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What Is a Conflict of Interest?

​​​​​​​​​​​​The concept of "conflict of interest"​ is at the heart of the regimes administered by the Conflict of In​terest and Ethics Commissioner​.

Section 4 of the Conflict of Interest Act defines a conflict of interest as follows:

4. For the purposes of this Act, a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her ​private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.

The Trudeau III report clarified that the definition of conflict of interest in section 4 includes only real conflicts of interest. It does not include apparent conflicts of interest.

The meaning of "conflict of interest"​ is similar ​in the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons:

8. When performing parliamentary duties and functions, a Member shall not act in any way to further his or her private interests or those of a member of the Member’s family, or to improperly further another person’s or entity’s private interests.

The concept of conflict of interest, in turn, rests on the concept of private interests.

The Code states that “furthering a private interest" includes actions that result, directly or indirectly, in an increase in, or the preservation of, the value of assets, the extinguishment, or reduction in the amount, of liabilities, an increase in income, the acquisition of a financial interest, becoming a director or officer in a corporation, association or trade union, or becoming a partner in a partnership. In applying the Act, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has interpreted “private interest" as relating to financial or business matters similar to those listed in the Code.

Historically, the Office adopted a narrow interpretation of what constitutes a private interest. Although it did not expressly exclude certain types of interests, it confined private interests largely to those of a financial nature.

In fact, as noted in the Trudeau II Report, private interests can take many forms, including financial, social or political.

Under both regimes, "private interest" does not include an interest in a decision or matter that is of general application, that affects the public office holder or Member as one of a broad class of persons, or that concerns the salary or benefits received by virtue of being a public office holder or Member. Under the Code, a matter that consists of being a party to a legal action relating to actions of the Member as a Member of Parliament is also not considered a private interest.

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