Trade minister apologizes for breaking conflict of interest rules

International Trade Minister Mary Ng has apologized after Canada's conflict of interest and ethics commissioner concluded she placed herself in a conflict of interest through her involvement in a decision by her office to award contracts to a friend's company.

Mary Ng failed to recuse herself from contracts granted to personal friend, report finds

Minister of International Trade Mary Ng speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on May 5. Ng has apologized after the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner found she contravened the Conflict of Interest Act. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

International Trade Minister Mary Ng has apologized after Canada's conflict of interest and ethics commissioner concluded she placed herself in a conflict of interest through her involvement in a decision by her office to award contracts to a friend's company.

Ng's office signed contracts for media and communications training with public relations agency Pomp & Circumstance, co-founded and run by Amanda Alvaro.

The commissioner stated in his report, released Tuesday, that Ng and Alvaro are friends according to the definition in the Conflict of Interest Act. Alvaro is a regular panellist on CBC's Power & Politics.

The contracts were signed on behalf of the minister in March 2019 and April 2020. 

"Minister Ng twice failed to recognize a potential conflict of interest involving a friend, an oversight of her obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act," Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said in a news release.

WATCH Trade minister apologizes for breaking conflict of interest rules

Trade minister apologizes for breaking conflict of interest rules

4 months ago
Duration 2:15
Trade Minister Mary Ng apologizes in the House of Commons for awarding contracts to a friend's company.

"There is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend's company."

In a statement posted to Twitter Tuesday, Ng apologized.

"I take full responsibility for my actions. I should have recused myself and apologize to all for not having done so," Ng said in the statement.

"At no time was there an issue of any personal benefit for me, nor any intention for anyone to benefit inappropriately."

Conservative MP James Bezan asked the commissioner in May 2022 to examine the April 2020 contract. 

Dion's report says Ng told the commissioner the training was needed to deal with an increased number of requests for information to her office from media and businesses following the start of the pandemic. The report says Ng called Alvaro in late March 2020 to talk about the situation.

Ng's office signed a contract worth $16,950 with Pomp & Circumstance on April 8, 2020.

Ng told the commissioner she did not discuss a contract in her phone call with Alvaro.

"The decision to trigger the steps that resulted in obtaining services from a company owned by one of her friends placed Minister Ng in a conflict of interest," Dion said in the report.

"She should have known to instead withdraw from the process that led to the awarding of the contracts and obtain similar services from another provider."

Ng told the commissioner she had no recollection of the earlier contract between her department and Alvaro's company, dated March 26, 2019 and worth $5,840.

Alvaro told the commissioner a member of Ng's office contacted her to obtain media training services. The report said Ng was not copied on any of the email exchanges relating to the 2019 contract, but members of Ng's office were aware of the friendship between Ng and Alvaro.

"In light of the evidence gathered during this examination, I find that Ms. Ng participated in making a decision (in March 2019) and made a decision (in April 2020) to hire Pomp & Circumstance for media training," Dion said in his report.

Section 4 of the Conflict of Interest Act states that "a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends."

A spokesperson for the commissioner's office said Ng is not facing any fines for breaching the act.

"While the Conflict of Interest Act does not provide for any sanctions for contraventions found following an examination, a report is provided to the Prime Minister," the spokesperson said in an email.

"As set out in section 19 of the Conflict of Interest Act, compliance with the Act is a condition of a person's appointment and employment as a public office holder."

Conservative critic calls on Ng to resign

Michael Barrett, the Conservative ethics and accountable government critic, said Ng should resign in light of the commissioner's findings.

"We have a tradition in this country of ministerial accountability," Barrett said in a media scrum Tuesday.

"And while it often seems to be absent in this government bench, under these Liberals, it is of course cause, with this finding of guilt, for the international trade minister, Ms. Ng, to resign."

Barrett pointed to other conflict of interest breaches by members of the Trudeau government, including former finance minister Bill Morneau, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Trudeau himself.

"The trend continues now with their trade minister," Barrett said.

In question period Tuesday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre asked whether Ng will be required to pay back the money awarded in the contracts.

Trudeau did not answer the question. Instead, he talked about the Liberals' victory in Monday's Mississauga-Lakeshore byelection.


Richard Raycraft

Web writer and producer

Richard is a web writer with CBC News and an associate producer with CBC Radio. He's worked at CBC in London, Ont., Toronto, Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa.

With files from Kathleen Harris


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