When Liberal MP Raj Grewal said he will resign over personal trouble that has now been revealed to be a serious gambling problem, there was a little footnote to his career that some noted: Mr. Grewal, in addition to being the Liberal Member of Parliament for Brampton East, also works for a construction company.
It is a detail that has come up before, when New Democrat MPs asked the Ethics Commissioner to investigate Mr. Grewal for inviting his employer to events with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a visit to India in February. Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion launched an investigation.
But the employment itself, the fact that an elected MP had another job – that was not the problem.
So why are we okay with the people’s representatives moonlighting for someone else?
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In Canada’s first years, a seat in the Commons was sometimes seen as a sinecure that required only a couple of months of sitting in the capital.
But now, with longer sessions and larger constituencies that need representation, it is hard to imagine how MPs could feel they can afford to split their time between jobs – or why the people of Canada should be willing to share them with another employer.
And then there’s the broad potential for conflict that comes up for a person whose duty is to vote on laws, scrutinize government programs, and encourage the government to enact policies.
Ministers and parliamentary secretaries are already barred, with some exceptions, from taking outside employment.
Admittedly, backbench and opposition MPs do not have the same potential for conflicts because they are not privy to official secrets and do not make decisions for the executive. And with Canada’s stifling party discipline, some MPs feel like they do not have much influence at all.
Yet these are the nation’s legislators. They should, and can, influence the way the country is run. Whether their other job might get in the way really should not be a question.
Mr. Grewal was employed by two firms, a Brampton general contractor called Zgemi Inc. – for which, he told reporters, he provided legal advice – and a law firm called Gahir and Associates. The Ethics Commissioner’s investigation revolves around complaints that he invited the chief executive of Zgemi, Yusuf Yenilmez, to Mr. Trudeau’s events in India.
Mr. Grewal told reporters months ago that the commissioner had cleared his outside work. But he did not have to be cleared. An MP’s disclosure of outside employment is made public – but their constituents do not get to know what kind of work they are doing, or for how much. And of course, reporting the job to the Ethics Commissioner does not make it okay to invite your boss to the Prime Minister’s events in India.
The point is that Canadians should not have to worry about whether an MP is giving his boss special treatment. They should be able to assume the constituents are his only boss.
Since last Thursday, when Mr. Grewal said he would resign for personal and medical reasons, the Prime Minister’s Office revealed that Mr. Grewal had “a gambling problem that led him to incur significant personal debts.” On Tuesday, The Globe and Mail reported that the RCMP has been tracking Mr. Grewal and millions of dollars of his transactions, including at a Gatineau casino.
There’s no evidence Mr. Grewal’s outside work had anything to do with any of that. But those revelations naturally inspire new questions about Mr. Grewal’s outside activities. Why is an MP working for a construction firm? Why did he invite his boss to the Prime Minister’s events? Why did he and his employer, Zgemi, contract a loan for a $116,824 Land Rover? The answers may be anodyne, but there should never be any question to ask about an MP and his other boss.
Dozens of MPs have outside jobs. Some should be of no concern. Even ministers are allowed to keep up qualifications for professions, such as medical doctors, as long as they are not paid. It might still be acceptable for backbench MPs to have a board role in a family business.
But having another employer? That does not really fit a national legislator’s role in 2018. An MP representing clients as a lawyer should realize he already represents his constituents. That may be a personal sacrifice, but there’s no public interest served by MPs moonlighting. Citizens should never have to ask who’s the boss.