Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI)

The ETHI committee met twice this week to resume its Statutory Review of the Conflict of Interest Act. The first meeting involved hearing testimony from three experts on ethics and accountability, including the federal Commissioner of Lobbying, and the latter included the appearance of Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner, as well as the Conflict of Interest Commissioner of British Columbia.

During Monday’s meeting, members heard testimony from three witnesses. Firstly, testimony was delivered by Jim Patrick and W. Scott Thurlow, President and Chair, respectively, of the Government Relations Institute of Canada. The federal Commissioner of Lobbying, Karen Shepherd, was then invited to speak. The testimony focused on the possibility of aligning the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act, and the challenges that might emerge from harmonization. All three witnesses seemed to suggest that the two pieces of legislation need to be brought closer together to at least some extent. Attention was also drawn to the importance of clarity of definitions and of clarity in terms of the appropriateness of gifts. Like previous witnesses, the speakers recommended the introduction of a sliding scale for post-employment obligations.

The Committee’s Wednesday meeting involved hearing testimony from two provincial Commissioners. Lynn Morrison, Ontario’s Integrity Commission and Paul D.K. Fraser, British Columbia’s Conflict of Interest Commissioner explained current legislation in their jurisdictions. Ms. Morrison’s testimony emphasized the need for open lines of communication between her office and elected officials, and the importance of education and training as they relate to ethics. Mr. Fraser, in contrast, emphasized the need for openness with the public and keeping the process transparent and open to public participation. The issue of gifts was again raised, as well the inclusion of a clause for apparent conflicts of interest.

The Committee will resume its work on Monday, 18 March 2013.