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Nominee for ethics czar says reviewing Trudeau, Morneau files would be top priority

Mario Dion waits before a committee meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 13, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Liberal government's nominee for federal ethics watchdog says one of his top priorities will be to review files involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau if the work isn't finished before he starts the job.

Mario Dion, a career public servant and current head of the Immigration and Refugee Board, told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that as ethics commissioner, he wouldn't abandon any investigations arbitrarily – but also wouldn't say that he would complete them.

"I would own the final result, and therefore I have to assess what has been done to date to determine whether I am supportive of that," Mr. Dion told the House of Commons ethics committee, which held an emergency meeting to question him about his nomination.

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"Abandoning an investigation completely without reason is not something I would do."

Later, Mr. Dion said he will not make "any arbitrary, completely unreasonable decision to discontinue anything for no reason."

"Following an analysis, I'll determine if it continues and how it continues," he said.

During the one-hour meeting with MPs, Mr. Dion was grilled by the NDP and Conservatives about his time as public sector integrity commissioner. In 2014, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson found "gross mismanagement" and unwarranted delays in two separate case files in his office.

Mr. Dion, who came into the role after his predecessor left amid controversy, said the office was in the middle of a crisis when he started.

"I admit we dropped these two balls," he said. "My responsibility was that of the leader. I was not personally blamed for something I had done."

The Liberal government named Mr. Dion as its choice for federal ethics commissioner on Monday. The NDP and Conservatives immediately cried foul, saying they hadn't been properly consulted about the choice, which is expected to be confirmed by the House of Commons in a vote on Wednesday. Commissioner Mary Dawson is leaving the post on Jan. 8, in the midst of her formal examination of Mr. Morneau.

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On Tuesday, Liberal House Leader Bardish Chagger's office released the names of the selection committee used to nominate Mr. Dion, which included three bureaucrats, her chief of staff and Treasury Board president Scott Brison's chief of staff, Adam Carroll. Mr. Carroll was previously fired for the "Vikileaks" controversy, in which he spread details of former Conservative cabinet minister Vic Toews's divorce on Twitter.

Mr. Dion told the committee he applied for the job at the end of the summer and was interviewed by the selection committee for one hour three weeks ago. Mr. Dion stressed that he's been appointed in the past by both Liberal and Conservative governments.

NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen called the process for selecting Mr. Dion "frustrating and cynical," because the opposition was handed a letter with one name on it late last week.

The NDP is expected to vote against the nomination.

Conservative MP Peter Kent, his party's ethics critic, also decried the lack of consultation but said it's important that there is no "lack of continuity" between commissioners. He said he will ask his caucus to support Mr. Dion's nomination.

"I took certainly from Mr. Dion's testimony that he will not be abandoning any of the major investigations that are currently under way," Mr. Kent said.

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Mr. Trudeau and his top aides recused themselves from the selection process because Ms. Dawson is investigating whether Mr. Trudeau broke ethics rules during a vacation to the Aga Khan's private island in the Bahamas last Christmas.

The Prime Minister's Office said on Tuesday that Mr. Trudeau isn't travelling abroad this winter.

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