Martine Richard, the sister-in-law of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, has stepped down as interim Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner one day after a Commons committee voted to investigate her appointment.
Ms. Richard was appointed to the interim post last month by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. Her presence in the role was controversial because of her relationship with Mr. LeBlanc.
Opposition parties said her closeness to a cabinet minister made her a poor choice for a job that involves holding the government to account for ethical violations. But the government defended the choice, noting that she had worked in the commissioner’s office for a decade, most recently as senior general counsel.
The commissioner’s office announced her departure Wednesday in a statement that offered no specific reason for her decision to leave. Her interim appointment was originally for a six-month period.
The statement said she would remain as senior general counsel for the office – a position she held from 2015, two years after she joined the office, until she assumed the top job in March.
Her appointment followed the February retirement of Mario Dion, who had been the ethics commissioner since 2018.
The commissioner is responsible for administering the federal Conflict of Interest Act, and for helping elected and appointed officials avoid conflicts between their public duties and private interests.
On Tuesday, members of the Commons committee on access to information, privacy and ethics voted to call Ms. Richard, Mr. LeBlanc and other witnesses to testify as part of a study into Ms. Richard’s appointment.
The motion to launch the study was introduced by Conservative MP Michael Barrett. He proposed that it consist of a minimum of three hearings, and that its findings be reported to the House of Commons.
Liberals voted against the motion. Opposition members voted for it. The immediate result was a five-five tie. The chair, Conservative MP John Brassard, broke the tie by voting for the motion.
After the disclosure of Ms. Richard’s appointment last month, Mr. Barrett raised questions about the government’s decision to give her the position.
“When are these Liberals going to take their responsibilities seriously, and appoint someone who’s independent and can restore accountability?” Mr. Barrett asked in Question Period on March 30. The NDP was also critical of her appointment.
Government House Leader Mark Holland told The Globe and Mail in an interview on March 30 that he understood why there were questions about Ms. Richard’s appointment, but that he expected she would serve the office, as she had in previous years.
Wednesday’s statement from the commissioner’s office said Ms. Richard’s departure will prevent the office from functioning normally.
“With her exit, there are decisions the Office cannot proceed with based upon functions that only the Commissioner can undertake, as outlined in the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons,” the statement said, without elaborating. It said the commissioner’s office, as well as Ms. Richard, would not respond to further questions on the subject of her departure.
The statement added that the government had launched an effort to find a permanent commissioner on March 28.
Jean-Sébastien Comeau, Mr. LeBlanc’s press secretary, said the minister would not be commenting on Wednesday’s announcement.
In a tweet on Wednesday, the retired Mr. Dion said that he did not expect a permanent commissioner to be appointed until late in 2023. He said, in the same tweet, that he would not be granting interviews until a permanent commissioner was appointed.
Mr. LeBlanc has been found in contravention of ethics laws during his time as a cabinet minister. And Mr. Trudeau has twice breached the Conflict of Interest Act since becoming Prime Minister in 2015.