Liberal MP found to have broken ethics rules but won't face sanctions
MP Anita Vandenbeld is seen in this undated photo. (Source: @anitavandenbeld / Twitter)
Published Wednesday, July 10, 2019 12:30PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 10, 2019 6:10PM EDT
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has found a Liberal MP broke ethics rules when she endorsed her husband's city council bid, but recommended that no sanction be imposed as a result.
Dion found that Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld "attempted to use her position to influence voters' decisions to further the private interests of a family member" when she sent a robocall to her constituents calling on them to vote for her husband in his campaign to snag an Ottawa city council seat. She also sent letters and engaged in door-to-door canvassing on his behalf, the commissioner's ruling stated.
Dransfield lost the October race to Theresa Kavanagh, pulling just shy of 18 per cent of the vote.
In his report, Dion acknowledged that Vandenbeld "made significant efforts to comply with the rules that she had considered," such as “ensuring that no parliamentary resources were used to support the campaign."
He also noted that she attempted to set boundaries for herself and her staff as they worked on her husband's campaign, and Vandenbeld immediately dropped her efforts to prop up Dransfield's campaign when she sought and obtained advice from Dion.
While her use of her title in door-to-door canvassing, robocalls and letters of endorsement were found to have broken ethics rules, the fact that her husband lost his bid meant that "no private interests were, in fact, furthered."
"Ms. Vandenbeld's failure to comply with section 11 of the Code occurred through an error in judgment made in good faith," the report said.
In a statement provided to CTV News, Vandenbeld said she accepts the findings of the report.
"I believe that I was being open and transparent by identifying myself and my relationship while asking people to consider voting for Don," the statement said.
"I am pleased that the report of the Ethics Commissioner provides clarity and guidance regarding what is and is not permissible under the Code during election campaigns."
She added that she has always set a "high standard" for her integrity and conduct, and "will always continue to do so."
The investigation started as a result of a complaint from Conservative MP Peter Kent, who flagged the robocalls to Dion and asked for the inquiry. Within weeks, Dion determined that an investigation was warranted.
Through his investigation, Dion obtained copies of the material sent to Vandenbeld's Ottawa-area constituents. The letter Vandenbeld sent to voters starts with her identifying herself as a member of Parliament.
"As your federal Liberal Member of Parliament, I know how important it is to listen to the people of our community in government decision-making," the letter reads.
"That is why I am asking you to support my husband, Don Dransfield, who is running for City Council in the municipal election."
Vandenbeld said the purpose of the letter was to counter misinformation from one of her husband’s opponents, who was claiming to have obtained Vandenbeld's support and who was sharing that misinformation with voters.
"Ms. Vandenbeld's endorsement as the local sitting Member of Parliament was perceived by the campaign to be valuable," Dion wrote in his report.
He goes on to say that "Ms. Vandenbeld, in taking part in her spouse’s municipal campaign, sought to influence the decision to be made by voters in Bay Ward."
Vandenbeld was being investigated under the Conflict of Interest Code, which does not empower the ethics commissioner to sanction members. Rather, he can recommend appropriate sanctions to the House of Commons, which can then decide whether to discipline the member in question.