This is why Trudeau isn’t being punished for his ethics violation
Published Thursday, August 15, 2019 12:50PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 15, 2019 1:23PM EDT
A political bombshell was dropped Wednesday when the ethics commissioner found Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had contravened the Conflict of Interest Act for trying to influence then-justice minister Jody-Wilson-Raybould in "many ways" during the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
As the news broke many Canadians were surprised to learn that despite the contravention, there would be no punishment.
That’s because Canada's Conflict of Interest Act "does not provide for any sanctions for breaches found following an examination by the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner."
The only penalties Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has the power to impose under the act are "administrative monetary penalties," which only apply when public office holders fail to meet the reporting requirements.
"Those penalties are NOT applicable in this case," Melanie Rushworth, director of communications for the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner said in an email to CTV News.
"At the conclusion of an examination the commissioner provides a report to the prime minister setting out the facts, the analysis, and conclusion. As part of section 47, it is up to the prime minister to implement any further action," Rushworth added.
That means any punishment or further action resulting from Trudeau's contravention of the act would have to be imposed by the prime minister.
The lack of punishing powers in the ethics czar's office hasn't escaped Dion's attention. In February 2018, Dion testified before the parliamentary ethics committee and called for amendments to give him a heavier hand when it comes to scolding misbehaving parliamentarians.
"There should be sanctions because there aren't any currently," Dion told the committee at the time.
"One should not ignore the dissuasive effect that sanctions can have. They help to focus the mind. They also provide Canadians with the assurance that there are consequences for breaching the act that are more serious than what has been called 'naming and shaming.'"
Dion went on to say that sanctions could help rebuild trust with the Canadian public.
In the meantime, Dion remains toothless when it comes to infractions like the one Trudeau committed during the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
However, Trudeau has committed to undertake some action.
In a report commissioned by Trudeau and released hours after Dion's, former Liberal justice minister Anne McLellan issued a number of recommendations following her investigation into whether Canada should divide the justice minister and attorney general roles. While she did not call for the roles to be split, she did recommend small adjustments in the report to "underscore and support the unique and central role of the attorney general."
Trudeau has committed to implementing the recommendations in McLellan's report.
"We need to be able to stand up for jobs and for the public interest in a way that doesn't go against prosecutorial independence, and that's where the McLellan report – which has been released today – lays out very clear steps that will be followed to ensure that this kind of conflict never happens again, by this government or any future government," Trudeau said on Wednesday.