Evidence of meeting #12 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was charity.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ian Shugart  Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office
Gina Wilson  Deputy Minister, Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Department of Canadian Heritage
Benoît Robidoux  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development
Mary Dawson  As an Individual

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

You have two minutes.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

I do want to thank you as well. Although my time as a member of Parliament and your time as commissioner did not overlap, I've had nothing but tremendous experiences, whether it be in the annual filings, the onboarding as a new member or a number of the questions that I've had to make sure that I'm fully compliant with the Conflict of Interest Act. I have no doubt that your efforts as commissioner for that decade contributed to the culture that exists there, which I've certainly found very helpful.

I have a question related to that asking of advice. When a public office holder consults you about a particular fact scenario, do you consider it good practice for him or her to follow up if there's a material change in circumstances?

5:50 p.m.

As an Individual

Mary Dawson

Oh yes, that would make sense. You'd give the advice on the basis of what they presented to you, and if it changed, you would assume they'd come back and double-check.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

I appreciate that. Certainly in my experience, the office is incredibly accessible, and it's encouraging that members of Parliament have that opportunity to have a continual conversation. I would hope that other members take advantage of that as we go forward.

The real question here is a half-a-billion-dollar contract with what is a very close connection to the Prime Minister's family. In the remaining 60 seconds, I'd be curious to know if you have any additional comments you would like to share with this committee about the current ethical circumstances that we find ourselves discussing here, and the need for changes in the act so that hopefully these sorts of breaches don't happen again.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Ms. Dawson, I'm sorry but your answer will have to be very brief, like 10 seconds.

5:50 p.m.

As an Individual

Mary Dawson

It's an unusual circumstance. We are in an unusual time, but this one will certainly shed some more comments that are grist for the mill in the ethics area.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Thank you very much.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

We'll move over to our final questioner, Madame Brière, for five minutes.

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Good afternoon, Ms. Dawson.

It is a real privilege to be able to have these discussions with you this afternoon, particularly in light of your past here.

You said earlier that the act is the envy of a number of other countries. Because one can always do better, what would be your three priority recommendations to modernize the act?

5:50 p.m.

As an Individual

Mary Dawson

Oh, my goodness. When I left the office, I picked out some that I thought I would highlight. I have them here. I'll just run through them.

Increasing transparency around gifts was one of them. Another was lowering the threshold for disclosure.

There are some terminology issues in there. The code covers entities, but the act covers only persons. Entities, sometimes, should be covered as well. There are some proposals I made to diminish the onerous provisions over people. I won't go into them.

Strengthen the post-employment obligations. There's no reporting obligation for a post-employment person. The rules just tend to go on for a year or two post-employment. There are rules that have to be followed. It would be good if there were slight reporting obligations there. For some non-reporting public office holders, there might be a couple of areas they should be reporting on. They're not covered.

I mentioned harmonizing some of the provisions of the act and the members' code, because it's confusing to members, especially those who are ministers, when there are two different rules.

Then I mentioned one in my opening remarks. I do think section 11 creates.... There is no definition of “friend”. It doesn't need to be an exception to that gift rule, because “reasonably be seen to have been given to influence” does it, anyway. If they were a friend and it's not in a funny circumstance, it would have done it anyway. That's something that was unnecessary there and I think it could be improved.

There are a lot. As I said, I have 75. I'd say 30 of them are probably technical, drafter's little nitpicks. There are some, in a couple of places, where the French and English aren't exactly the same—all sorts of things. There's nothing dramatic, I don't think, with those exceptions.

That's a little smattering.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you.

You mentioned improving the definitions, specifically the definition of the word “friends”. Earlier, we also talked about the definition of the word “relatives”. Would that definition be worth studying again as well?

5:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Mary Dawson

No, I think those definitions are not bad. It's fairly clear.

It's not clear, for example, how far into cousins and things “relative” goes, but to a large extent that's a circumstance, anyway, like how close you are to your cousins and whatnot. That's worked out.

One little area that's not defined is what a private interest is. That's an interesting issue. I think, in fact, the current commissioner may have gone a little further on where that applies. I always felt that it was significantly tied to financial matters, simply because that's the sort of stuff that got reported. I generally said it didn't apply to political interests.

That's like court cases: You have precedents that are built up and you work out what the thing must mean. A number of terms in there you have to just work with and figure out how far they extend.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

You can ask one more question.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

In an interview that appeared in The Globe and Mail, you said that, in general, there is not—

“not an awful lot of bad stuff going on.”

Are you still of the same opinion as the one expressed in that interview?

5:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Mary Dawson

I'm sorry, but I could hear neither you nor the translator. I didn't get that question.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Okay. Do you stand by your statement in your 2018 interview with The Globe and Mail that there is “not an awful lot of bad stuff going on”?

5:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Mary Dawson

Is that what I said?

I generally think Canadians are pretty good. There are always ethical errors, and that's what we have the act for. Generally speaking, I don't think we're a horrible country. The government's generally well-meaning and pretty good. That's just a general comment I guess I made.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Thanks a lot. Have a good evening.

5:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Mary Dawson

Okay. Thank you.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Ms. Dawson, thank you so much again for being very patient yesterday, and then of course coming back and being with us today. Your time is much appreciated. We do hope that you get to enjoy some great rest at your cabin.

5:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Mary Dawson

Thank you very much. It was kind of fun.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

That's good, excellent. Thank you so much.

With that, I will officially adjourn the meeting.