Jane Taber had a nice little piece in friday’s Globe about how the new federal ethics commissioner, Bernard Shapiro, is starting to flex his muscles. He’s gone and demanded all sorts of crazy sorts of disclosure from MPs. He wants them to
disclose the value of their furniture, how much cash they have on hand, whether they pay off their Visa bills every month and the value of artwork hanging in their hallway.
The commissioner, Bernard Shapiro, needs to know all this and more: How much do they owe on their mortgages? Do they have a cottage, home or rental properties? These kinds of questions are part of his enforcement of the new conflict-of-interest code for members of the House of Commons.
It seems a few of them are a bit upset at how intrusive all of this is. Who is upset? Well, a bunch of the usual chicken-shit “unnamed” Liberal MPs, of course. But how about Conservative MP James Rajotte, and Conservative House Leader John Reynolds? They don’t like it either. In fact, Reynolds has had a judge prepare a legal opinion on the new ethics code.
Just so we’re all up to speed, I’ll recap:
Starting in the late 1980s, the Reform party started spreading the word that Ottawa was Fat City; that most MPs spent most of their time trying to figure out how to fleece the taxpayer; that MPs were overpayed, their pensions too generous, the perks too perky, and so on. Remember Manning’s promise not to reside at Stornaway? Deb Gray’s promise not to take a pension? Oops.
Then, when Chretien’s Liberals took a hammerlock on Parliament in the 1990s, the Reform/Alliance/Conservatives decided that the only way they were going to be able to control the Liberals was through procedural mechanisms. So, they started agitating for an ethics commissioner with real teeth, not the lapdog ethics counsellor Howard Wilson.
Again, the reasoning was more or less as follows: Liberals, in particular Liberal Cabinet members, were busy larding their pockets with cash, paying off friends, taking vacations with rich people, and generally living it up in a sea of conflicting interests. Ottawa needed to be cleaned up, and by gum, if the Conservatives couldn’t do it by actually winning an election, they would do it by making sure the House of Commons had the tools to hold the Liberals feet to the fire. Remember the proposal to increase the Auditor-General’s budget by a factor of 10?
So now we have an ethics commissioner who is taking seriously the Conservatives central contention, namely, that MPs, given the chance, will screw the taxpayer. That is, instead of assuming that most MPs are decent people who can be trusted to keep their affairs in order, he is assuming that they are bad people who need to prove their bona fides in the form of complete disclosure.
And still the Conservatives complain.