Two other senior Conservative MPs used their titles as public office holders in letters to the CRTC – a practice that has landed Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in breach of his government’s conflict rules.
Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson confirmed Friday that she issued an order declaring Mr. Flaherty acted improperly and breached the Conflict of Interest Act by including his ministerial title in a letter to the broadcast regulator. The letter was in support of a radio company in his riding that was competing against 31 other firms for a highly coveted opening last year on the Toronto radio dial at 88.1 FM.
“It is improper for you, as Minister of Finance and Minister responsible for the Greater Toronto Area, to have written a letter of support on behalf of a constituent to an administrative tribunal in relation to its decision making,” the commissioner wrote in her compliance order to the minister.
However, a review of CRTC records reveals that two other Conservative public office holders – a category under the Conflict of Interest Act that includes ministers and parliamentary secretaries – also used their senior titles in letters to the CRTC for the same competition.
Colin Carrie, the MP for the riding of Oshawa – which neighbours Mr. Flaherty’s riding of Whitby-Oshawa – sent a letter in support of Durham Radio, the same company Mr. Flaherty supported.
Mr. Carrie’s letter is signed: “Dr. Colin Carrie, M.P. – Oshawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health.”
Mr. Carrie’s letter points out that he sent a copy to the applicant, Doug Kirk. Mr. Kirk is listed in the Elections Canada database as having made three contributions to the Oshawa Conservative riding association since June, 2007, totalling $639.25.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Eve Adams sent a letter to the CRTC in support of a community radio station for Brampton’s ethnic population. Ms. Adams signed the letter as MP for Mississauga-Brampton South, but also “Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs.”
In response to questions from The Globe, aides to Mr. Carrie and Ms. Adams said the MPs have contacted the commissioner to ensure they are in full compliance with the rules.
There were several other letters of support for a variety of companies competing for the slot, written by backbench Conservative MPs as well as opposition NDP MPs and Liberal MPs and senators. Some opposition MPs listed their shadow critic role or other special title. For instance, Liberal MP Judy Sgro, a former cabinet minister, signed a letter in support of French radio station CHOQ-FM as “Hon. Judy A. Sgro, Privy Council, MP York West.”
Backbench and opposition MPs are not covered by the public office holder provisions of the Conflict of Interest Act. However, there is an obligation in the ethics code for MPs not to further “a person’s private interests” unless “the Member’s activity is one in which Members normally and properly engage on behalf of constituents.”
Public interest advocate Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch argues that section is ill-defined. He says MPs should not be picking and choosing which local companies they will help.
“I don’t think it’s proper for MPs to become lobbyists for individuals with specific interests,” said Mr. Conacher, who praised Ms. Dawson’s decision Friday but added that it calls for more clarity around the proper role of an MP. As it stands, Mr. Conacher said there is nothing to prevent MPs from giving favourable treatment to constituents who are friends or political supporters.
“That’s trading favours,” he said. “They give preferential treatment to those who do more for them – either vote for them, raise money for them or work on their campaigns – and I don’t think that is the proper role of a member of Parliament.”
Mr. Flaherty released a statement that said the use of the minister’s title in the letter was a “regrettable” oversight.
He said he fully intended for the letter to be sent in his capacity as MP for Whitby-Oshawa.
“I can assure the Ethics Commissioner that this will not happen again,” he stated.
The tone of Mr. Flaherty’s response was in sharp contrast to Thursday, when both the minister and the Prime Minister’s Office insisted the minister had done nothing wrong.