Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his Trade Minister on Wednesday after the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that Mary Ng broke federal laws in awarding two media training contracts to a close friend.
Mr. Trudeau had avoided a direct response to the issue in Parliament on Tuesday after the report’s release, but he was asked about it again during the final Question Period before a six-week recess.
“Another day, another Liberal minister found guilty of breaking ethics laws,” MP Michael Barrett said.
The Conservative MP pointed out that the commissioner has previously found Mr. Trudeau to be in violation of the same ethics law, the Conflict of Interest Act.
“Is the reason that this Prime Minister won’t fire his minister because he’d be holding her to a higher standard than he holds himself?” Mr. Barrett asked.
“We respect the work of the commissioner and the work that the office does,” Mr. Trudeau replied. “The minister has taken full responsibility and apologized.”
Mr. Barrett criticized the Prime Minister’s response.
“Full responsibility isn’t a forced apology and crocodile tears. It is a resignation and that’s what Canadians expect from members of the King’s Privy Council,” he said.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said Tuesday that “there is simply no excuse for contracting with a friend’s company.” He issued the strongly worded statement alongside a report that found Ms. Ng participated in the awarding of two media training contracts to Pomp & Circumstance, a public-relations agency co-founded by Amanda Alvaro. Mr. Dion concluded that the two are close personal friends, given that they have vacationed and celebrated special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays, together.
A March, 2019, contract was worth $5,840 and an April, 2020, contract had a value of $16,950.
The Conflict of Interest Act does not include any penalties for ministers who have been found to be in breach of the law after an investigation. Instead, it is up to the Prime Minister to decide whether there should be any ramifications after a commissioner’s report.
“It is for the employer to assess what consequences, if any, should result,” Mr. Dion’s office said in a statement to The Globe on Wednesday. “As it relates to the Ng report released yesterday, it is for the Prime Minister to weigh whether there should be consequences.”
During a committee appearance in February, Mr. Dion was asked about introducing the use of fines. He told MPs then that while there is public demand for more penalties, “in my opinion, at this point in time it hasn’t turned out to be necessary.” Ultimately, it is a question for which Parliamentarians will have to determine an answer, he added.
While he was speaking about the conflict of interest code for MPs, his office said his comments also apply to the Conflict of Interest Act for public office holders, such as cabinet ministers.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, supports adding fines for violations of the act. Nonetheless, he said Mr. Dion’s ruling on the Ng case is significant.
“This was discretionary funding that each minister has to hire advisers, and so for the ethics commissioner to say even those public funds cannot be handed to friends is an important precedent to set,” he said. “Because I bet a lot of ministers thought, ‘Oh, this is just like hiring ministerial staff and I can do whatever I want with that money.’”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters that whether Ms. Ng should resign is a decision for the Prime Minister.
“It’s clearly wrong. It’s a violation of the ethics laws and it’s something that should not happen,” he said. “There certainly should be repercussions.”