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Ethics Commissioner to face confidence test Tuesday 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:45 p.m. June 23, 2005]

OTTAWA  — A Commons committee is set to vote next week on a motion expressing no confidence in Canada's first independent ethics commissioner, Bernard Shapiro.

The committee approved NDP MP Ed Broadbent's motion for debate in a meeting scheduled for Tuesday. 

Although Parliament is scheduled to be on recess next week for the summer, a motion on the floor of the House of Commons is expected to be passed Thursday evening extending the sitting into next week and beyond to pass two key government bills. 

Broadbent's motion reads as follows: "That the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics no longer has confidence in the Ethics Commissioner."

The Conservatives are expected to support Broadbent's motion, but it may not receive approval because it would also need the support of the Bloc Quebecois. The Bloc appears to be willing to give Shapiro more time to adjust to his job and the newly created mandate. 

The committee put the motion forward shortly after Shapiro made an appearance before the committee to discuss his report into the conduct of former immigration minister Judy Sgro and her staff. 

Broadbent began publicly calling for Shapiro to resign after he said in a letter to the NDP that he would not expand his investigation of the Grewal tapes controversy to include Prime Minister Paul Martin for the role of his chief of staff, Tim Murphy. 

Grewal secretly recorded conversations he had with Murphy and Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh in which the three men discussed how Grewal and his wife, Tory MP Nina Grewal, could abstain on last month's crucial budget vote. 

But during his appearance before the committee on Thursday, Shapiro would not rule out expanding his investigation to include Murphy and the prime minister, saying it was "likely" he would do so. 

"My understanding continues to be that the legislation means that Mr. Murphy cannot be the formal target of inquiry," he said. "On the other hand, my view is that he's so central to the issue that I would intend to include him into the inquiry.

"As I proceed in the inquiry, I expect, as you can see in the case of Ms. Sgro, that I will find it appropriate to widen the examination to include either the prime minister and/or anyone else who seems to have a material relationship to the events in question.

"It's likely I would imagine in this case I will widen to the prime minister - I can't be sure - but I imagine it's quite likely."

Shapiro's suggestion he could expand his probe to include the PM and Murphy didn't please his critics. 

Broadbent pointed out to Shapiro that Murphy, as a ministerial staffer, comes under his mandate as a public office holder and is subject to be a formal target of the investigation. 

But Shapiro said he does not believe Murphy can be a "formal target."

Duff Conacher of the public interest group Democracy Watch suggested that by not making Murphy a target of his investigation, Shapiro is opening the door to not finding Murphy in violation of anything in the Conflict of Interest Code for Public Office Holders. 

"I don't think he will look at it all based on what he did in the Sgro situation," Conacher said. "Because he was looking at a cabinet minister at that time, found that her staff members were doing things very inappropriately and yet did not rule that they broke any rules in the code, even though he had clear evidence that he did.

"So I expect that Tim Murphy will get the same treatment - lot's of discussion in the report about him and the inappropriateness of his actions but no clear ruling that he did anything wrong."

Conacher also said Democracy Watch will soon launch a legal challenge of what it calls the ethics commissioner's "many biased actions."

Liberal MP Derek Lee said MPs on the committee should be careful about being too tough on an officer of Parliament working in a new position. 

"He's working with rules that we developed for him," he said. "I think it's unfair for us to be criticizing him because the rules we gave him were not up to scratch."

Broadbent said he has no sympathy for such arguments.

"The decisions he has made has nothing to do with resources and has nothing to do with time," Broadbent said.

"One would have thought he had the background to make proper decisions in the first place. For whatever reason in this position, Mr. Shapiro is making bad public decisions just at a time when we needed a credible ethics commissioner following the disastrous predecessor."

: Related Links

> Broadbent calls on Shapiro to resign 

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