The history of Canada’s ethics commissioner

The history of Canada’s ethics commissioner

The origins of Canada’s federal office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner can be traced back to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

In the summer of 1973, the elder Trudeau explained why he was introducing new conflict of interest guidelines for federal cabinet ministers.

“The government believes that no higher standards should be demanded of anyone than of ministers themselves,” Trudeau said in a speech to Parliament. The rules included barring ministers from using insider information for public gain. “Our policy leaves each minister with a heavy onus to conduct his personal affairs in a manner which must not conflict or appear to conflict with his public duties and responsibilities.”

WATCH: Jody Wilson-Raybould reacts to SNC-Lavalin ethics report

Nearly a decade before that, in 1964, the House of Commons was rocked with a corruption and bribery scandal involving Lucien Rivard, who while in a Canadian jail facing extradition to the U.S. on heroin charges, had contacted Liberal government officials to secure his bail.

The Rivard Affair, as it came to be known, prompted then Liberal prime minister Lester Pearson to send a letter to his ministers, laying out a code of morality and ethics. It specifically forbade conflicts of interest and bribery.

Pierre Trudeau, in his 1973 speech, said cabinet ministers required something more than the customs and laws on the books, such as those in the Criminal Code.

READ MORE: Trudeau doubles down, refuses to apologize for SNC-Lavalin pressure after damning report

“Because of their unique duties and responsibilities, ministers should, however, be required to conform to a series of guidelines which impose added restraints, particularly in relation to pecuniary interests,” Trudeau continued. “It is important that a minister not be called upon to take decisions in a private capacity which would place him in a situation of appearing to use inside information to the advance either of himself or of any associates in corporate or other business activities.”

Trudeau’s words and guidelines preceded the Federal Accountability Act that would be be proposed decades later in 2006. The omnibus legislation, brought in by the Conservatives under former prime minister Stephen Harper, amended dozens of statutes and set up the Office of the Conflict of interest and Ethics Commissioner, as it’s known today. The conflict of interest and ethics legislation imposed new measures that aimed to toughen ethical standards and to ensure the commissioner was someone with a judicial background.

John Baird, then Treasury Board president, described the Federal Accountability Act as the “toughest anti-corruption law ever passed in Canada,” a characterization that has been disputed.

WATCH: Scheer says Trudeau’s response to SNC-Lavalin report ‘completely phony’

Trudeau’s words from 1973 were quoted last November by Mario Dion, the current Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, in a lecture he gave at York University in Toronto on the history of “the federal approach to ethics.”

“An effective ethics regime, in my view, must be supported by effective instruments, institutions, processes and structures if is to enhance the public’s confidence in those who hold public office,” said Dion, who was appointed under the current Liberal government, and was then just a few months into his seven-year term as ethics commissioner, taking over for his predecessor Mary Dawson.

Dion’s speech was three months before The Globe and Mail first published its report that officials in the Prime Minister’s Office tried to pressure former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to urge prosecutors to give SNC-Lavalin a deal to avoid a criminal trial over fraud and corruption charges from its dealings in Libya. Dion launched his own investigation into the allegations a week later.

READ MORE: Tories, NDP seek emergency ethics committee meeting after bombshell SNC-Lavalin report

Dion was not initially embraced by the opposition when he first was appointed to his role. In 2017, his appointment was slammed by opposition MPs as a secretive and unethical process.

NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen called the process “just ragingly incompetent and frustrating and cynical,” and questioned whether Dion, a retired lawyer from Montreal and long-time bureaucrat, was suitable to take on the job.

“Are you tough, are you fair, are you a dog with a bone?” Cullen asked Dion during a committee meeting regarding Dion’s appointment.

But this Wednesday, Dion released his findings in a scathing report that concluded that Justin Trudeau violated Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act. Specifically, Dion found that Trudeau “directly and through his senior officials used various means to exert influence” over former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

READ MORE: Ethics commissioner concludes Trudeau broke ethics rules by trying to exert influence in SNC-Lavalin scandal

Dion found there was a specific desire to “improperly further the interests of SNC-Lavalin.”

He continued: “The evidence showed that SNC-Lavalin had significant financial interests in deferring prosecution. These interests would likely have been furthered had Mr. Trudeau successfully influenced the attorney general to intervene in the director of public prosecutions’ decision.”

There are no penalties associated with Trudeau’s violation of the ethics code. But penalties are something Dion said should be “considered” in an interview with the Globe in early 2018.

Trudeau told reporters that while he accepts Dion’s report in full, and takes “full responsibility” for how the matter was handled, he will not apologize for it.

“I’m not going to apologize for standing up for Canadians jobs. That’s my job,” Trudeau said.

Conservative and NDP MPs have called for an emergency meeting of the House of Commons Ethics Committee to take place next week where a motion to compel Dion to appear will be introduced. Dion has so far declined to speak publicly about his report, saying it speaks for itself.

Back in November at his lecture, Dion said that Canada’s current ethics framework is effective.

“Canada is looked to as an international leader in the field of conflict of interest,” he said. “Public officials and ethics commissioners are not adversaries. They must work together to uphold the highest standards of integrity in support of the effective functioning of democracy in Canada.”

— with files from the Canadian Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


  1. I just want to tell you that I am beginner to blogs and truly enjoyed your website. Almost certainly I’m likely to bookmark your site . You surely come with remarkable stories. With thanks for revealing your web-site.

  2. Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thank you However I am experiencing situation with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting equivalent rss downside? Anybody who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

  3. An interesting discussion is value comment. I think that you need to write extra on this subject, it might not be a taboo subject however generally individuals are not sufficient to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers

  4. I like what you guys are up also. Such intelligent work and reporting! Carry on the superb works guys I have incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it’ll improve the value of my web site :).

  5. I do believe all of the ideas you have presented for your post. They’re really convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are very brief for beginners. Could you please extend them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

  6. Pretty section of content. I just stumbled upon your web site and in accession capital to assert that I acquire actually enjoyed account your blog posts. Anyway I’ll be subscribing to your feeds and even I achievement you access consistently fast.

  7. Greetings! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on. You have done a outstanding job!

  8. Throughout the great design of things you actually get an A+ for hard work. Exactly where you lost me personally was in the details. As it is said, the devil is in the details… And it couldn’t be more correct here. Having said that, let me inform you what did deliver the results. The text is certainly quite engaging and this is most likely why I am taking the effort in order to opine. I do not really make it a regular habit of doing that. Next, although I can certainly notice a jumps in reasoning you make, I am not really confident of how you appear to connect the ideas which produce the conclusion. For now I will subscribe to your issue but trust in the future you link your facts better.

  9. Normally I do not read post on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, quite nice article.

  10. Thanks for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do some research on this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I am very glad to see such fantastic info being shared freely out there.

  11. Definitely believe that which you said. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the net the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while people consider worries that they just do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people could take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  12. I truly appreciate this post. I have been looking everywhere for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You have made my day! Thx again!

  13. Definitely believe that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the net the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get irked while people think about worries that they plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people could take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  14. Thanks for your write-up. I have generally observed that most people are needing to lose weight when they wish to look slim along with attractive. Even so, they do not constantly realize that there are many benefits for you to losing weight in addition. Doctors insist that fat people are afflicted by a variety of diseases that can be perfectely attributed to their excess weight. The great thing is that people who definitely are overweight plus suffering from diverse diseases are able to reduce the severity of their illnesses by way of losing weight. It is possible to see a constant but noticeable improvement in health as soon as even a minor amount of fat reduction is reached.

  15. I have to show some appreciation to the writer just for rescuing me from this incident. Because of surfing through the search engines and meeting solutions which are not productive, I believed my life was done. Existing devoid of the answers to the difficulties you’ve sorted out as a result of this guideline is a serious case, and the ones which could have in a wrong way damaged my career if I hadn’t discovered your site. The ability and kindness in taking care of the whole thing was tremendous. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I hadn’t come across such a subject like this. I’m able to now look ahead to my future. Thanks for your time very much for the impressive and results-oriented help. I will not be reluctant to recommend your blog post to anyone who should have support about this subject.

  16. I do agree with all the ideas you’ve presented in your post. They’re really convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are too short for starters. Could you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

  17. Thank you for sharing superb informations. Your site is very cool. I am impressed by the details that you’ve on this blog. It reveals how nicely you perceive this subject. Bookmarked this web page, will come back for more articles. You, my friend, ROCK! I found simply the information I already searched all over the place and just could not come across. What a great website.

  18. Good ¡V I should certainly pronounce, impressed with your web site. I had no trouble navigating through all the tabs and related information ended up being truly easy to do to access. I recently found what I hoped for before you know it at all. Reasonably unusual. Is likely to appreciate it for those who add forums or something, website theme . a tones way for your customer to communicate. Excellent task..

  19. Someone necessarily lend a hand to make seriously articles I would state. That is the first time I frequented your web page and up to now? I surprised with the research you made to create this particular put up amazing. Excellent process!

  20. I’ll right away clutch your rss feed as I can not to find your email subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Kindly allow me know so that I could subscribe. Thanks.

  21. Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to more added agreeable from you! By the way, how can we communicate?

  22. After study a number of the content in your website now, i genuinely appreciate your method of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark web site list and will also be checking back soon. Pls have a look at my web site also and tell me what you think.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here