During the years of the Conservative majority government, lead by Stephen Harper, I was fortunate to serve as the parliamentary secretary to Treasury Board.
Once I was appointed and sworn in, I was advised of the increased rules and regulations that applied to this position, that did not apply to a regular MP.
The additional rules and regulations existed because, as a parliamentary secretary, you represent the Crown.
As a parliamentary secretary, you cannot write letters of support on behalf of individuals and organizations to independent judicial or quasi-judicial processes of government, to avoid the appearance that you are attempting to unduly influence those processes.
This is an area quite heavily scrutinized and enforced by the ethics commissioner.
Unfortunately in 2013, my colleague at the time who was then the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, John Duncan, forgot this requirement and made a honest mistake. He wrote a letter on behalf of a constituent to the Canada Revenue Service tax court.
The letter, although well intended, resulted in a weeks’ worth of significant negative media stories and ultimately Duncan did the honourable thing and tendered his resignation and Harper accepted it.
I raise the issue because this week it was revealed a similar situation occurred last month.
This time, Liberal MP Greg Fergus, who serves as the parliamentary secretary to the prime minister and to the president of the Treasury Board, also wrote a letter—in this case to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to advocate for a television channel's application to the CRTC for lucrative mandatory carriage with Canadian broadcasters.
This, of course, directly contravenes the federal guidelines that specifically prohibit parliamentary secretaries from making such interventions.
Much as with the situation with Duncan, Fergus stated it was an “honest mistake.” However, unlike the situation with Duncan, no resignation has yet been offered.
Likewise, chances are if you had not read about this letter here this week, you may not have heard about it through most Canadian media, as this letter did not receive anywhere near as much media attention as (Duncan’s) it did in 2013.
Why is that? How is it that what once was an ethical lapse considered to be deserving of resignation is now a non-issue?
I am not suggesting a media bias or that there is a double standard, only that the ethical standards that ministers of the Crown, and by extension parliamentary secretaries, were once held to have greatly diminished under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
My question to you this week:
Is this something that concerns you or is this also something you view as a non-issue?
I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.