Group Files Complaints With Lobbying
Commissioner, Ethics Commissioner and Elections Canada About
Federal Conservative Fundraising Event At Rogers Centre That Raises
Friday, October 16, 2009
OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch released the letters it has
sent to the federal Commissioner of Lobbying, Conflict of Interest and
Ethics Commissioner, and Commissioner of Canada Elections requesting
that they investigate and rule on a fundraising event it believes was
held by Conservative Parliamentary Secretary and MP Rick Dykstra (and
possibly other Conservatives) at the Rogers Centre on September 6, 2009.
Democracy Watch has been provided with what appears to be a
genuine copy of an invitation
sent by email by Mr. Dykstra for a fundraising event it appears was to
benefit Mr. Dykstra’s riding association, and indirectly the
Conservative Party of Canada, and possibly other of its candidates and
riding associations (Democracy Watch does not know if other
Conservative MPs also sent out the invitation).
The invitation states that the event was to be held in the Owner’s Box at the Rogers Centre in which Mr. Dykstra would have “the opportunity to host 60 friends” and that “Included with your contribution to my federal association is a ticket to the game, access to the owner’s suite, beverages and food during the entire game.” According to the Rogers Centre website, the Centre has been owned by Rogers since February 2005.
The email also states that invitees will have “the opportunity
to attend batting practice, meet with the President of Blue Jay
Operations, ministers from the federal government and players from the
Blue Jays” baseball team. According to Rogers website, the Blue
Jays team has been owned by Rogers since September 2000.
Democracy Watch does not know which Blue Jays players were made
available to meet attendees.
Democracy Watch also does not know which (if any) Cabinet
ministers actually attended the event.
In Democracy Watch's opinion, the fundraising event raises
serious questions because according to the invitation it was partly
held in the Owner's Box of the Rogers Centre (which, according to
Rogers Centre staff, cannot be rented and can only be used with the
exclusive permission of Rogers Communications Inc., the owner of the
Rogers Centre, which makes it a very valuable gift that cannot be paid
for) and because it also involved, according to the invitation, other
perks that were not paid for by the attendees through their donation to
Mr. Dykstra's riding association.
"Democracy Watch's opinion is that given federal ethics rules for politicians and lobbyists, and federal political donation rules, and given related federal court rulings, the fundraising event raises serious questions that merit investigation by the federal Lobbying Commissioner, Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Canada Elections," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.
Democracy Watch's opinion is that the valuable contributions
that appear to have been made to the Conservatives by Rogers
Communications Inc. through the fundraising event also raise serious
questions for the following reasons (all of which are detailed in the
letters sent today to the federal Commissioner of Lobbying, Ethics
Commissioner and Commissioner of Canada Elections):
Based on its very close review of the federal Conflict of Interest Act and
federal Ethics Commissioner's 2008 Guideline
on Gifts (including Invitations, Fundraisers and Business Lunches)
under that Act, and relevant
court rulings, Democracy Watch’s opinion is that the only gifts and/or
contributions that are permitted to be given to federal Cabinet
ministers (including Parliamentary Secretaries) under the Canada Elections Act exemption in
clause 11(2)(a) of the Conflict of
Interest Act are money, property or the use of property or
services provided by an individual up to the contribution limit of
$1,100 (or equivalent commercial value) annually, and volunteer labour
provided by an individual outside of their area of work and outside of
their working hours.
Based on its very close review of the federal Conflict of Interest Code for Members of
the House of Commons (the MPs
Code) and relevant court rulings, Democracy Watch’s opinion is
that it is a violation of the MPs
Code for an MP to accept any gift of money, property or the use
of property or services (volunteer or otherwise, such as fundraising)
from a registered lobbyist, as such a gift can reasonably be seen to be
given to influence the MP’s exercise of their public duties.
And based on its very close review of the federal Lobbying Act and Lobbyists' Code of Conduct and
relevant court rulings (including the Federal Court of Appeal's unanimous
ruling in March 2009), Democracy Watch’s opinion is that it is a
violation of Rule 8 of the Lobbyists’
Code for any lobbyist (whether legally and properly registered
under the Act or not) to
provide, directly or indirectly, to any public office any more money
than is allowed to be contributed annually under the Canada Elections Act, or any more
property or use of property the commercial value of which exceeds the
annual contribution limits under the Canada
Elections Act, or any services (whether paid or volunteer) that
are significant enough to create within the public office holder a
personal sense of obligation to the lobbyist.
Rule 8 of the 12-year-old federal Lobbyists' Code of Conduct (Lobbyists’ Code) states:
"8. Lobbyists shall not place public office holders in a conflict of interest by proposing or undertaking any action that would constitute an improper influence on a public office holder."
The Federal Court of Appeal's March 2009 unanimous ruling
stated that Rule 8 of the Lobbyists'
Code simply "prohibits
lobbyists from placing public
office holders in a conflict of interest" because "Any conflict of interest impairs public
confidence in government decision-making" (para. 48).
The Court of Appeal's ruling went on to clarify specifically
that "A lobbyist's stock in trade is
his or her
ability to gain access to decision makers, so as to attempt to
influence them directly by persuasion and facts. Where the
lobbyist's effectiveness depends upon the decision maker's personal
sense of obligation to the lobbyist, or on some other private interest
created or facilitated by the lobbyist, the line between legitimate
lobbying and illegitimate lobbying has been crossed."
The Court of Appeal's ruling follows
the same logic, and sets
the same ethical standard, as the federal Conflict of Interest and
Commissioner's 2008 Guideline
on Gifts (including Invitations, Fundraisers and Business Lunches),
which covers gifts of money, property or services as defined
of Interest Act and strongly reaffirms that federal Cabinet
ministers and other
officials (and their family members) essentially cannot accept any
gifts or favours from anyone
who is trying to influence, or will be trying to influence, or has or
have dealings with, the minister or government official, even if the
lobbyist is a friend or a relative. (NOTE:
the Ethics Commissioner's guideline is based upon the principles of the
of influence and persuasion -- for more details, click here)
The Guideline on Gifts offers examples of gift givers
Commissioner views as giving gifts or doing favours in order to
a minister or government official, including anyone who is associated
or lobbying for, any entity that has or may have dealings of any kind
the government institution(s) that the minister or official directs
The Guideline on Gifts contains the following key
The Preamble of the federal Lobbyists' Code states that together it and the Conflict of Interest Act and other ethics codes for public office holders (politicians, their staff and government officials) “play an important role in safeguarding the public interest in the integrity of government decision-making”. Therefore, Democracy Watch has always argued that the interpretation of Rule 8 of the Lobbyists' Code must be based on public office holders' ethics rules.
There are rules that clarify what types of influence are improper and cause conflicts of interest in the two-year-old Conflict of Interest Act, and in the four-year-old Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons and in the four-year-old Conflict of Interest Code for Senators and in the 12-year-old federal Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service.
Specifically, all of these codes state that it is improper to
receive a gift of money, property or services that could influence a
Given that lobbyists, by definition, try to influence the decisions of
public office holders, Democracy Watch believes that a proper
application of the Court of Appeal's interpretation and application of
Rule 8 of the Lobbyists'
Code prohibits lobbyists from providing money, property
services to public office holders because that can create, in the words
of the Court of Appeal, a “personal sense of obligation” by the public
office holder to the lobbyist or a “competing private interest” (paras.
For all these reasons, Democracy Watch believes that is
reasonable for the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Ethics Commissioner
and the Commissioner of Canada Elections to investigate the fundraising
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