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Trudeau Defends Appointment of Cabinet Minister’s Sister-in-Law as Interim Ethics Commissioner

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on March 31 defended the appointment of Martine Richard to the role of interim ethics commissioner, amid conflict-of-interest concerns over her being the sister-in-law of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

“If there is any office in the country that understands how to manage conflicts of interests and ethical perceptions and issues, it is that office, which has always done exceptional work at ensuring the confidence of Canadians,” Trudeau told reporters during a press conference in Moncton, N.B.

The prime minister said that Richard had been a senior official in the ethics commissioner’s office for over a decade, having first been hired under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. He added that there are “already measures in place to ensure that the work is done professionally and without conflicts [of interest] given the connections.”

“I will highlight as well, that the work that the previous Ethics Commissioner did—in which the current interim commissioner was a close part of—was certainly very clearly doing its job in rigorous ways,” Trudeau said.

Opposition MPs have criticized the appointment of Richard due to her relationship with Leblanc, as well as the fact that Leblanc was previously found to have broken conflicts of interest rules by awarding an Arctic surf clam license to a company linked to his wife’s cousin.

‘Not Appropriate’

During Question Period on March 29, Conservative Ethics Critic Michael Barrett said Richard’s appointment was tantamount to the governing Liberals having an “inside” representative in the ethics oversight role, which is an independent office of Parliament.

“How can Canadians have confidence in the officers of Parliament if these guys are stacking the deck?” Barrett said, referring to the Liberals.

Government House Leader Mark Holland responded by saying Richard is a “career public servant” who joined the commissioner’s office when Harper was in office.

“It makes absolute and complete logical sense that she would be acting in an interim capacity,” Holland said.

During Question Period on March 30, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre asked, “when is this Liberal government going to run out of family and friends to appoint as independent officers?”

NDP House Leader Peter Julian also said on March 30 that Richard’s appointment was “not appropriate,” and that the role of ethics commissioner needed to be “above any reproach, particularly at a time when we’re seeing more questioning of our fundamental institutions.”

The Bloc Québécois also released a statement that said the role of ethics commissioner must be free from any appearance of a conflict of interest.

“The Liberals are obviously not respecting these standards with this choice and are themselves casting a shadow on the independence of the post,” said the March 30 release.

The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner said Martin will be the interim ethics commissioner for six months while an “open, transparent and merit-based selection process” determined who will fill the position permanently.

Richard is taking the position after the former ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, announced he would retire on Feb. 21 due to “persistent health issues.”

Over his five years in the role, Dion found that Trudeau and several of his cabinet members violated federal ethics laws. Dion’s resignation announcement came just one day after Liberal MP Greg Fergus was found to have violated the Conflict of Interest Act for writing a letter supporting a television channel’s application to the CRTC for mandatory carriage.

Dion said that training and educational sessions have been offered to all federal parties, yet there has continued to be a “succession of mistakes that are largely attributable to the inability to recognize the need to seek consultation” and that over the last five years his office has continued to see senior government officials “unaware of their obligations and mistakenly making assumptions.”

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