MP Greg Fergus becomes the youngest Liberal caught breaking ethics rules
The Commissioner for Conflicts of Interest and Ethics is recommending all federal ministers and parliamentary secretaries to report to his office for training after MP Greg Fergus became the latest high-profile Liberal to violate the Conflicts of Interest Act.
“All federal parties and regulators have been offered training and education on a wide range of issues, but we continue to see a number of failures, largely due to a failure to recognize the need for consultation,” said commissioner Mario Dion Tuesday.
“I therefore recommend that the government consider mandating all ministers and parliamentary secretaries to receive training through the office.”
Dion made the comments in his sentencing judgment against Fergus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary. Fergus was found to have broken the law by writing a letter of support for a television station’s application to the CRTC for mandatory promotion.
Under parliamentary rules, MPs can write letters of support to the CRTC in support of a motion, but parliamentary secretaries and cabinet ministers cannot.
“Ministers and parliamentary secretaries are subject to both the Conflicts of Interest Act for Members of the House of Commons in their role as MPs and the Conflicts of Interest Act in their role as government officials,” Dion said. “That’s because they have more influence than backbenchers.
“The fact that he wears a double hat does not mean Mr Fergus can circumvent the rules of the law simply by wearing his MP hat to sign a letter of support to an Administrative Court.”
In a statement published online, Fergus said his letter of support for Natyf Inc., an international Francophone broadcaster with a focus on diversity, is intended to ensure “black Canadians are reflected in Parliament.”
Fergus thanked Dion for his report and apologized for his “unintentional error”.
“I will redouble my efforts to be more diligent in the future to ensure my obligations under the law are fully met,” he said.
Liberals and Ethics Violators
Dion said that over the past five years, despite offers to provide ethics training, his office has continued to see senior government officials “unaware of their obligations and making false assumptions.”
After years of service in senior government positions, Dion said Fergus should have known the rules or sought advice.
“I’m quite concerned that someone with Mr. Fergus’ breadth of experience might not see the possibility of an offence,” he said.
Trudeau has had a difficult relationship with the Conflict of Interest Act since taking office. In 2016, he was found guilty of breaking the law while vacationing on one of the Aga Khan’s private islands.
Dion announces his retirement
During the SNC-Lavalin scandal, Dion’s office found that Trudeau broke the law by pressuring then-Attorney General and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to get her to grant the Quebec-based engineering firm a deferred prosecution agreement .
In 2018, Trudeau accepted two pairs of leather-covered sunglasses from Fellow Earthlings Eyewear from rural PEI, which retailed for between $300 and $500. Trudeau was fined $100 for failing to report the gift.
While Trudeau was cleared of any conflicts of interest during the We Charity inquiry, Dion concluded that former Treasury Secretary Bill Morneau broke the law by not withdrawing from cabinet deliberations on the summer grant deal.
In 2021, then-Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi was found to have broken the law by employing her foster sister at her constituency office for years.
More recently, International Trade Secretary Mary Ng was forced to apologize after Dion ruled she had put herself in a conflict of interest by outsourcing communications contracts to PR agency Pomp & Circumstance, co-founded by Ng’s friend Amanda Alvaro and was directed.
After the release of his report, Dion announced that he could no longer serve as commissioner due to ongoing health issues. He said his last day in the role was February 21.
“I am honored to serve Parliament and Canadians as their Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for the past five years and I am grateful for the trust Parliament has placed in me,” he said in a statement.
“I hope that I have contributed in some way to the transparency and accountability in support of Canadian democracy.”