A sitting minister is given an Escalade from a construction company that just received a contract from the minister’s department. Conflict of interest? Probably.
How about a sitting minster accepting a free ride to the airport in an Escalade from that same contractor?
In the Yukon, you might be excused if you thought so because there is no definition of what is not a conflict of interest. In Nunavut, the situation is much clearer. The minister would not be in any conflict whatsoever because its Integrity Act defines what is not a conflict.
When income tax legislation is brought up, is it going to be considered a conflict of interest because it affects MLAs?
That’s hard for Yukon to answer too.
It’s time for the Yukon to pass similar amendments to its conflict of interest legislation, says the Yukon NDP after reviewing the Yukon conflict of interest commissioner’s annual report.
“As the commissioner laid out in his report, there’s an extensive list of what is a conflict of interest,” said Elizabeth Hanson, party leader of the Yukon NDP. “There’s less on what’s not and we would like to have that expanded upon in terms of a discussion.”
The definition should be similar to that included in Nunavut’s Integrity Act that says a private interest does not include, “anything of general application to the public, or that affects a person as one of a broad class of persons, or concerns the remuneration or benefits of a Member, officer or employee of the legislative assembly,” the report stated.
There have been many instances where former conflict of interest commissioners had to investigate perceived conflicts of interest, said Hanson.
One such case, in the late 1990s, was the belief that government officials had inside information on real-estate trading.
“I think for the most part, [the investigations] exonerated the people who were involved,” said Hanson. “If it had been clear from the outset that certain things weren’t a conflict, it might not have caused as much potential damage. It is potential for damage against a person’s reputation and character.”
“Perception can damn people.”
Ideas of what is a conflict of interest evolve over time, the commissioner stated.
But unlike the rest of Canada, the Yukon has not kept up with this evolution, said Hanson.
Two tweaks the territory should make to its conflict of interest legislation include registration for lobbyists and protection for whistleblowers, she said.
The government needs to ensure “that where there are issues with perceived or actual wrongdoing going on within the government system, people can, with safety, identify that and report it in a way, as they do now, feel that they’re jeopardizing their careers.”
These changes would make for a more transparent and accountable political system, she said.
“One of the challenges that we’ve been facing is that it’s become very clear to everybody that we have a real lack of financial and political accountability in this territory under Mr. (Dennis) Fentie. When you don’t have that openness or transparency in what’s going on and what decisions are being made, it becomes even more important that we find the mechanisms to assist citizens to know who’s influencing the decisions that are being made and that is what a registry of lobbyist does. “
Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org