Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Sgro twists, while the ethics commissioner dithers…

This Magazine Staff

So, Ms. Sgro is finally stepping down, after an affidavit was leaked in which “pizza shop owner Harjit Singh claims Sgro pressed him to supply food and workers for her campaign last spring. …when word of his arrangement with Sgro started to leak out, Sgro suddenly reneged on the deal and last month ordered his arrest and removal from Canada ‘to save her job.'”
As Warren Kinsella notes, this is a pretty unbelievable accusation. If true, Sgro has gone way too far. If false, Mr. Singh is in for one heck of a lawsuit.
But here’s a question: Sgro has been “embattled”, as the papers say, for a couple of months now. Where is the ethics commissioner? He’s been supposedly examining her case since back in November.
I was one of the few people who never liked the idea that the ethics counsellor should be an independent officer of parliament. It is clear now that the ethics counsellor, far from being a mechanism helping the House hold the government to account, will end up being a way of avoiding accountability.
Why? For the same reasons this is the main function of the Royal Commission and the Judicial Inquiry. By taking a political issue and making into a quasi-legal issue, the government can take something out of question period and off the political agenda (see: Ted Hughes’ report on APEC). The requirements of evidence and due process mean that the ethics counsellor has to do more than simply make unproven allegations over and over again in the House.
But never underestimate the value of having an effective opposition hurl unproven allegations over and over again. It tests the government’s will, it strains the bonds of cabinet solidarity, and encourages people with information to come forward and leak it. Either the government eventually loses its nerve, and the minister resigns, or it weathers the storm and is strengthened, the opposition having spent a great deal of powder. Politics is better for it.
But now we have the quasi-judicial “ethics commissioner” who conducts “investigations”. Right. And in the meantime, the issue is effectively off the table. The opposition has to clam up, but the minister remains in limbo. It’s been over a month. It’s a bad situation.

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