Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has reported on an investigation of the conduct of the Honourable Greg Fergus, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the President of the Treasury Board, and Member of Parliament for Hull–Aylmer. He found that Mr. Fergus contravened the Conflict of Interest Act when he wrote a letter of support that was submitted to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
Commissioner Dion launched the examination in October 2022 after receiving information that Mr. Fergus wrote a letter supporting Natyf Inc.’s application for a broadcasting licence before the CRTC. He examined the matter under section 9 of the Act. It prohibits public office holders from using their position to seek to influence a decision of another person so as to improperly further another person’s private interests.
Commissioner Dion found that the letter of support was intended to influence a CRTC decision in order to further the private interests of Natyf Inc. He then had to determine if those interests were furthered improperly.
Even though Mr. Fergus signed the letter as a Member of Parliament and did not use his Parliamentary Secretary title, the Office has previously established that ministers and parliamentary secretaries should not write letters of support to quasi-judicial tribunals like the CRTC, given their governmental roles and the influence they have. The role of parliamentary secretaries and the principle of non-intervention in quasi-judicial decisions are also outlined in the Prime Minister’s Open and Accountable Government guide.
Commissioner Dion determined that Mr. Fergus sought to improperly further Natyf Inc.’s private interests because he intervened in the decision-making process of a quasi-judicial tribunal. Therefore, he found that Mr. Fergus contravened section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act by writing the letter of support.
Quotes from Commissioner Dion
“Ministers and parliamentary secretaries are subject to both the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons in their role as parliamentarians and to the Conflict of Interest Act in their role as government officials. That is because they wield more influence than backbench MPs.”
“Being dual-hatted does not mean Mr. Fergus can circumvent the rules of the Act by simply wearing his MP hat to sign a letter of support to an administrative tribunal. Ministers and parliamentary secretaries may help their constituents deal with an administrative tribunal in very limited instances, such as explaining the tribunal's processes or giving them its contact information.”
“Given his years of experience and his position in government, Mr. Fergus should have been aware of these rules and should have sought advice from this Office before writing the letter.”
“As a parliamentary secretary since 2015 and having served for several years on both the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Mr. Fergus should be well versed on the functioning of both regimes and the importance of consulting the Office. I am quite concerned that someone with the breadth of experience of Mr. Fergus would fail to recognize the possibility of a contravention.”
“Over the last five years and on several occasions, I have observed senior officials being unaware of their obligations and mistakenly making assumptions. Offers to provide training and educational sessions on a variety of topics have been offered to all federal parties and to regulatees, yet we continue to see a succession of mistakes that are largely attributable to the inability to recognize the need to seek consultation. I therefore recommend that the government consider mandating all ministers and parliamentary secretaries to receive training from the Office. Mandating training does not require changes to the regimes; the government must simply decide if it wants to require such training, and the Office will deliver it.”
Under section 45 of the Act, the Commissioner may launch an examination on his own initiative. When it is completed, the Commissioner gives the Prime Minister a report setting out the facts, analysis and conclusion. A copy is given to the subject of the report and the report is made public.
Section 9 of the Act prohibits public office holders from using their position as a public office holder to seek to influence a decision of another person so as to further the public office holder’s private interests or those of their relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.
As set out in section 19 of the Act, compliance with the Act is a condition of a person’s appointment and employment as a public office holder.
Further material from the Office related to ministers and parliamentary secretaries and letters of support to quasi-judicial tribunals can be found in:
While the Conflict of Interest Act does not provide for any sanctions for contraventions found following an examination, a report is provided to the Prime Minister and released to the public to shed light on the activity examined.
Administrative monetary penalties, which the Commissioner may impose on reporting public office holders who fail to meet certain reporting requirements of the Act, are NOT applicable following any examination.
The Conflict of Interest Act applies to ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, ministerial staff, ministerial advisers, most Governor-in-Council appointees, some ministerial appointees and any persons designated by the Governor in Council to be subject to the Act. They are referred to as public office holders.
General information about examinations under the Act, including how the Commissioner deals with investigation requests.
The Prime Minister's Open and Accountable Government guide.