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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
I call this meeting to order.
This is meeting number 36 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.
I'd like to remind members that today's meeting is televised and will be made available on the House of Commons website.
Today, we are studying the main estimates of 2021-22, vote 1, under the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. Following the commissioner's appearance, if members do agree, all members will be voting on the estimates and discussing some committee business as well.
Just a reminder to committee members, we have set aside next week for the consideration of the draft report on the study of the questions of conflict of interest and lobbying in relation to pandemic spending.
First up this afternoon, we have the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Mr. Mario Dion.
Thanks so much for joining us. I know you've been a very busy commissioner. We appreciate that you've made time available to us in our study of the estimates.
Mr. Dion, the floor is yours.
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:02
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you very much for inviting me to appear as you consider the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's submission for the 2021-2022 main estimates.
As many of you were not involved in the committee until last year, I will quickly describe the goals of my office since its creation 14 years ago.
Our primary goal is to help regulatees, that is, public office holders and members of the House of Commons, know and follow the rules in the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.
In order to help the individuals subject to the rules, we continually improve how we communicate and engage with regulatees. This not only supports our primary goal, but also helps build trust in the office. It is important for us to work together with regulatees to help them comply with the Act and the Code as much as possible.
It is important that a continuous dialogue take place to avoid breaches. There must be trust between elected and appointed officials and their advisors in the office based on mutual respect and professionalism.
Over the years, a solid information management system has been created as it is key to providing the informed advice we try to give to regulatees. It also improves our efficiency because we don't have to reinvent the wheel each time advice is sought. It also ensures that we provide consistent advice from one individual to the next.
Our already established movement towards a digital office helped us tremendously when we moved to a virtual office in spring 2020 due to the pandemic. The process was nearly seamless for us.
The office operates with a total of 51 indeterminate positions. Most of the office's resources are dedicated to our primary goal, helping regulatees meet their obligations under the act and code. These resources are not just in our advisory and compliance division, although this is where almost one-third of our employees work, including your advisers, but it's also located within the communications group that provides educational documents and develops presentations for regulatees.
We also have a legal services and investigations division, which offers the legal opinions we rely on and, of course, conducts investigations. Finally, our corporate management division handles blind trusts, in addition, of course, to providing us with all the HR, information technology and financial support that we need.
In the past two years—and I use two years because I haven't been before this committee since May 2019—the number of reporting public office holders has increased by 7%. The office helps them, as well as the MPs, as well as the other public office holders. We have a total group of about 3,200 people we serve. In the vast majority of situations, we help them through email and telephone. This was the case already before the pandemic, so that's why it was relatively easy for us to switch to that mode when the pandemic hit.
Requests for presentations have dropped obviously because, of course, the pandemic has caused people to focus on their real delivery priorities, so we've had fewer presentations given in the last fiscal year. However, requests for advice were up through the pandemic, particularly in the last two quarters. We have already revised the presentations and have placed the focus recently on very specific, high-interest subject matters, such as recusals, outside activities and post-employment, that appear to reflect the most concerns for regulatees.
I had a session on recusals a few months ago, which was very well attended by over 300 [Technical difficulty—Editor]. On June 8 and June 16, I have already invited all the reporting [Technical difficulty—Editor] holders to a session on offers of outside employment and post-employment obligations.
Requests from the public for information have also increased 27% over the last fiscal year. There has been a steady interest from the media in the work of our office. Given the restrictions placed upon me by the act, we've worked hard to ensure that we are as open and transparent as possible with both the public and the media. Our approach has included more active use of Twitter to share information and updates. We have over 3,000 Twitter followers at this point in time. Last year we increased by 52% the number of tweets that we sent out in order to be of interest to our followers.
Since I was last before you, I have issued nine investigation reports under the act, and four under the code. We've always been able to complete our analyses and conclusions in less than one year, which was one of my initial goals when I was appointed back in early 2018. I set out this goal to complete—unless it was exceptionally complex or unless there were exceptional circumstances—any study, any review and examination that we do under the code or the act within one year. We've managed to do that in the 13 reports issued in the last two years, and 18 since I've been in my position in January 2018.
I hope you will share my view that we have produced quality work each time.
I'm here today, and I'm pleased to let you know that we currently have no investigations ongoing under the act—no backlog. Therefore, we're ready to accept the next complaint or the next situation where I have reasonable grounds to start an investigation. We have a couple still ongoing under the code. In fact, I'll be tabling a report before the House rises as a result of an investigation under the code.
We receive a fair volume of complaints and information, if you wish, from the public, from the media, so we've reviewed over 100 files, 100 situations, where my staff reviewed incoming information to determine whether we should investigate. There is a good flow of information that comes in all the time.
I will now talk about the budget, since that is what brings us here today.
This year, we are operating with a budget of $7.67 million. That represents an increase of about 2% over last year. That is what I requested. Last year, we also secured funding for three additional communications advisor positions and to keep our information technology system up to date. Since the office was created 14 years ago, the budget has grown by about $1.6 million over the original budget.
Let's talk a little about the pandemic. Obviously, that is what's on everyone's mind; as we heard earlier before the meeting started, the patios are opening tonight.
The pandemic hit us suddenly, as it did everyone else. Personally, I had a medical condition two or three years ago that made me more vulnerable. So I remember very well leaving the office not knowing, like all of you, when I was going to come back and how. We all thought it would be a few weeks. However, we had to take steps gradually.
We were lucky, because our employees already had tablets and could work from home. In addition to our policy to provide equipment in a controlled manner to facilitate telework while ensuring ergonomics, we took steps with each employee regarding Wi-Fi availability. For 51 employees, supplies cost $28,000, from equipment to paper, pencils, and so on. Those costs were offset by decreases in other costs, such as printing. We have saved a lot of paper and a lot of trees. We also achieved significant savings on mail-outs.
In general, employees really like being able to telework. So we have a positive workplace. We use technology, as Parliament has, to keep channels open and have a constant dialogue with employees.
All this work, of course, has been accomplished because of the 50 people who work with me, who have been very good throughout the pandemic.
We did not actually measure productivity, because we have no backlog, in any respect, anywhere in the organization. We've been able to cope with the volume of work in spite of the pandemic, while trying to minimize problems and help employees as much as possible vis-à-vis the maintenance of a good balance and a good mental health situation.
That's what I have this afternoon. I would be pleased, of course, to answer any questions that members might have.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Commissioner.
I will turn to Mr. Barrett for the first six minutes.
Mr. Barrett.
View Michael Barrett Profile
CPC (ON)
Thanks, Chair.
Thank you, Commissioner, for joining us today.
I will start by saying that I appreciate the volume of work you've had to undertake since you last appeared before the committee. While I do have a lot of questions that I would like to ask as a matter of context on any of the number of reports you've undertaken with respect to public office holders, particularly cabinet members, including the now former finance minister and the Prime Minister a couple of times, I'm going to focus my first questions on the “Trudeau III Report”, the third report into allegations that the Prime Minister broke the Conflict of Interest Act.
My first question is with respect to the actual process you undertook in the report. I note that a few individuals—Rick Theis, who's a policy and cabinet affairs adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Amitpal Singh as well—were interviewed by you when you did your report. I wonder if these individuals volunteered or were requested to provide a virtual, in place of a face-to-face, interview with your office.
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:14
The way it works, I'm afraid the answer is neither. They were asked to come for an interview and they agreed to come. That's usually the case. Very few people actually volunteer for an interview. That's how it goes.
We basically review the documentary evidence. We determine what more information we need from anyone, and we call witnesses. I have the power to subpoena people. I have not had to issue any subpoena since my appointment back in early 2018. They did come voluntarily, but as a result of a request that we had made of them.
View Michael Barrett Profile
CPC (ON)
In your study for your report entitled “Trudeau III Report”, I again note that Mr. Theis and Mr. Singh were asked to provide interviews but Prime Minister Trudeau was not.
Are you able to provide us the context in which Mr. Trudeau did not provide an interview in your preparing the “Trudeau III Report”?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:15
Mr. Trudeau was not asked to provide an interview because we had enough material using some 40,000 pages of documentary evidence. We required the Prime Minister to give us a sworn statement in writing to fill some of the information gaps that we needed to fill, but it was not necessary to require an interview with the Prime Minister, so we didn't do so.
That's our general practice. We only ask somebody to come to an interview when there is a need to do so. An affidavit is just as good, as you know, Mr. Barrett, as an interview. That's why things took place that way.
View Michael Barrett Profile
CPC (ON)
For context, Commissioner—and I appreciate that answer—in preparing the “Trudeau II Report” and “The Trudeau Report”, were interviews conducted with the Prime Minister?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:16
Yes, they were conducted, and this is indicated in each of the reports in appendix A. Mr. Trudeau is listed as a person who was interviewed in both “The Trudeau Report” and the “Trudeau II Report”.
View Michael Barrett Profile
CPC (ON)
Again, for my context, I'll turn quickly to the “Morneau II Report”, which found that Mr. Morneau violated the Conflict of Interest Act. Was Mr. Morneau interviewed by your office?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:17
No, he was not. Appendix 1—there's only one appendix—lists the witnesses. For the same reason that we did not have to require the Prime Minister to come for an interview, we did not have to require the former minister of finance to either. We had enough by way of documentary evidence and the sworn statement that we required from Mr. Morneau through his solicitors.
View Michael Barrett Profile
CPC (ON)
Turning to another part of your investigation, I'm wondering what information you were furnished with or uncovered regarding the Canada 150 events that took place on Parliament Hill. You'll recall, Commissioner, that those events featured the Prime Minister's mother, who was paid, and the WE organization was given a million-dollar contract to undertake those activities.
Was that part of your investigation?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:18
It was part of what we had to look at by way of background to determine the nature of the relationship between the Trudeau family and the WE Charity, but it was not the focus of our examination. It was contextual information that was useful for us to know about in order to properly assess the nature of the relationship.
View Michael Barrett Profile
CPC (ON)
Did you uncover any evidence or were you presented with any evidence demonstrating that Madam Trudeau was not paid to be a speaker at that event?
I'll ask if you can engage in a hypothetical, to help folks understand the difference between the appearance of a conflict and an actual conflict. If Madam Trudeau had been paid in that case, would it have put the Prime Minister in a position of a conflict of interest?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:19
Madam Trudeau had been paid. We established that through reviewing the documents. Madam Trudeau, the mother, has been paid on several occasions by the WE Charity. As to Madam Trudeau, the wife, the report details what we have by way of background information.
For the 2017 event that you're talking about, I don't actually recall whether we have any evidence that she was paid or not paid, but I can of course provide the committee with that information if it's available to us. I simply don't recall that.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Barrett. Your time is up.
We'll go to Ms. Lattanzio now for the next—
View Michael Barrett Profile
CPC (ON)
Chair, before moving on, I appreciate the commissioner undertaking to provide that information and ask that you make a note of that.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you. I think the commissioner did indicate that he would supply that, and we appreciate it.
Ms. Lattanzio, we'll turn to you now for the next six minutes.
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Commissioner Dion, for joining us today.
I understand that the budget has been increased, but despite that, what are the main monetary challenges? Of course, $1.6 million has been accrued in the budget or otherwise, but what is the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner facing over the short and medium terms?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:20
I think our greatest challenge is still to properly communicate, to explain to MPs and to public office holders their obligations under the code and the act. These instruments, these documents, are complex, and the vast majority of people who are regulated by the act and the code have a relatively shallow understanding because it is complex.
Unlike me, they don't spend their lives thinking about these things, so we're trying to find better ways to provide guidance through documents we've put on the web, through videos and through webinars, because I believe, first of all, that each MP and public office holder is the first person responsible for making sure they comply with these instruments, but our job at the office is to assist them in doing that. The best way to avoid problems is to make sure that we have an educated group of people who are able to identify the situations where they should consult with us.
We receive a fair volume of consultations as it is. We had 2,000 consultations by public office holders in the last fiscal year, and 500 from MPs, but sometimes MPs call about things that are menial and maybe don't call about things that are really important. You need to have the reflex to identify those issues.
I understand that the member is a lawyer. I don't know if the member has had a chance to go through the documents. They are short, but relatively complex, and vague as well at times. That's the greatest challenge that we still have: to demystify, explain, vulgarize.... I don't know what other words to use to describe what I'm trying to get at.
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Maître Dion.
You have identified the difficulties, perhaps, that are incurred on a daily basis in terms of making distinctions. Also, I think number one is a confusion with regard to the distinction with the act and the code.
That being said, how do you plan on measuring the progress in this regard in terms of making more people aware and maybe making more people cognizant of what their responsibilities and obligations are?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:23
We do measure attendance at the events we organize, educational events such as the ones I mentioned during my opening remarks. I was very pleased when we attracted 302 people to a session in each French and English to deal with the subject matter of recusals a few months before we published the “Trudeau III Report” and “Morneau II Report”. It was topical. People registered in large numbers.
That's one way: attendance. The second way, of course, is the degree of contravention.
We'll have to see how it evolves. If we have a wave of contraventions, it will probably indicate that we're not very successful in our efforts. On the other hand, if we have very few contraventions, it's one factor. That's why we do education—in order to prevent problems.
Also, we will do a survey at one point in time of the regulatees to determine whether we are using the proper means to communicate with them as well.
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
Based on what you've just said and based on the fact that you have no backlogs under the act and just a couple under the code, I would conclude, based on what you've just said, that things are going pretty well.
Some of your provincial counterparts have a dual mandate: that of the registrar of lobbying and that of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. You have signed an agreement with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada with respect to education and outreach, given some of the links between the two mandates.
Would you see any benefits, financial or otherwise, in merging the two federal offices into one?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:24
I have never studied the question in depth. I know that in any major reorganization—it would be major for the staff at both offices if there were to be a merger—my experience in several places, in almost 40 years of public service management experience, is that it's very unsettling. It takes months, if not years, for an organization to stabilize after a major reorganization, and I really wonder whether it would be worth the effort to do that.
We currently have a good degree of co-operation with the Office of the Lobbying Commissioner. Our budgets in the global scheme of things are very small, and it's probably not worth the effort, but that's my superficial opinion, not having studied the question in any depth.
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
I appreciate the sincerity of your answer.
I would like to now bring you to the strategic plan of 2018-2021. The office will focus on certain key priorities, including the modernization of technology and information management structures. How is the modernization unfolding, and given the cost of technology, does such a modernization require unusual or additional expenses?
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Madam Lattanzio is out of time, but we will allow you to answer the question, and then we will move on to the next questioner.
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:26
Mr. Chair, I would like to, first of all, underscore the excellent services we received from the House of Commons in relation to IT services. We are really lucky because we belong to Parliament Hill, and we are receiving excellent services from this group.
We were able to modernize, incurring some additional expenditures but not of great significance, and it is well worth the investment, as was demonstrated during the pandemic. We are much more nimble than we would have been three or four years ago, without those improvements.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you.
We will turn to Madam Gaudreau now, for the next six minutes.
View Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Commissioner, I am delighted, because your opening remarks and your responses to my colleagues' questions really did a good job answering the questions I had about your mandate and your budget. Thank you.
So I will take the opportunity to turn the rest of my time over to my colleague Mr. Fortin, who is going to ask you a few questions.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Monsieur Fortin, you have the floor.
View Rhéal Fortin Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, Commissioner. Thank you for being with us today.
Your mandate is certainly not easy, as investigating ethics issues must be quite stressful at times. You are doing very well, from what I can tell.
Mr. Dion, in your opinion, would the current Conflict of Interest Act be worth updating or amending to make it a little more effective?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:28
To answer the question as it was phrased, yes, I would say that the Act would merit some review. If the question had been asked differently, I would have said that, from my perspective as a Commissioner, the Act is working right now, although some things could be improved, obviously. If Parliament had time to spend either on a bill about this or on a parliamentary committee review, I believe that would be time well spent. When that happens, I will have several recommendations.
View Rhéal Fortin Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you.
Mr. Dion, at the end of the Trudeau III Report that you released, you point out that Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that he had an apparent conflict of interest. You told us that the appearance of conflict of interest was not covered in the Act. To my knowledge, it is covered in many other conflict of interest statutes or regulations, but clearly it is not covered in this case.
In your view, would it not be appropriate to amend the current Act to include the appearance of conflict of interest and, therefore, require people to recuse themselves from decision-making whenever they are in an apparent conflict of interest situation?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:29
I think we mentioned it in the report, but I would like to reiterate that in 2006, the government of the day made a conscious choice not to include the mere appearance of conflict per se in the Conflict of Interest Act. It's reflected in the parliamentary debates on the subject. The Senate had proposed an amendment to incorporate the issue of apparent conflict of interest, but they chose not to include it in the Act.
Would it be beneficial to do so? I haven't studied the issue thoroughly. I did study it a little, though, because I obviously expected these types of questions. This amendment would carry some danger, because you also have to guard against paralysis. We know that politicians and policy makers often know hundreds and thousands of people. Also, appearance is something very subjective. What I consider a conflict of interest will not necessarily be considered as such by my neighbour. Appearance is a bit intangible and abstract.
So that is the kind of thing that would need to be properly studied in parliamentary committee before concluding whether or not it is desirable to include it in the Act. It would also have to be determined whether, in practice, it is possible to sanction someone who, in a situation of apparent conflict of interest, nevertheless participates in decision-making.
View Rhéal Fortin Profile
BQ (QC)
We already have provisions on the appearance of conflict of interest, in the Act respecting the Barreau du Québec, among others. In addition, when they have an apparent conflict of interest, court judges recuse themselves and do not sit. This seems to be quite common among those who have decisions to make. They don't leave themselves open by putting themselves in certain situations. It is said that if someone is in a situation of apparent conflict of interest, they undermine the appearance of justice, and the public may lose confidence in the judicial system. It seems to me that the same reasoning could be applied to situations involving government.
However, in this case, Mr. Dion, the appearance is quite significant. Members of Mr. Trudeau's family, including his mother, wife, and brother, received about half a million dollars, or at least several hundred thousand dollars, in contracts. Furthermore, Mr. Morneau's daughters worked for WE Charity. These individuals continued sitting even though they knew they were in a conflict of interest. Mr. Trudeau even postponed the decision to a later session because he was not comfortable sitting at that time. The contract was awarded under those conditions, without a competitive bidding process.
Ethics experts who testified before this committee told us that when you operate without a competitive bidding process because of the urgency of the situation, you have to be extra vigilant about anything that could give rise to conflicts of interest. In this case, not only was there no extra vigilance, there was less vigilance. No due diligence, accounting or forensic audits were done beforehand. It was even proven that the WE Charity people had negotiated directly with the government when they were not even registered as lobbyists.
So the contract was awarded to WE Charity, an empty shell with no financial history or assets to secure its obligations. No guarantees, bonds, mortgages or anything else were offered to the government. Yet the government gave WE Charity a contract for $500 million, perhaps as much as $800 million, without any auditing or bidding, simply because the Kielburger brothers were known to the Trudeau family. The Trudeau family had a relationship with them for about 20 years. I believe in Mr. Trudeau's case it dated back when the organization was founded in the 2000s.
I don't mean to suggest that you have done a bad job. I know that you are working within the provisions of the Act as it currently stands. However, shouldn't the extent of this apparent conflict of interest lead us to believe we need to anticipate such situations? Apparent conflicts of interest of this magnitude must be covered, so that situations of this kind can be avoided. Otherwise, it will be difficult to maintain public confidence in the current government.
What are your thoughts, Mr. Dion?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:34
I spoke earlier about the need to develop a reflex when one holds public office or is a member of Parliament. In addition, the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons deals with the appearance of conflict of interest and provides that it can be sanctioned.
Other than British Columbia, no other jurisdictions are doing it. We did a cursory check, and it's the only province where the appearance of conflict of interest can, in and of itself, be subject to sanctions, under the provincial conflict of interest legislation.
This needs to be looked into. The question bears asking. It was asked in 2006 and a choice was made. One day, we will have an opportunity to take part in a debate on the issue.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you.
We'll turn to Mr. Angus now for the next six minutes.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you so much, Mr. Dion. It's always a pleasure to have you come to our committee. You don't come often enough, I think.
I want to congratulate you. I think your reports are always extremely diligent. I don't always agree with them, but I find them very fascinating and I reflect on them.
I want to ask you about the Morneau report because to me it really shows a staggering level of insider access. It answered many of the questions we were trying to figure out at our committee.
In sworn testimony to the committee, the Kielburger brothers stated that one of the reasons they opted not to register to lobby was because it was unusual for them to be spending any significant time with the federal government. However, in your report you state that Mr. Morneau's office:
...had an unusually high degree of involvement in...files relating to WE.... There were frequent communications between members of Mr. Morneau's ministerial staff and WE representatives.
...Mr. Morneau gave WE preferential treatment by permitting his ministerial staff to disproportionately assist it when it sought federal funding. I believe this unfettered access to the Office of the Minister of Finance was based on the identity of WE's representative, Mr. Craig Kielburger.
Would you say that this—to me, unprecedented—access to the finance minister's office created the conflict of interest for Mr. Morneau and certainly helped exacerbate the the WE scandal?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:36
In my view, they were friends within the meaning of the act. That's why we found Mr. Morneau to be in contravention of a couple of sections of the act, because Craig Kielburger and Mr. Morneau were friends, in my view.
The word “friend” is not defined in the act. It's up to me in each and every situation, on a case-by-case basis, to analyze the indicia of the relationship. In that instance, it was the determination I made after some reflection, but it was relatively easy to determine that they were friends.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
Right.
I guess to me it's beyond the question of their being personal friends and going to brunch together. I find it shocking that their relationship, the way they treated staff in the finance minister's office, to say “Hey, girl”.... It's the sense that they were that welcome in there to say “Hey, girl” to federal staff.
When parliamentary secretary Jennifer O'Connell asked why she was being asked to attend a meeting with Craig Kielburger, she was told, “this one is important to Bill and Craig is not in town often. It is purely listening mode to keep him happy.”
Who were they trying to keep happy—Craig Kielburger or Bill Morneau?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:37
I don't know. We can each read this and make our own determination. It was one of the documents that we reviewed.
Mr. Charlie Angus: Okay. I find that—
Mr. Mario Dion: My interpretation of “to keep him happy” is as good as yours. Whether they're talking about Craig Kielburger or Bill Morneau, I don't know.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
It's highly unusual for the finance minister's office in a G7 country to say that they want to keep Craig Kielburger happy, if that's the case.
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:38
That's what I thought. That's why I determined them to be friends—highly unusual.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
I'm really pleased you put that in there, because it stands out that something wasn't right there.
The Kielburgers stated the following under oath at the finance committee:
Any allegation and false claim that we would have financially benefited as individuals...is simply...false....[It is] incredibly insulting that [the committee] will not accept our answer on this.
You write:
There is no doubt that Mr. Kielburger's interests would have been furthered had WE administered the CSSG. WE...would have acquired a significant financial interest....[The Kielburgers'] involvement...is so prevalent that the organization's interests are also those of its co-founders.
You have stated on a number of occasions in your report that Mr. Morneau was inappropriately furthering the private interests of Craig Kielburger. Can you explain that?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:39
We weigh every word that we put in those reports very carefully. You have read some excerpts, and I recall that they're pretty powerful excerpts. We did weigh them very carefully before writing them. We have the evidence to support that. Receiving $43 million to manage a program of course will unavoidably improve one's situation vis-à-vis the ability to retain staff, for example, or the ability to borrow money and so on and so forth. That's why we came to that conclusion.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
Again, many things seemed to just jump right off the page. One of the things that I found most shocking was this allegation that ministerial resources, the resources of a finance minister of a G7 country, were used to hustle gigs for the Kielburgers. You say:
...evidence...shows that Mr. Morneau and his...staff assisted WE by reviewing its funding proposals, introducing WE representatives to ministerial staff in...relevant departments as well as intervening on their behalf at...federal, provincial and municipal levels.
I mean, if the finance minister of a country is calling down into some town council to get a gig for Craig Kielburger, would you not agree that this is highly inappropriate behaviour?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:40
Of course I agree, because that was our finding. It was highly unusual. It was also inappropriate, in my view.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you very much.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Angus.
Mr. Gourde, you have the next five minutes.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for being here, Commissioner. It's always a pleasure to meet with you and talk to you.
Mr. Dion, you worried me earlier when you said that MPs were subject to the rules regarding the appearance of a conflict of interest. However, public office holders, who are either ministers or parliamentary secretaries, in which case they're also MPs, or senior officials, wouldn't be subject to potential sanctions for the appearance of a conflict of interest.
My question is the following. Since ministers and parliamentary secretaries are also MPs, where does the legislation state that they become subject to sanctions for an appearance of a conflict of interest?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:41
The key is always to determine what duties the person was performing at the time of the decision. That's what must be done. Whenever a person has both statuses, meaning that they're subject to both the conflict of interest code for MPs and the Conflict of Interest Act, it's necessary to determine whether the person was acting as an MP or a minister at the time of the decision. If the person was acting as a minister, the act applies to the situation. If the person was simply acting as an MP, the code applies. Each situation must be reviewed in this manner.
In the case of the WE Charity, Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau were obviously acting as ministers, not as MPs for a constituency.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
CPC (QC)
Although parliamentary secretaries don't make any decisions, because the department always makes the decisions, they're subject to the same act. Why are they still exempt in the event of an appearance of a conflict of interest? In what context does this apply?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:42
Again, it's necessary to determine the context in which the parliamentary secretary acted. Often, the decision has nothing to do with their role as parliamentary secretary and is simply made as part of their role as an MP. For example, when an MP is consulted with regard to the awarding of government grants, the MP, not the parliamentary secretary, is involved. The situation is then analyzed according to the conflict of interest code for MPs.
We've already seen situations of this nature. It's always necessary to determine the person's role in order to find out which instrument applies. A parliamentary secretary and an MP must do the same thing. That's why I said that it's complex and that it's necessary to develop the right responses and to understand the conflict of interest rules in order to avoid violations and issues.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
CPC (QC)
When you spoke about potential sanctions for MPs, what were you referring to? Are they fines or other penalties?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:43
Only the House has the power to impose sanctions on an MP. The code says that, when I investigate a situation involving an alleged code violation, I can recommend a sanction. Since the creation of the conflict of interest code for MPs in 2004, I believe that a sanction has been recommended on only one occasion. I was the one who did so recently in the case of Mr. Maloney.
Obviously, the House must make the decision. For example, an MP may be suspended for a certain period. The House has full authority, within its jurisdiction, to decide on the sanction to impose. My only role is to make recommendations within the framework of the conflict of interest code for MPs.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
CPC (QC)
Did you recommend a suspension with or without pay?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:44
In the case of Mr. Maloney, I recommended a reprimand. I called for an apology to his colleagues. My major concern in this case was that, of the 338 newly elected or re-elected MPs, only one had failed to fulfill his obligations regarding confidential statements. Most MPs don't like having to prepare these statements. I recommended that he apologize to his colleagues for failing to comply with the provisions of the code, when all the others had done so. That was my recommendation. Mr. Maloney then apologized to the House on the day that the report was tabled, if my memory serves me correctly.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
CPC (QC)
Confidential statements are an annual exercise and often there aren't many changes to report. However, the exercise must be done every year.
Do you think that this practice could be changed or should it remain the same?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:45
It's the same as filing an income tax return every year with the Canada Revenue Agency. Every year, I must declare whether I'm still married, even though I've been married for 43 years, and whether I live in Quebec or Ontario. Once a year isn't a big deal.
This also prevents oversights. When people must go through a form before declaring that nothing has changed, it forces them to think about whether they have a new car or a new car loan, for example. That way, they don't forget things.
I think that the current code's requirement that the exercise be repeated every year works well.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
CPC (QC)
I recall that, when submitting a new statement, we used to have access to the information provided in the previous year's statement. Now we get a blank form. We must then go back and look at the previous year's form or start the exercise over from scratch.
This has changed since you became commissioner, hasn't it?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:46
Yes, this has changed since I took the position. One of my priorities is to adhere not only to the spirit, but also to the letter of the code. The letter of the code clearly showed that this was the right thing to do. That's why I made the change.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Dion. I have no further questions for you.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Monsieur Gourde.
We're going to turn to Mr. Fergus now, for the next five minutes.
Mr. Fergus.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, Mr. Dion. It's a pleasure to see you again at the committee. Thank you for the work that you and your team do. On several occasions, I needed to seek the advice of your colleagues. I must tell you that they responded promptly to my concerns each time. I'm very grateful for that.
I want to address the Conflict of Interest Act and ask you a few questions, particularly with regard to the Trudeau III Report.
Subsection 6(1) of the act states as follows:
6(1) No public office holder shall make a decision or participate in making a decision related to the exercise of an official power, duty or function if the public office holder knows or reasonably should know that, in the making of the decision, he or she would be in a conflict of interest.
You concluded that the Prime Minister didn't violate this subsection of the act. Please explain what brought you to this conclusion.
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:48
First, thank you for your comments on the quality of the services provided by our office. I'm very grateful for that. Our service standard is to respond to requests from MPs or public office holders within three business days. We succeed in doing so 90% of the time. So thank you again.
We concluded that subsection 6(1) of the act wasn't violated because, in our view, the connection between the decision to award the contract and the potential impact on the situation of the family of Mr. Trudeau was much too tenuous to determine that a conflict of interest existed. That's the real reason.
It's quite difficult to summarize such a complex report in a few words. However, as I recall, we also concluded in the report that Mr. Trudeau obviously knew that his brother and mother had been involved in many activities for the WE Charity. That said, he told us that he didn't know the nature of the relationship or the compensation received. He didn't know whether there had been any compensation or how much it might have been. I believed Mr. Trudeau.
Since the connection between the contract awarded and the compensation received by the family members of Mr. Trudeau was much too tenuous, I concluded that there wasn't any violation of subsection 6(1) of the act.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you.
On a similar note, section 7 of the act states as follows:
7 No public office holder shall, in the exercise of an official power, duty or function, give preferential treatment to any person or organization based on the identity of the person or organization that represents the first-mentioned person or organization.
Did the Prime Minister give preferential treatment to the WE Charity and violate section 7 of the act?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:50
The report draws a very clear conclusion on this issue. The answer is no. There wasn't any violation of section 7 of the act, given that there wasn't any special relationship between Mr. Trudeau and Craig Kielburger. However, the situation was quite different in the case of the Morneau report.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
You came to this conclusion after an extensive review of over 40,000 pages of documents.
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:50
That's the process.
I'll take 30 seconds to explain the process.
When we receive a complaint and begin an investigation, we start with a completely neutral mindset with regard to whether a violation occurred. In 99% of the cases, I have no opinion on the matter. We collect as much information as possible. We ask people to send us what they have and we cast the net very wide. We ask people to send us documents that cover long periods and extensive information fields.
It doesn't always happen, but in this case, there was full co-operation, and we received stacks of documents. When we check such a wide range of documents and we don't find evidence of anything, it's probably because there isn't any relationship. In the 40,000 pages, absolutely nothing suggested that the Prime Minister and Craig Kielburger had developed a special relationship since they met, I believe in 2012, when Mr. Trudeau became an MP.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
How much time do I have left, Mr. Chair?
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Fergus. Your time is now up.
Madam Gaudreau, we'll turn to you again.
View Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Chair, I believe that my colleague had a few more questions. I'll give him the floor.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Mr. Fortin, you have the next two and a half minutes.
View Rhéal Fortin Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Ms. Gaudreau.
Mr. Dion, you just said a few moments ago that you believed Mr. Trudeau when he said that he didn't know about the nature or extent of the benefits that his family received from the WE Charity. Ultimately, on that basis, you cleared him.
As we know, Mr. Trudeau postponed his meeting for a week or two because he was uncomfortable and afraid of being in a conflict of interest. If Mr. Trudeau had checked with you beforehand and told you that he didn't know about the extent of the compensation or benefits that his relatives received, would you have advised him to find out before sitting and making the decision, or would you have told him to turn a blind eye and proceed?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:53
First, hypothetical questions are always dangerous. Asking them isn't dangerous, but answering them is.
We tell people in a similar situation that, when in doubt, it's best to recuse yourself. I certainly wouldn't have said what you provided as a second option, that's for sure. We often give advice to public office holders. We tell them that, if they have any doubts, they probably have a good reason to recuse themselves. It's always safer to do that.
Of course, I don't know what I would have done if Mr. Trudeau had checked with me, based on the hypothetical situation described. However, I probably would have taken the usual approach.
You have nothing to gain by getting involved in a decision where there may be some doubt about the objectivity of the decision. The decision can always be made by someone else.
View Rhéal Fortin Profile
BQ (QC)
Yes.
I understand that we're talking about hypothetical situations. I don't want to add anything, but I just want to address your comments regarding what Mr. Trudeau told you. Sorry if I'm misquoting you. Correct me if that's the case. Since Mr. Trudeau told you that he was unaware, you concluded that he didn't actually violate section 7 of the Conflict of Interest Act. However, if he had spoken to you beforehand, you would have advised him to get informed and not to participate in the decision-making process.
Is that right?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:54
Yes, that's what I would advise.
View Rhéal Fortin Profile
BQ (QC)
Okay.
I'll go back to my earlier question. Given the magnitude of this issue, shouldn't amendments be made to the act to ensure that situations of this nature don't happen again?
I understand that you don't want to talk too much about hypothetical situations. However, as the Ethics Commissioner who advises parliamentarians, don't you think that situations involving a conflict of interest, or at least such a blatant appearance of a conflict of interest, should be avoided in the future?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:55
We have all sorts of ways of talking to people. For example, we have what we call screens, which are published in the public registry, by the way. If you check the public registry, you'll see that a number of ministers and other reporting public office holders established a screen to avoid any situation where they would have the opportunity to make a decision on an entity or an individual—
View Rhéal Fortin Profile
BQ (QC)
That means you would recommend—
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Fortin.
You're out of time. I do apologize. This is the problem with these short turns.
View Rhéal Fortin Profile
BQ (QC)
Sorry, Mr. Dion.
Thank you.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
We're going to turn to Mr. Angus now for the next two and a half minutes.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Dion, for coming. On behalf of the Canadian people I would like to thank you for this report that really shows the shocking level of insider access that's happening in Ottawa.
When we began the study of the WE Charity issue, we thought we were dealing with the crisis of the pandemic and that quick decisions had to be made and a few mistakes may have happened, but what you lay out is a pattern of inappropriate breaches of all the rules that should be in place to protect the public interest—and this goes back. This is the operating culture between the Kielburger brothers and the Liberal government.
In June 2017, Mr. Kielburger and Mr. Morneau meet, and they decide that the finance minister's office is going to help them get their funding for their accelerator hub, that they are going to start using public resources to hustle for the Kielburgers. In November 2017, they are establishing pre-budget consultations in the Kielburger's offices, and the WE brothers are promoting this for the finance minister.
In December 2017, there were separate emails to various chiefs of staff from Bill Morneau's office to ministers within the Government of Ontario introducing Craig Kielburger as a “dear friend” and a “great local partner”, and asking provincial counterparts to make time to meet with Mr. Kielburger. When they get the provincial funding, Mr. Morneau's office is the first one notified and then he calls his bestie, Craig Kielburger.
I put it to you, Mr. Dion, we would never have learned this if it hadn't been for your investigation, so I take from that, for other groups like the Kielburgers, why bother to register as lobbyists? They were able to fly under the radar. They were able to have insider access, and all the normal rules were able to be broken. We don't know if they had this access in Minister Chagger's office or any other minister's office. We just know from your report.
How do we stop this abusive insider access of the public interest? How do we ensure that, if they're not going to bother to be registered to lobby, and if there is no lobbying investigation, the Kielburger brothers and their like can't carry on and do what they want. It's not right.
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:58
I think one of the uses of such a report is to analyze, and for others to analyze, because my role is limited to determining the particular facts in a situation—if there was a breach of the Conflict of Interest Act. I hope these reports will also serve policy people within the government and within political parties to try to create systems that in the future will prevent the repetition of such behaviours, but it is not my role to do that. I am not equipped nor resourced to do that.
View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you for your findings.
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 13:59
Thank you. I appreciate it.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Angus.
We're going to turn to Mr. Carrie now for the next five minutes.
Go ahead, Mr. Carrie.
View Colin Carrie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Colin Carrie Profile
2021-05-28 13:59
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Mr. Dion, for being here.
I got on to committee halfway through, and there are some questions that I think you might be able to help me answer. I want to talk about the conflict of interest code as it relates to “The Trudeau Report”.
In the code, part 2(e) says that a member of Parliament should not “accept any gift or benefit...seen to compromise their personal judgment”. Part 14(1) says that it should not reasonably be seen “to influence the member” and it could be “related to attendance at a charitable or political event”.
Mr. Dion, with “The Trudeau Report”, did you get any evidence of the value of the promotions and branding that ME to WE—not the WE Charity, the for-profit company that the Kielburger's own—charge corporations and companies for their attendance and promotions at the ME to WE events, WE Day?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 14:00
That's an aspect, Mr. Chairman, that I believe we have not examined at all, because it was not necessary in order to determine whether there was a contravention of sections 6, 7 or 21. We have not looked at this issue whatsoever.
View Colin Carrie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Colin Carrie Profile
2021-05-28 14:00
Thank you for that.
I don't see how you could have looked at it because when I asked the Kielburgers the questions, they hemmed and hawed.
I don't know if you're aware, Mr. Dion, but at their for-profit company the Kielburgers charge corporations to come up on stage with them to be vetted by the WE organization to say they're a good guy. They charge literally hundreds of thousands of dollars for that, but Mr. Trudeau received that for free.
When I look at the parts 2(e) and 14(1) of the code, it may not have been in the scope of this investigation, but for me, as a politician, to go up on stage to be presented to tens of thousands of future voters who are being told by an organization that has been built up as the wonderful WE organization that I've been fully vetted and supported, that's of great value to me. They were actually charging corporations. This was not a donation to a charity. They actually paid for advertising and branding, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
They even made a promotional video for Mr. Trudeau. I asked them how much the value of that was, and of course they didn't tell me. We got it just a few weeks ago, so you could not have possibly known the value of that video they gave to Mr. Trudeau at these events. It was $121,000 for 10 videos, and his was one of them. If we just do a division, it would be $12,000 for his video. If you've ever seen it, it's a very good, snazzy video, a promotion that, for any politician, if they received it, would be an extremely high-value product—and he received it.
My question for you would be this. If you had known thatMr. Trudeau had received from ME to WE, a for-profit organization, benefits that a private company would be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for and a promotional video very close to the election worth at least $12,000, would that be something that under the code, parts 2(e) or 14(1), would be seen as questionable?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 14:03
Again, it's a hypothetical question. It's always difficult to answer such questions.
At any point in time, if a member of Parliament believes the code has been breached, they can actually make a complaint about the alleged behaviour and the alleged breach. However, I would remind the member we always look at whether the subject matter of the complaint really relates to the person's position as a member of Parliament or to the person's position as the minister, governed by the Conflict of Interest Act.
The short answer is that, if and why I have to analyze it, I will and I will determine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe an inquiry should be launched, but—
View Colin Carrie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Colin Carrie Profile
2021-05-28 14:03
Okay. Thank you very much.
Like I said, there's no way you could have known the value of that when you were writing your report. To get the Kielburgers to actually come to committee to answer some questions was extremely difficult. We did not even receive a written response to that value of the video until within the last couple of weeks.
It concerns me, Mr. Dion, because the code is very clear where it says “not to accept any gift or benefit connected with their position that might reasonably be seen to compromise” .
Especially given the relationship of the Trudeau family and the size of the contract these Kielburger brothers were searching.... That's a lot of money. If it's a charitable donation, that's one thing, but this was their for-profit company that companies paid. Mr. Trudeau received the exact same benefit and didn't pay anything for that.
Maybe that's something we could investigate a little bit further.
Mr. Chair, how much time do I have?
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
You are out of time, I think.
Mr. Dion, is there anything that you would like to respond to with regard to those questions?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 14:05
No, Mr. Chairman, I think I have responded.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Perfect.
Mr. Dong, we'll turn to you now for the next five minutes.
Mr. Dong.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Chair.
I want to thank the commissioner for coming today, and for your hard work and your staff's hard work in putting together these two reports given the time frame.
For the record, did your investigation find the Prime Minister intentionally offered the WE Charity preferential treatment?
Mario Dion
View Mario Dion Profile
Mario Dion
2021-05-28 14:05
No, we found the opposite, if you read the report.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
In your report you cite the former integrity commissioner in Ontario, Gregory Evans, who stated, “One person's perception of another's conduct is a purely subjective assessment influenced by many factors including the interest of the individual making the assessment. It is not the proper criteria by which the conduct of a legislator should be measured.”
Throughout the last several months we have seen opposition party members attempt to pursue their own investigation of the Prime Minister in several committees. In your view, will such a partisan investigation yield an effective or truthful report for Canadians?
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