No ethics violation in politicians' party switch, top official rules

Published April 2, 2006

Canada's ethics commissioner has found nothing improper in the defection of two politicians to other parties, where they were rewarded with cabinet positions.

Commissioner Bernard Shapiro did, however, send a clear message in his report on Vancouver Member of Parliament David Emerson's switch to the new Conservative government from the Liberals.

Had the defection been linked to a vote in the House of Commons, it would have been a clear violation of the guidelines, Shapiro said.

Opposition politicians complained that Prime Minister Stephen Harper violated the guidelines by giving Emerson a Cabinet post for switching just after he was elected as a Liberal in January.

Shapiro also said he would not investigate former Prime Minister Paul Martin's role in bringing former Toronto-area Conservative Belinda Stronach into the Liberal ranks last May and naming her to the Cabinet.

There is nothing in the ethics guidelines to stop a prime minister from appointing an opposition member to his cabinet, Shapiro said, adding that in fact it is a constitutional right.

New Democrat Member of Parliament Pat Martin said the ruling is puzzling as Stronach switched in advance of a crucial Commons vote that saved the minority Liberal government from defeat.

Court weighs fraud sentence

The Quebec Court of Appeal has reserved its ruling in an action to increase the sentence given to Montreal ad executive Paul Coffin for bilking the federal government in the sponsorship program.

Government lawyers are asking for a 34-month prison sentence for Coffin. He was given a two-year term, to be served at home, after pleading guilty in May to 15 counts of fraud.

An inquiry into the sponsorship program, which was intended to promote national unity in Quebec, found that $150-million went to ad agencies and others with ties to the then-Liberal government.

Coffin's communications firm received about $1.6-million for contracts on which little, if any, work was actually done, the inquiry found.

Meanwhile, Joe Morselli, 67, the former Liberal fundraiser accused of taking envelopes filled with sponsorship cash, died Wednesday of a heart attack while on a Florida vacation.

News in brief

Canadians are mourning another soldier killed while serving in Afghanistan. Pvt. Robert Costall, 22, of the Edmonton Garrison and a married father of a 1-year-old son, was killed in a firefight. A U.S. soldier was also killed and three other Canadians were injured when their forward operating base was attacked by several dozen Taliban fighters with automatic weapons and grenade launchers.

Canada has joined with Israel to cut funding and diplomatic ties to the Palestinians over the new Hamas government's refusal to renounce violence. The Canadian government will still offer humanitarian aid through the United Nations and other agencies but nothing else, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said.

Health Minister Tony Clement said the Canadian government's proposed health care wait-time guarantees would be legally binding. This raises the possibility that doctors and hospitals could face lawsuits if wait limits for treatment aren't met. The new Conservative government said patients would be sent elsewhere if they couldn't get timely access to key medical procedures in their home province.

Facts and figures

The Canadian dollar, after gaining almost one U.S. cent Thursday, fell back after lower commodity prices and news of a slower gross domestic product, off 0.2 percent.

The dollar dropped to 85.62 cents U.S. on Friday while the U.S. dollar returned $1.1679 Canadian before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate is steady at 3.75 percent while the prime lending rate is 5.5 percent.

Stock markets are higher, with the Toronto composite index at 12,110 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange 2,912 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 1, 14, 23, 35, 47, 49; bonus 5. (March 25) 17, 23, 24, 33, 35, 41; bonus 47.

Regional briefs

Awash in oil royalties after a federal-provincial deal, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a budgetary spending spree. Conservative Premier Danny Williams' government will spend $2-billion over six years to fix roads, refit coastal ferries and replace aging wharfs and buildings. Another $350-million will go toward health and education this year.

Prince Edward Island's Conservative government reported a deficit of $12.5-million for the year with no new taxes planned and a modest increase in spending.

Ontario's 150,000 college students are back in class after a three-week strike by their teachers. The strike by 9,100 faculty ended after an agreement to have the dispute over smaller class sizes and more pay settled by binding arbitration.