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Trade and Small Business Minister Mary Ng speaks in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, in May.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The federal Ethics Commissioner has ruled that Trade and Small Business Minister Mary Ng breached the Conflict of Interest Act in relation to two media training contracts awarded to a close personal friend.

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion released the ruling Tuesday in a detailed report, along with a strongly worded statement on the minister’s conduct.

“Minister Ng twice failed to recognize a potential conflict of interest involving a friend, an oversight of her obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act,” Mr. Dion said. “There is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend’s company.”

International Trade Minister Mary Ng under ethics investigation over contract to firm co-founded by Liberal strategist

The investigation focused on two contracts for media training issued to Pomp & Circumstance, a public-relations agency co-founded by Amanda Alvaro. The report determined that Ms. Alvaro and Ms. Ng are close friends who have vacationed and celebrated special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays, together.

The commissioner’s report said Ms. Ng participated in making a decision in March, 2019, related to a $5,840 contract and directly made a decision in April, 2020, related to a $16,950 contract.

“The simple fact of receiving, as a public office holder, a service from a friend under a contract paid with public funds from her ministerial office should have prompted Ms. Ng to consult this Office on the appropriateness of such a situation, short of withdrawing herself entirely from it and obtaining similar services from another provider,” the report states.

The commissioner’s office launched the investigation in response to a formal request from Conservative MP James Bezan.

Mr. Bezan and other Conservative MPs called on Ms. Ng to resign during Tuesday’s Question Period.

Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said Liberals are helping each other at a time when many Canadians are struggling financially.

“We found out today that instead of having the backs of Canadians, they’re helping Liberal insiders get rich,” he said. “The Liberal International Trade Minister was caught red-handed and found guilty of breaking ethics laws by giving a sweetheart contract to her friend, the CBC pundit Amanda Alvaro. Will the minister resign?”

Ms. Ng responded by offering an apology in the House of Commons.

“As the report indicates, I take full responsibility for my actions. I should have recused myself and I apologize for not doing so,” she said. “At no time was there any intention for anyone to benefit inappropriately. My efforts fell short of my own high personal standards for transparency and accountability, which Canadians have a right to expect from their elected officials. I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again.”

Conservative MPs pointed out that Ms. Ng is the fourth Trudeau government minister, including the Prime Minister himself, to have been found in violation of the Conflict of Interest Act.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has had two rulings against him: one in relation to a Christmas vacation at a private Bahamian island owned by the Aga Khan, and another tied to his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Former finance minister Bill Morneau was found to have breached the act by giving the WE Charity preferential treatment. Current Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc was found to have breached the ethics law in a 2018 ruling, after he awarded a lucrative clam licence to an Indigenous business group connected to a first cousin of his wife.

There are no financial penalties under the Conflict of Interest Act for having been found in contravention following an investigation.

When Mr. Trudeau was asked Tuesday by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre if Ms. Ng “will be held accountable,” the Prime Minister did not answer. Instead, he pointed to the fact that the Liberal candidate defeated the Conservative candidate in Monday’s byelection.

“The people of Mississauga-Lakeshore have spoken and elected a Liberal Member of Parliament,” he said.

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