Inside Politics

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson sets the record straight

From the Office of the Ethics Commissioner in response to certain reports on her appearance at Ethics yesterday morning:

"Recent media articles have given an inaccurate impression of my testimony on Thursday, September 29 before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. When asked whether a minister of the Crown could be in a conflict of interest if he or she went to a fishing lodge owned by the head of a Crown corporation, I replied that such a scenario could involve contraventions. This was not a comment on the specific situation of Minister Peter Mackay. Each individual situation must always be reviewed based on its own circumstances. What might place one public office holder in a conflict of interest will not necessarily involve a conflict for another. I will have no further comments on this matter."

For the record, from my liveblog of the proceedings:

As for the matter of Peter MacKay enjoying the amenities of a "luxury fishing cottage" in the company of the head of a crown corporation, well, [Dawson has] seen media reports, but has not initiated her own investigation. When [Liberal MP Scott] Andrews wonders whether that could fall within her area of interest, she doesn't say no, prompting Andrews to muse aloud about "formalizing" that line of thought, presumably with a letter requesting an inquiry.
Honestly, it was pretty clear to me at the time that Dawson was, in fact, responding to the hypothetical scenario posed by Andrews, and not commenting on the specifics of the MacKay case.

Given the events surrounding her appearance at committee, to which she had been invited to discuss a matter that very clearly fell entirely outside her mandate and jurisdiction -- as she went out of her way to explain in her opening statement -- I can understand why she might have wanted to confirm that this was, at least, a scenario in which her office could theoretically launch an inquiry; there is, it seems, persistent confusion amongst parliamentarians from all parties over what, exactly, her office can and can't investigate.

That said, I can understand why her exchange with Andrews, taken in isolation from that context, could have given the wrong impression. Such, it seems, is the danger of responding to a hypothetical question. It's no wonder most politicians scrupulously avoid doing so. 
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