Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu let off the hook by ethics czar for hiring girlfriend

Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu has been given a pass by Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard even though he twice renewed a contract for his girlfriend, Isabelle Lapointe, and then tried to ensure a two-week special leave for her.

Lyse Ricard, Senate ethics officer, finds conduct was 'an error of judgment made in good faith'

Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu has been given a pass by Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard even though he twice renewed a job contract for his girlfriend, and then tried to ensure a two-week special leave for her as she moved to another position in Senate administration.

Although Ricard found Boisvenu had violated sections of the Senate's code of ethics, she concluded his conduct was "an error of judgment made in good faith" and recommended no sanctions be applied to him.

The conclusion comes at the end of a 25-page report Ricard issued Wednesday about her investigation into Boisvenu. Ricard notes this is the first formal inquiry the Senate ethics office has conducted since it was established in 2005.

In her report, Ricard says Boisvenu first met Isabelle Lapointe in 2010 at a meeting of a charitable foundation for people with disabilities. He eventually hired her to work as his executive assistant.

At the time, Boisvenu had recently been named to the Senate by Prime Minster Stephen Harper. Boisvenu, whose daughter was murdered in 2002, is founding president of the Murdered or Missing Families' Association and became a prominent spokesperson on the government's victims bill of rights.

After Lapointe began to work in his office, she and Boisvenu started having an affair. Despite the relationship, Boisvenu renewed her yearly contract twice.

He ended her contract in 2013 after media reports revealed he had charged the Senate for out-of-town expenses while staying for 31 days at Lapointe's Gatineau condo, just across the river from Ottawa.

When Boisvenu was appointed to the Senate he was living in Sherbrooke, Que., which was far enough away to allow him  to claim extra expenses for staying near Parliament Hill when the Senate is in session. However, once he split with his wife in 2012, he spent most of his time in Gatineau and continued to charge the Senate, to the tune of $20,000.

The media stories about expenses uncovered the relationship with Lapointe. In June of last year, Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette filed a complaint against Boisvenu for violating the Senate's ethics code by using Senate resources to benefit a "family member."

Not a family member

Ricard found the code identifies a common-law partner as a family member only after co-habitation of at least a year, and concluded Lapointe was not a family member of Boisvenu's.

The ethics officer did find that Boisvenu acted inappropriately by renewing Lapointe's contract while the two were having an intimate relationship. She found another breach of the ethics code when Boisvenu promised a two-week period of sick leave between jobs for Lapointe, and then contacted both Senate clerk Gary O'Brien and Senate leader David Tkachuk to lobby for the time off to be counted as sick leave and not vacation.

Despite Boisvenu's efforts, O'Brien told Ricard the leave would be an advance on Lapointe's vacation time. 

On Wednesday, Hervieux-Payette's office stated she had no comment other than to point out the inquiry into Boisvenu was conducted under an older Senate ethical code, and not a new code issued this year.

In his recent book Our Scandalous Senate, former MP Patrick Boyer writes that the Senate insisted on maintaining its own ethics officer rather than combine the office with the House of Commons ethics office. He also said that the previous (and first) Senate ethics officer, Jean Founier, told the Globe and Mail upon his retirement that the Senate's rules on conflict of interest needed an overhaul.

Although Ricard recommended no sanctions against Boisvenu, she can be overruled by the Senate ethics committee.

Contacted Wednesday, the chair of the committee, Conservative Senator Raynell Andreychuk, told CBC News she intends to recall committee members as soon as possible to consider Ricard's report.

The NDP's ethics critic, MP Charlie Angus, in a phone interview with CBC Radio's Tom Parry, was dismissive of Senate ethics officers in general.

"They're like the Maytag repairman," he said. "They never seem to go to work as far as I know. So, they finally get called to do a case, they say there are breaches of the Senate's paper-thin act and hey, everything's fine, he's one of us. It speaks to a larger problem within the Senate."

Boisvenu issued a statement late Wednesday through his office, saying "Accountability is a principle I believe strongly in."

The statement from Flore Lambelin, Boisvenu's executive assistant, quotes Boisvenu as saying, "The Senate Ethics Officer made clear that this error in judgment was made in good faith. I fully endorse the Senate Ethics Officer recommendations regarding the absolute necessity to comply with the ethics code adopted by the Senate."