CBA urges fine-tuning accountability of public office holders under the Statutory Review of the Conflict of Interest Act

  • February 25, 2013

OTTAWA – The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) is contributing to Parliament’s review of the Conflict of Interest Act, making recommendations that would fine-tune the accountability of current and former public office holders including politicians, senior public servants, and order in council appointees. The CBA also recommends that other officials not currently required to report, such as the governor of the Bank of Canada, be added to those already subject to oversight by the Ethics Commissioner.

“The CBA would like the government to strike a balance on accountability that would protect the public trust but not make the rules so stringent that good people are prevented from coming forward to serve their country,” says Guy Giorno, executive member of the CBA’s Administrative Law Section and chair of the CBA’s Lobbying and Ethics Committee.

The CBA is responding to the first five-year review of the Conflict of Interest Act, which came into force in 2007.  The CBA urges Parliament to comply with statutory time frames to conduct such reviews, and recommends that the Speaker of the House be empowered to enforce the timelines for statutory review under any Act, if Parliament has not done so by the deadline.

In its 21-page submission, the CBA makes some specific recommendations:

Given that fundraising can give rise to conflicts of interest, especially when the targets of fundraising are stakeholders of the fundraising Minister or Parliamentary Secretary’s department, the CBA recommends strengthening the rules, making government guidelines enforceable under the Conflict of Interest Act.

Property and investments
To avoid conflicts of interest, public office holders are not permitted to hold “assets whose value could be directly or indirectly affected by government decisions or policy.” These “controlled” assets must either be sold or placed in a blind trust.

The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner’s recommendation would see the number of officials subject to this rule reduced from 1,100 to as few as 140. The CBA recommends that certain officials, such as appointees to agencies with narrow focus or influence, be exempted on a case-by case basis.  However,  officials who are appointed to bodies or agencies with much broader mandates, as well as Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, should continue to be required to sell these assets.

Public office holders are currently required to report any gifts from a single source other than family and friends with a cumulative value of $200 in a 12-month period.  The Ethics Commissioner has proposed the threshold be reduced to $30. 

The CBA supports the Commissioner’s call for greater transparency in reporting of gifts and agrees that the $200 threshold be reduced.  “Whatever amount is chosen should strike a balance between the importance of transparency and the need not to burden reporting public office holders and the Commissioner’s office with reporting that does not materially improve accountability,” says the CBA submission.

Guy Giorno will appear before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on Feb. 25, 2013 at 3:30 pm, in Room 237-C, Centre Block.  The CBA submission is available online.

The Canadian Bar Association is dedicated to supporting the rule of law, improvements in the law, and the administration of justice. Some 37,000 lawyers, law teachers, and law students from across Canada are members.

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