Shelly Glover cleared in conflict probe, but ethics watchdog wants new rule

The federal ethics watchdog has cleared Heritage Minister Shelly Glover of breaching conflict of interest laws by attending a fundraiser organized by her local riding association earlier this year, but "concerns remain" over the decision to invite members of the local arts community to the event.

Ministers should take 'appropriate action' if an event would create a conflict of interest

Minister of Heritage Shelly Glover answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The federal ethics watchdog has cleared Heritage Minister Shelly Glover of breaching conflict of interest laws by attending a fundraiser organized by her local riding association earlier this year.

But Mary Dawson says "concerns remain" over the decision to invite representatives from the local arts community to the event.

"Although she did not contravene the [Conflict of Interest Act], I believe it is inappropriate for stakeholders of Mrs. Glover's department to be invited to make donations in order to attend a fundraiser at which the minister was also present," Dawson concluded in her final report on the matter, which was released on Thursday.

To that end, she recommends the existing rules be tightened to ensure that any minister, minister of state or parliamentary secretary "who knew or should have known that funds were being solicited by others in circumstances that would place them in a conflict of interest" would be obliged to take "appropriate action" or risk being sanctioned.

The complaint was filed by Liberal MP Ralph Goodale. 

A spokeswoman for Glover told CBC News that the minister is satisfied with Dawson's ruling.

"Last January, she personally referred this situation to the Ethics Commissioner as soon as she became aware," press secretary Marisa Monnin said via email. 

"The minister is pleased with the Commissioner's findings and welcomes her report."

Glover said she 'played no role': commissioner

Goodale asked Dawson to investigate after media reports on the fundraiser — which was hosted by Ken Cooper, a member of the board of Glover's Saint-Boniface riding association  — revealed that several invitees had dealings with her department.

Under current rules, public office holders are barred from "personally soliciting funds" from any individual or organization that would place them in a conflict of interest.

After a preliminary review of the event, Dawson concluded there were sufficient grounds to launch a formal examination.

According to the report, Glover said that she "played no role" in organizing the event, and was not aware that the guest list included "officials  from organizations that were stakeholders of the Department of Canadian Heritage" before arriving at the event. 

"At that time, she recognized some of the guests and noticed that they were wearing name tags bearing the names of the  organizations they represented," the report noted.

"Nor did she know that the invitation would include her title as Minister of Heritage [sic] and that it would state that she would be interested in meeting with the guests and hearing their views."

Dawson said in her report Glover said had she been aware of those facts "she would have put a stop to the house party."

Glover also told the commissioner she was unaware the host had asked the guests to make a $50 donation to the riding association.

"She said that, once she learned about the donation, she immediately instructed her constituency assistant to inform the Coopers that all of the funds collected had to be returned," the commissioner's report said.

Glover was interviewed by the commissioner twice, first in April and again in October.

Before proceeding with the second interview, the report notes, Glover "was given an opportunity to review the transcript from her first interview, excerpts of a transcript from a witness interview and other relevant documents."

Dawson also talked to the former riding association president, John Tropak, and received written submissions from both Ken Cooper and his wife, Lynn, as well as two other riding association officials.

'More stringent rule' needed: commissioner

In her final analysis, Dawson concluded that, while the accounts put forward by Glover and the event host are "inconsistent" as far as the minister's involvement in organizing the event, "It would appear from the evidence that Mrs. Glover was minimally engaged in the planning for the fundraiser … and that she paid little attention to it."

"It may well be that Mrs. Glover did not have enough knowledge about the fundraiser, specifically knowledge that arts and cultural groups were being targeted, to prompt her to make further enquiries and put a stop to such solicitations before the event took place," she wrote.

"If she had any suspicion that stakeholders were being targeted, she should have inquired."

Dawson is proposing federal conflict of interest legislation be changed to include "a more stringent rule" on fundraisers.

She also pointed to guidelines to ministers and parliamentary secretaries on fundraisers and lobbyists handed down by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2010, which "underline the importance of ensuring that fundraising solicitations neither target departmental stakeholders nor draw any connection with official government business."

"If Mrs. Glover's staff had been adequately briefed and reminded of these rules and the available guidance materials had been shared with them, as well as with the organizers of the fundraiser, the situation that Mrs. Glover found herself in at the Jan. 16, 2014 political fundraiser could have been prevented," she wrote.

"Consideration should be given to reflecting some of the prime minister's guidelines in the act."

Goodale on Thursday called on the government to take steps to implement Dawson's recommendation.

"The ethics commissioner clearly found Ms. Glover's activity to be inappropriate," he told CBC News. 

"While no sanction can be applied for technical reasons, the spirit of the rules was undoubtedly breached, according to Ms. Dawson."

He pointed to a similar controversy surrounding a fundraiser organized by Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq's Nunavut riding association in Ottawa, which the minister attended as the guest of honour.  

"The government must move quickly to bolster the rules to prevent these abuses in the future," Goodale concluded.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office would not say whether Dawson's proposed changes were under consideration.

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