himself has violated ethics rules in the past.

The news outraged opposition parties, particularly the Conservatives. Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett first raised the issue during question period on Wednesday.

"How can Canadians have confidence in the officers of Parliament if these guys are stacking the deck?" Barrett asked while gesturing at the Liberal bench.

WATCH | Poilievre criticizes appointment

Poilievre criticizes appointment of new interim ethics commissioner during question period

2 months ago
Duration 2:43
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre debates House Leader Mark Holland on the government's choice of a minister's sister-in-law for interim ethics commissioner.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took his own crack at the government over the appointment during Thursday's question period.

"When is this Liberal government going to run out of family and friends to appoint as independent officers?" Poilievre asked, citing the recent appointment of David Johnston as the special rapporteur on election interference.

The Conservatives have criticized Johnston's appointment, citing his relationship with the Trudeau family and his role with the Trudeau Foundation.

Liberal House Leader Mark Holland responded to both questions by pointing out that Richard has held a senior position in the ethics commissioner's office for years and initially was hired when Stephen Harper was prime minister.

"[Richard] has absolutely made hard decisions on this government … and comported themselves with total professionalism," he said, while also insisting that Richard's appointment was subject to an ethical screening.

WATCH | NDP says appointment is 'not appropriate'

NDP MP says it's 'not appropriate' that interim ethics commissioner is related to minister

2 months ago
Duration 0:43
NDP MP Peter Julian says the fact that the interim ethics commissioner is Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc's sister-in-law should disqualify her from the position.

But Richard's appointment is also alarming the party currently in a governance deal with the Liberals.

NDP House Leader Peter Julian said Thursday that Richard's appointment was "not appropriate."

"We believe the ethics commissioner needs to be above any reproach, particularly at a time when we're seeing more questioning of our fundamental institutions," he said.

The Bloc Québécois also released a statement questioning Richard's appointment.

"If there is one function that must be free from any appearance of conflict of interest, it is this one. The Liberals are obviously not respecting these standards with this choice and are themselves casting a shadow on the independence of the post," the statement said in French.

CBC asked LeBlanc's office for a statement but instead received a reply from the Privy Council Office saying that Richard has served as a senior legal adviser to the ethics commissioner's office since 2015.

"Her appointment will provide the necessary organizational stability while a selection process [for a permanent commissioner] is run," the statement said.


Darren Major

CBC Journalist

Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email at darren.major@cbc.ca.