Ottawa, July 10, 2019
In a report released today, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found that Ms. Anita Vandenbeld, Member of Parliament for Ottawa West–Nepean, contravened section 11 of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.
He determined that, despite taking some precautions, Ms. Vandenbeld attempted to use her position to influence voters' decisions to further the private interests of a family member, who was a candidate for the position of city councillor for Ottawa's Bay Ward. The evidence showed that the way Ms. Vandenbeld communicated to voters, who are also her constituents, using her MP title to endorse her spouse's candidacy and thereby increase his election prospects, was prohibited.
Even though Ms. Vandenbeld contravened the Code, the report notes that her non-compliance was an error of judgment made in good faith. When she became involved in her spouse's campaign, she made significant efforts to comply with the rules that she had considered, namely the Members' By-law of the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy, by ensuring that no parliamentary resources were used to support the campaign. She also attempted to set boundaries for herself and her staff when volunteering for the campaign. Furthermore, Ms. Vandenbeld immediately ceased all campaign activities upon seeking and obtaining advice from the Commissioner. Commissioner Dion therefore recommended that no sanction be imposed. Nevertheless, the use of her title in door-to-door canvassing, recorded telephone calls, and letters of endorsement was found to be in contravention of section 11 of the Code.
However, because Ms. Vandenbeld's spouse was ultimately not elected to public office no private interests were, in fact, furthered. Commissioner Dion therefore found that Ms. Vandenbeld did not contravene section 9 of the Code.
"The allegations against Ms. Anita Vandenbeld, Member of Parliament for Ottawa West–Nepean, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, were brought to my attention in October 2018. After conversations with her, I determined that an inquiry was warranted to determine if Ms. Vandenbeld attempted to use her position as a Member of Parliament to influence voters for the benefit of her family member." – Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion
"One of the purposes of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons is to 'maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of Members as well as the respect and confidence that society places in the House of Commons as an institution.'" – Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion
"Rigour and consistency are critical to how we administer both the Code and the Act. Separately and in tandem, they are used efficiently and effectively by our Office to show Canadians how we help, in part, to hold Members of Parliament to account." – Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion
"As Commissioner I can recommend appropriate sanctions in inquiry reports, but I am not empowered to impose them under the Code. The House of Commons is the only forum that has the right to discipline its Members, such as by imposing and administering sanctions that I propose." – Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion
11. Attempts. A Member shall not attempt to engage in any of the activities prohibited under sections 8 to 10.
The rules of conduct in sections 8 to 10 of the Code prohibit Members from taking any action, using influence and using insider information to further a private interest.
Section 9 prohibits Members from using their position to influence an outcome to personally benefit themselves or a family member. It reads as follows:
9. Using influence. A Member shall not use his or her position as a Member to influence a decision of another person so as to further the Member's private interests or those of a member of his or her family, or to improperly further another person's or entity's private interests.
The Code does not define "private interest." Instead, it sets out the circumstances where a private interest is considered to be furthered, and those where it is not. For example, furthering a private interest would include cases where a Member's actions result, directly or indirectly, in outcomes such as an increase in a person's assets or obtaining a business position. A private interest would not be considered to be furthered when the matter in question is of general application or affects the Member or the other person as one of a broad class of the public.
Under the Code's interpretative subsection 3(4), a Member's spouse is considered to be a member of their family.
The Commissioner issues a report at the end of an inquiry. In addition to recommending appropriate sanctions if he finds a contravention, he may make recommendations concerning interpretations and revisions of the Code. The report is provided to the Speaker of the House of Commons and is also made public.
Following the release of the Vandenbeld Report, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has three active investigations that have not yet been reported on.
General information about investigations under the Code, including how the Commissioner deals with investigation requests.
The Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons applies to all 338 elected Members of Parliament. It prohibits them from acting in any way, when performing their parliamentary duties or functions, to further their private interests or those of their families, or to improperly further the private interests of another person or entity.
The Members' By-law of the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy sets out conditions for the proper use of funds, goods, services and premises and other related policies for elected Members of Parliament.
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, known as ETHI, studies, amongst other matters, certain issues related to the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the Conflict of Interest Act (matters related to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons are studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs). ETHI is made up of a chair, two vice-chairs and an additional seven Members.
The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner was created under the Federal Accountability Act. The Commissioner applies the Conflict of Interest Act for public office holders and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.
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