October 24, 2013

Last chance to beef up Conflicts of Interest Act

EDMONTON, AB (October 24, 2013): The PC-dominated Conflicts of Interest Act Review Committee has decided to maintain the status quo that protects MLAs who break the law rather than toughen laws to provide real accountability, Wildrose Official Opposition said today.  

In a submission to the committee, Wildrose committee members Shayne Saskiw and Jeff Wilson made several recommendations that would ensure the integrity of public office, empower the Ethics Commissioner to initiate investigations and clarify financial disclosures. PC MLAs on the committee voted them down.  Saskiw and Wilson say the need for tougher conflicts laws is more apparent than ever after the current Ethics Commissioner ruled that former PC MLA Peter Sandhu violated the disclosure requirements of the Act six times but would not face any sanctions or punishment.  “It has been incredibly disappointing, albeit unsurprising, to see PC MLAs maintain the status quo to protect their own rather than toughen our ethics laws to provide real accountability,” Saskiw said. “Today is the last day of committee, and it is my hope that committee members will look beyond their partisan political affiliations, do the right thing and implement these critical recommendations to strengthen the Conflicts of Interest Act.”  Saskiw and Wilson plan to make one last attempt to beef up the Conflicts of Interest Act by asking the committee to reconsider recommendations at the final scheduled meeting today.  PC MLAs previously voted down a Wildrose recommendation that would have repealed subsection 24 (6) of the Act, which restricts MLAs from speaking on matters that are before the Ethics Commissioners and shields MLAs and ministers under investigation from facing tough questions in the Legislature. Another recommendation would define “improper influence” by MLAs to further a private interest. The absent definition within the Act is prone to be problematic in interpreting the legislation as was demonstrated in the clearing of Sandhu, Wilson said.  “Because we don’t have a definition for ‘improper influence,’ we have seen an individual clearly in contravention of the Act be cleared of any wrong-doing based on very loose interpretations of the Act,” Wilson said. “This is a matter of basic democratic principles; there are rules in place and if the rules are broken, there are consequences. Today we hope members of the Conflicts of Interest Act Review Committee will reconsider their opposition to accountability and accept the recommendations brought forward.” Recommendations rejected by PC MLAs: 

  • Provide clear guidelines by defining “improper influence” of MLAs furthering private interests to aid Ethics Commissioner investigations and decisions.
  • Expand Section 2 to include apparent conflicts of interest as recommended by the Tupper Report to ensure office holders are held to the highest standard of conduct.
  • Allow the Ethics Commissioner to be able to initiate investigations on the basis of information he or she has acquired.
  • Prohibit exceptions to Sections 31 and 32 restricting dealings by former ministers and political staff with government, and extend the prohibition of employment from a ministry or department to all government.
  • Extend the “cooling-off” period for former staff members from six to 12 months, from 12 months to 24 months for former Ministers. The commissioner should not have the ability to grant an exemption to the cooling-off period.
  • Require the Ethics Commissioner to publish online a report of every investigation that discovered a breach within a specified time frame.
  • Expand the Conflicts of Interest Act to apply to full-time salaried CEOs and equivalents.

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