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Editorials Anne of Green Gambling: A homespun tale of conflict of interest

Wade MacLauchlan waves to the crowd after being acclaimed leader at the Prince Edward Island Liberal leadership convention in Charlottetown on Feb. 21, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

There is a tendency elsewhere in Canada to discount Prince Edward Island's politics – after all, its population is that of other provinces' mid-sized cities.

Islanders are justifiably ruffled by such condescension. Theirs is a full-fledged province with commensurate obligations and, apparently, big-government problems when it comes to trading in influence.

Freshly-minted Premier Wade MacLauchlan is vowing to fix longstanding lacunae in the provincial government's ethical code. It's a welcome development.

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That it first required a Globe and Mail investigation into insider-dealing and rampant conflicts of interest concerning a proposed online-gaming operation on PEI is telling as well as unfortunate.

Rules on lobbying and conflict of interest are not a new thing, or at least not in most of the rest of the country. Ottawa adopted the Lobbyist Registration Act in 1989. Ontario became the first province to bring in comprehensive ethics guidelines a decade later. The need for legislative oversight has long been clear.

And yet PEI is the only province without such laws, along with the three territories. (New Brunswick approved lobbying legislation last year, though it has yet to be proclaimed.) Good on Charlottetown for finally moving to address this.

Perhaps a word of advice: A six-month "cooling off" period for civil servants and government officials who depart for the private sector is inadequate, even in a place where career options aren't as plentiful as in, say, Ottawa.

The scale of the problem – the provincial Ethics Commissioner invested in the gaming venture – demands clear and tough rules, not to mention more investigation.

But Premier MacLauchlan, who will soon face an election, apparently feels no need to call a judicial inquiry because "the media have done a very good job of this."

That's awfully nice of him to say, but provincial NDP Leader Michael Redmond's withering retort was that PEI is behaving like "an incestuous and backward place" in terms of political morality.

If the government doesn't wish for that to ring true, a lot more action is warranted.

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