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Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty speaks with the media in the foyer of the House of Commons in December 2012. Mr. Flaherty has said he doesn’t mind house prices coming down a bit. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty speaks with the media in the foyer of the House of Commons in December 2012. Mr. Flaherty has said he doesn’t mind house prices coming down a bit. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

PMO defends Flaherty against conflict-of-interest concerns Add to ...

The Prime Minister’s Office is defending Jim Flaherty’s decision to write a letter to the CRTC in support of a constituent’s radio bid.

Carl Vallée, a spokesman for the PMO, said the federal ethics commissioner has said that ministers should assist their constituents in the same way as any other MP would.

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“The Minister of Finance plays no role and has no input into the deliberations or decisions of the CRTC,” Mr. Vallée wrote in an email.

The Canadian Press reported Thursday that Mr. Flaherty wrote a letter last year in support of Durham Radio Inc.’s bid to obtain a licence for an open spot at 88.1 FM on the Toronto dial. The licence was ultimately awarded to Barrie’s Rock 95 Broadcasting Ltd in September, which will focus on independent music. (Read the letter)

Mr. Flaherty’s March 30, 2012 letter stated that “As the MP for Whitby-Oshawa, I support their proposal and their application.” Yet underneath Mr. Flaherty’s signature, the letter states: “The Honourable Jim Flaherty, P.C., M.P. Minister of Finance” and “Minister responsible for the Greater Toronto Area.”

The Canadian Press points out that the Prime Minister’s 2010 report, Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State notes that “Ministers must not intervene, or appear to intervene, with tribunals on any matter requiring a decision in their quasi-judicial capacity, except as permitted by statute.”

The NDP issued a statement claiming the letter shows the minister has “a lack of understanding” when it comes to conflict of interest rules. The NDP notes that the commissioner warned in July 2012 that when representing constituents, ministers “should not use their positions as ministers to provide greater assistance than to other Canadians in relation to their own department or larger portfolio.”

This is not the first time Conservatives have been on the defensive in relation to last year’s competition for a highly-coveted radio spot.

The Globe and Mail reported in July that Paul Calandra, the Conservative MP for Oak Ridges-Markham, raised thousands of dollars in political contributions from people involved with companies bidding for the licence.

After the Globe raised the matter with Mr. Calandra, the MP decided to give some of the money back. Mr. Calandra also argued that he never lobbied the CRTC on behalf of the companies tied to the political donations.

In response to that case, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson decided not to investigate whether the MP breached the Conflict of Interest Act. She also said she could not rule on whether the MP breached the Prime Minister’s “Accountable Government” guide, because those rules are to be enforced by the Prime Minister, not her office. She did describe the mix of lobbying and political donations as “murky” and called for tighter rules.

The PMO also decided not to take action in the case of Mr. Calandra.

“The CRTC regulatory process is completely independent; politicians are not involved in any way,” PMO spokesperson Julie Vaux stated at the time.

The PMO said Thursday it stands by the position that politicians are not involved in CRTC decisions.

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