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article imageCanadian MPs agree to exempt some payments from scrutiny

By Stephanie Dearing     Jun 7, 2009 in Politics
After a series of secret committee meetings, Canada's MPs unanimously agreed - without a vote - to exempt certain payments and benefits from restrictions and public disclosure under the House of Commons Conflict of Interest Code.
The Toronto Star broke the news today that Members of Parliament have exempted some cash payments and benefits that they might receive from political parties and riding associations from public disclosure. There was no vote, only unanimous approval. All parties approved the change to the House of Commons Conflict of Interest Code on June 4.
The Standing Committees On Procedure and House Affair's Subcommittee on Gifts recommended the change to the Conflict of Interest Code in a report made to the House of Commons on June 3rd. The change to public disclosure came after the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner noted "the harsh nature of this blanket prohibition against the acceptance of gifts and other benefits for Members. In some respect, the Commissioner noted that such a far reaching prohibition was difficult to administer." The subcommittee agreed with the Commissioner, and met in a series of secret meetings to discuss the matter. The report is the result of those meetings.
The changes permit Members of Parliament to receive cash, services and other gifts from riding associations and political parties without needing to report these gifts, as long as the value is deemed to be under $500. Gifts worth $500 or more must be disclosed by House Members to the Commissioner. Exempt expenses include money MPs might receive to reimburse them for registration fees, travel expenses and volunteer services provided to an MP. The committee does not see these payments as compromising the integrity of MPs. The committee supported its decision in the report by stating the Code “was always intended to be a ´work in progress,` with adjustments and modifications to be considered as and when required.”
The head of Canada's Democracy Watch, Duff Conacher, says that the change could lead to a situation of abuse, such as the expense scandal that is currently rocking Great Britain. Conacher alleges that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson, participated in the secret subcommittee hearings, saying that this act in itself is a conflict of interest. Conacher admitted he also participated in the review by attending one meeting off camera meeting. Conacher said that the change allows MPs to receive gifts in secret, and claims this will result in an erosion of democracy. Dawson was appointed as the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for the House of Commons on July 9, 2007.
After a series of financial controversies rocked parliament, the government introduced the Federal Accountability Act in 2006. One of the cornerstones of this new legislation was the creation of the office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
More about Canada, House commons, Government, Money, Secrecy
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