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Renewed calls for ethics commissioner 
to resign

[PoliticsWatch Updated 4:35 p.m. March 14, 2006]

OTTAWA  — As his office continues to be bombarded with requests to investigate various political controversies, a public interest group renewed its call Tuesday for Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro to resign. 

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch held a press conference Tuesday where he described Shapiro as "not fit to rule or investigate" a recent barrage of complaints about floor crossing and conflicts of interest. 

"We are asking him to resign again today in the national interest," he said.

"I'm very disappointed that the ethics commissioner would refuse to step aside, given the many questions - the votes against him in parliamentary committees, the many questions over his actions and statements by most commentators."

Conacher's group wants Shapiro to resign or to delegate his decision-making authority to a provincial ethics commissioner. 

He also said he believes a committee report finding Shapiro in contempt of Parliament is enough cause for dismissal by the House of Commons. He urged all parties to move a motion against Shapiro on the floor of the House when the new session of Parliament opens in April. 

Shapiro is currently in a showdown with Prime Minister Stephen Harper because of a preliminary probe he launched earlier this month into Harper's role in David Emerson's defection to the Tories. 

At issue is whether the cabinet job given to Emerson constituted an inducement, something Shapiro had said in an earlier ruling would be a breach of the conflict of interest code. 

Harper's office is not cooperating with Shapiro's investigation arguing that a prime minister's ability to make cabinet appointments is a power that Shapiro cannot interfere with. 

The PMO has also raised questions about Shapiro's impartiality, describing him as a "Liberal appointee."

Harper has approached former NDP MP Ed Broadbent about the job, but Broadbent has declined. 

Democracy Watch filed an application in provincial court last fall to have Shapiro removed as ethics commissioner. 

According to Conacher, Shapiro's actions since then have only increased his doubts about his ability to handle complaints. 

This included Shapiro's handling of an investigation of Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, who was accused of accepting $40,000 from his estranged brother in law to enter Canada. 

Obhrai has vehemently denied the allegation and produced to a committee police and medical documents questioning the character of the in-law, who has since committed suicide. 

Shapiro was unanimously found in contempt of the House in November by the procedure and House affairs committee for violating two sections of the conflict of interest code, including failing to properly notify Obhrai in writing about the investigation. 

Shapiro was also criticized for speaking to the Ottawa Citizen while the investigation was under way and telling a reporter, "I have some material that suggests something inappropriate was happening."

When questioned by the committee, Shapiro said his comments "did not relate to the contents of the inquiry itself" and that he didn't' believe they were prejudicial. 

But in its report, the committee found the comments "go beyond merely confirming the existence of an inquiry, and seem to be passing some judgment on the case."

Previous to that in June, a motion by Broadbent expressing non-confidence in Shapiro's performance failed to pass at another committee. 

But the NDP has since tempered its position on Shapiro and now seem supportive of him and have sent three complaints his way already this year. 

"I think that Mr. Shapiro should be permitted to conduct this investigation," NDP Leader Jack Layton said last week. 

Conacher criticized the NDP at his press conference for the newfound confidence in Shapiro, less than a year after Broadbent put forward a non-confidence motion. 

"If they didn't have confidence then what has changed?" he asked. "His record still stands from pre-June 2005. As a result they should still not have confidence in him."

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