Inside Politics

Ethics Commissioner on NDP/union sponsorship: Not her jurisdiction

Scroll down for the liveblog from today's meeting. 

Well, that went down pretty much exactly as predicted in OotD, didn't it? Well, aside from the unusual, if understandable step taken by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson in an effort to preempt any further questions on New Democratic Party fundraising practices: In her opening statement, the commissioner revealed she had actually rejected Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro's request that her office investigate the matter, citing insufficient grounds to do so within her current mandate, which does not, in fact, cover political parties. In fact, political parties, activities and fundraising are explicitly exempt from the provisions of the Members' Code of Conduct. 

She did, however, ask Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel for additional information, presumably on her party's sale of advertising space and sponsorship rights to unions and labour-affiliated organizations at its last convention, and she has forwarded Del Mastro's complaint to the Commissioner of Elections. 

Not surprisingly, that revelation did little to mollify Del Mastro, who, with the support of the full five-man Conservative contingent, proceeded to spend the rest of the meeting trying, with limited success, to persuade the commissioner to reconsider her initial rejection through progressively more abstract, theoretical arguments. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, NDP MPs did their collective best not to look too smug over advantage of the opportunity to dredge up Dawson's investigations into various and sundry Conservative-related controversies past, including former Independent Conservative MP Helena Guergis -- during which, it seems, the commissioner had some difficulty getting her hands on all the relevant documents -- as well as her findings in the Raitt, Dykstra and Flaherty reports. 

The commissioner also revealed that there are five ethics-related investigations currently underway, including two that have already entered "the public domain," as she puts it, focusing on Industry Minister Christian Paradis and former PMO aide Bruce Carson. Three other investigations were self-initiated, and no further details are available. 

Anyway, after Dawson was finally allowed to gracefully excuse herself from a meeting that had long since degenerated into petulant, passive aggressive cross-table bickering, NDP MP Charlie Angus got the chance to put forward his motion to investigate then-Industry Minister Tony Clement's involvement with the disbursement of the G8 Legacy Fund through the periscope of the Conflict of Interest Act, which, not surprisingly, failed on division. 

From today's OotD: 

The Ethics committee will kick off what is ostensibly, at least, a fact-finding mission into the relationship between the New Democratic Party and the labour movement -- specifically, the former's sale of advertising space/sponsorship rights to the latter at its most recent convention, an arrangement that will almost certainly be portrayed by the Conservative contingent as worryingly cosy, at best, and at worst a possible circumvention of laws banning unions from direct donations to political parties. 

Which, to be clear, is an entirely legitimate line of inquiry. The problem, in this case, is the choice of forum: matters related to election law fall directly under the mandate of Procedure and House Affairs, a committee that the Conservatives also control by virtue of majority vote, and at which they could have easily passed the identical motion while staying comfortably within its mandate. Why they instead chose to force the matter at Ethics, where it was initially -- and, as far as I can tell, entirely correctly -- determined to be out of order by the chair, is, and may remain a mystery. Perhaps they simply forgot that PROC exists.  

In any case, one can only feel preemptively sympathetic towards the first witness set to be heard this morning: Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, who, as it stands, now faces an awkward morning of explaining, over and over, that the loaded questions that will be pointed in her direction by members on the government side of the table fall outside her jurisdiction, which covers public office holders, not political parties.  

Check back at 8:45 am for full coverage! 

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