[Democracy Watch Logo][Op-ed]

Senator Michael Kirby was unethical because of corporate board positions 

The following letter-to-the-editor, by Democracy Watch Coordinator Duff Conacher, 
was published in shorter form in the Ottawa Citizen on August 28, 2006

Dear Editor,
The editorial in the Ottawa Citizen about Senator Michael Kirby's retirement claims that Kirby should be judged only based "on whether he served the public well" (which the editorial claims is not much in doubt).

Given that the Citizen has no idea what Kirby was doing most of the time he was a senator (because of huge loopholes in the federal transparency and lobbying and Senate ethics laws), no one should be making such blanket, conclusive statements about his record.  Lack of key information means that the question remains whether Kirby ever lobbied for the corporations whose boards he sat on through his time as a senator?

The editorial also claims that "many senators have other roles they play in business or elsewhere" and that this excuses Kirby's practice of chairing senate committees that addressed issues directly affecting the corporations on whose boards he sat.

This "everybody's doing it, therefore it's ok" defence of Kirby is not only illogical, it also ignores fundamental democratic governance principles.  When you are on a corporate board, you are paid by the corporation and are legally required to serve the corporation's interests.  All effective government ethics systems around the world make it clear that you cannot serve a private, corporate interest while also serving as a politician or public official.

Although Kirby's retirement removes him as an government insider with corporate ties, very unfortunately for all Canadians, Kirby's conflicts of interests are not unique.  Current federal Conservative Health Minister Tony Clement owns shares in a company that is part of the pharmaceutical drug industry, and he is responsible for making many policy decisions that affect that same industry.

Hopefully, someday Canada's federal government will have (among many other needed reforms) an effective ethics enforcement system that will stop senators and Cabinet ministers from being in the unethical positions Kirby was in so often, and that Clement is in still.

Duff Conacher, Coordinator
Democracy Watch

To see details about one of Senator Michael Kirby's conflicts of interest, go to the Canadian Health Coalition's webpage about Senator Kirby 

To see details about federal Conservative Health Minister Tony Clement's conflicts of interest, go to Democracy Watch's June 13, 2006 news release and go to the Canadian Health Coalition's webpage about Minister Tony Clement 

To see the details about the changes needed to ensure Canada's senators are not lobbying for private interests while, and all the other changes needed to the federal government's accountability system (including details about the 21 promised measures that the federal Conservatives failed to include in Bill C-2) to require everyone in Canada's federal government to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively, and to prevent waste, go to Democracy Watch's May 30, 2006 news release

Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch homepage