One thing they didn't mention was this notion of conflict of interest screens, which has been in the news with regard to the Prime Minister's chief of staff, again, over the weekend. These conflict of interest screens were created by ethics commissioner Mary Dawson. They're not authorized by the act. Democracy Watch challenged them in court. Unfortunately, the Federal Court of Appeal said they were a reasonable enforcement tool.
They really aren't. Anyone who has a screen who is a minister...then their staff, who serve at their pleasure, are supposed to enforce this screen and tell them what to do, and tell them not to go to meetings or take part in phone calls or whatever when they have a conflict. Then they learn what decision or meeting is going on, because they're told they can't go and why. Who's to stop them from intervening or telling their staff, “Thanks very much for your input, but you serve at my pleasure, and if you want to keep your job, you'll keep your mouth shut”?
What's required in the act is recusal. The recusal has to be declared publicly with the reasons for the recusal within 60 days. The screens should be banned. It would be a step forward, as it would be for the recusal system to go forward, as former ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro recommended back in 2006 because he saw so many problems with using screens.
That's one key thing, but I think another one is that, as I mentioned, when you initiate a spending process, there should be a compliance check with the Auditor General right up front. The Auditor General would be able to flag a lot of things very early on. That wouldn't work for all decision-making processes, but strengthen the rules, close the loopholes, strengthen enforcement and penalties and everyone would have much more incentive to follow the rules, with a higher chance of getting caught and penalized than they have now. The current system is a scandal. It's really a sad joke. It's no surprise at all that there's scandalous behaviour as a result.