December 13, 2022
The Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, contravened the Conflict of Interest Act by participating in the process that led to the awarding of two government contracts to a company owned by a friend, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion explains in an examination report released today.
In March 2019 and April 2020, contracts for media training services were signed on behalf of the Minister with a company co-founded and run by Ms. Amanda Alvaro. Commissioner Dion determined that Ms. Ng and Ms. Alvaro were and are friends within the meaning of the Act.
Commissioner Dion found that Ms. Ng was exercising an official power, duty or function when she participated in the process that led to the awarding of the contracts to her friend's company, which is a contravention of subsection 6(1) of the Act. Given their friendship, obtaining services from the company improperly furthered its interests and placed Ms. Ng in a conflict of interest as defined by the Act.
Commissioner Dion found that Ms. Ng also contravened section 21 of the Act by failing to recuse herself from the contract decisions.
He launched the examination after receiving a request in May 2022 from James Bezan, Member of Parliament for Selkirk–Interlake–Eastman, then the Official Opposition's Shadow Minister for Ethics.
Quotes from Commissioner Dion
“The decision to trigger the steps that resulted in obtaining services from a company owned by one of her friends placed Minister Ng in a conflict of interest. She should have known to instead withdraw from the process that led to the awarding of the contracts and obtain similar services from another provider."
“Minister Ng twice failed to recognize a potential conflict of interest involving a friend, an oversight of her obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act."
“There is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend's company. This includes the need to quickly obtain media training services to help Minister Ng respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020."
“Ministers are expected to uphold the highest standards of accountability, including those set out in the Conflict of Interest Act. Complying with the Act is a condition of appointment and employment for all public office holders."
Subsection 6(1) prohibits public office holders from making a decision that would place them in a conflict of interest. A public office holder is in a conflict of interest when they exercise an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further their private interests or those of their relatives or friends or to improperly further another person's private interests.
Section 4 of the Act describes the circumstances under which a public office holder would be in a conflict of interest for the purposes of subsection 6(1) and states that a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when they exercise an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further their private interests or those of their relatives or friends or to improperly further another person's private interests.
Section 21 requires public office holders to recuse themselves from any discussion, decision, debate or vote on any matter in respect of which they would be in a conflict of interest. Establishing a conflict of interest screen can help prevent the need for recusal.
Section 44 requires the Commissioner to examine and report on a matter at the request of a parliamentarian who provides reasonable grounds to believe a current or former public office holder has contravened the Act.
General information about examinations under the Act, including how the Commissioner deals with investigation requests.
The Conflict of Interest Act applies to all public office holders.
The Prime Minister's guidelines on open and accountable government state that public office holders must perform their official duties and functions “in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny. This obligation is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law."
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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