Column: Parliamentary Ethics

Tristan cropProgressive Views Column: by Tristan Turner

Pat Martin, the outspoken Manitoban New Democrat MP, has recently brought the question of MP ethics and fundraising disclosure back to the forefront of national political discourse with the release of the disclosed list of donors to his legal defence fund that was set up following defamation charges laid against him by the Edmonton telemarketing firm RackNine over a year ago.

For those who aren’t aware, Pat landed himself in a heap of trouble last year when he claimed that RackNine were hired by Conservatives to engage in the broad “robocalls” scandal in the last election. The scandal involved a large number of calls made to numbers within the Conservative database that redirected voters who in most cases weren’t supportive of the Tories from actual polling stations, to non-existent ones, presumably to discourage them for voting for ‘less than favourable’ candidates. Outside of the House of Commons, Martin was quoted as saying that the “RackNine Rascals” were responsible for the fraudulent calls, and in response the president of RackNine, Matt Meier, sued Pat Martin for defamation.

Pat Martin apologized for his comments that perhaps bent the common interpretation of truth by saying “statements I made insinuating Mr. Meier’s and RackNine’s participation in an electoral fraud conspiracy were wholly and unequivocally false.” Eventually the case was resolved, but Pat incurred hefty legal expenses during the court proceedings and set up a legal defence fund that Canadian’s could donate to in support of his case.

As it turns out, a great many organizations and citizens supported the fund, including a great many Unions and Union Organizers. MPs conflict of interest code requires all MPs to publicly disclose all ‘gifts’ of $500 or more. However, MPs are not required to assign any value to these disclosed gifts, meaning that they could have been $500.01 or $5 million, or any amount in between.

The problem here isn’t with Pat Martin’s ability to follow the rules. In fact, he followed them exactly by revealing exactly what was required of him. Rather, the issue is with the rules themselves. It is clear to me, and I believe to most Canadians, that Pat should be required to disclose the exact value of these gifts, primarily because there is a world of difference between $500 and $5 million.
Regardless of what Canadians may think of this issue, there has been little done to pursue changes to the MPs’ ethics code in the past few years, despite the fact that the issue has been discussed at the procedure and affairs committee for over a year and a half.

If action is going to be made on the clearly dysfunctional conflict of interest code, a real concerted effort needs to be made by MPs from across party lines. Though it may be a rare occurrence, parties working together has happened before, and I believe on this issue it can happen again.

If MPs are able to pass clearer and more reasonable ethics codes, they may be able to show to Canadians that their trust is well founded with them, and may prevent further scandals similar to those that have been plaguing many Senators for months now.

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2 Comments

  1. Tristan,

    As always you’ve written a very put together article. This time I also agree with what you’ve written. If election acts at various levels of government demand that the donors and their amounts be displayed to voters, doing the same for all fundraising that aides any politician regardless of level or status seems to make sense.

    I hope the Conservative government heeds your advice, which echos the calls of many Canadians from across all party lines, and leads the way with making changes. Also, as you’ve said, it does have to be non-partisan and cooperative as to show Canadians that government can work together to do what is right.

  2. Disband the Senate and charge every Senator with being part of a criminal conspiracy to defraud the Canadian public. If convicted, jail them for life. Once done, let’s hope MPs get the message that Canadians are fed up with their antics.

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