Accessibility/Mobile Features
Skip Navigation
Skip to Content
Editorial News
Classified Sites

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Parliamentary watchdogs warn that Tory bill could hamper their work

Conservative MP Mark Adler is followed by journalists as he leaves a commons privacy and ethics committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, February 25, 2014.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Enlarge Image

Conservative MP Mark Adler is followed by journalists as he leaves a commons privacy and ethics committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, February 25, 2014.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - Parliament's key watchdog agencies say a Conservative bill aimed at exposing potential partisanship in their offices raises problems of basic fairness and could actually stop or hamper their own investigations.

Tory MP Mark Adler's private member's bill would allow any MP or senator to accuse an employee of an office such as the Auditor General's or Elections Canada of partisan conduct and demand an investigation.

It also proposes to force employees of those agencies to make a public declaration of their political activities going back a decade.

That's not sitting well with eight officers and agents of Parliament, who wrote to the Commons ethics committee to register their concerns. Three of appeared before MPs at a hearing Tuesday.

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, Chief Electoral Officer Mark Mayrand and Auditor General Michael Ferguson all questioned the necessity of the bill when other statutes and codes already require the non-partisanship of their employees.

They took issue with the fact an MP or senator could lodge a public complaint against an employee for "partisan conduct," but that the bill has no definition of that term nor a specific threshold for when an investigation must be launched.

"The problem is that there's absolutely no test as to when somebody can make a complaint. At least in my act you have to have reasonable grounds...," Dawson said of the Conflict of Interest Act she enforces.

"Under this (bill), nobody has to even think up reasonable grounds; they can just fling mud."

In the letter sent to the committee, the agents also warned that such probes could "halt or hinder an ongoing file, audit or investigation and cause undue delay."

And Ferguson raised privacy concerns of having a junior or mid-level employee's past political jobs and current employment posted publicly for the world to see. He and his colleagues worried the bill might also run afoul of hiring rules that are focused entirely on merit.

"The way that it is drafted now, there are some irritants in it that it would cause that really aren't necessary and wouldn't help our independence," he said.

Adler, who appears to have the backing of the prime minister's office on his bill, said it was drafted in keeping with the government's general commitment to transparency and accountability.

"This bill identifies nine specific offices with unique responsibilities and roles," said Adler. "Given their specific watchdog duties, it is imperative that the so-called agents of Parliament are seen to be non-partisan and free of political influence."

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus pressed Adler unsuccessfully to provide an example of partisanship at any of the watchdog agencies, which also include the offices of the privacy and information commissioners.

Angus suggested that the bill could allow an MP or senator under investigation to deliberately derail the work of someone like the auditor general by casting aspersions on an employee.

"Tell me if I'm wrong, if Mike Duffy was still a sitting senator, Mike Duffy would be able to demand an investigation of the ethics commissioner, even though the ethics commissioner couldn't investigate Mike Duffy, is that correct?" Angus asked, referring to the former Tory senator facing unproven RCMP allegations of bribery and fraud.

Adler did not stop to speak to reporters following his appearance at the committee Tuesday.

  • Rate this Rate This Star Icon
  • This article has not yet been rated.
  • We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high. If you thought it was well written, do the same. If it doesn’t meet your standards, mark it accordingly.

    You can also register and/or login to the site and join the conversation by leaving a comment.

    Rate it yourself by rolling over the stars and clicking when you reach your desired rating. We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high.

Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 0 Commentscomment icon

You can comment on most stories on brandonsun.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is register and/or login and you can join the conversation and give your feedback.

There are no comments at the moment. Be the first to post a comment below.

Post Your Commentcomment icon

Comment
  • You have characters left

The Brandon Sun does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. Comments are moderated before publication. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

Brandon Sun Business Directory
Submit a Random Act of Kindness
Why Not Minot?
Welcome to Winnipeg

Social Media