We often hear about conflict-of-interest rules that public servants are expected to follow. As we know, these rules help to ensure that our public service is professional, ethical and competent.
It is also important to know that certain rules continue to apply after an individual leaves public service. These are called “post-service” rules, and they are applicable to former public servants. They are equally important. Just as public servants must not allow their personal interests to conflict with their public service duties, so also must former public servants not derive undue advantage, or disadvantage the Crown, by virtue of their former public duties. Having both sets of rules ensures a balanced and equitable ethics regime.
The post-service rules are relatively few and easy to remember. There are only five in total. Three apply to all former public servants, and have no time limit:
- Don’t seek preferential treatment. For example, one might be tempted to call a former colleague for help with a matter involving a non-profit organization one has become involved with. Don’t. Use the same channels available to all other citizens. You would also be putting your former colleague in a difficult position, because it is equally against the rules for a public servant to give preferential treatment.
- Don’t disclose confidential information. This is information that is not available to the public at large, and which, if disclosed, could disadvantage the Crown or unfairly advantage someone else. The second part of this test may be difficult to assess. The best course: don’t risk it. If the information has not been made public, don’t discuss it after you leave public service.
- Don’t switch sides. The Crown is entitled to benefit from your advice. If you worked on a matter while a public servant, you must not advise anyone on that matter as a former public servant, until the Crown is no longer involved. You may continue to advise the Crown if asked to do so.
The next two rules apply only to former public servants who worked in a “designated senior position” basically at the director level or higher or the equivalent in a public body. They are somewhat more complicated, and only apply for twelve months after leaving public service:
- Don’t accept employment with any organization that you were substantially involved with in the twelve months prior to leaving the public service, if you had access to confidential information. An example might be accepting a job with a company that you worked closely with as a director in a public body on a major procurement initiative. Substantial involvement needs to be more than simply being briefed on a matter periodically.
- Don’t lobby a public servant, or any minister or minister’s staff, in any ministry where you worked for the 12 months prior to leaving public service. So, if you were a director in the Ministry of Education, you can’t join an education advocacy group and immediately start lobbying the minister.
Former public servants have ethics executives just like current public servants. These are the individuals former public servants should consult if they have questions about the application of conflict-of-interest rules, and who can make determinations about specific cases and situations. The ethics executive for former ministry employees is the Public Service Commission. The ethics executive for almost everyone else – former deputy ministers, secretaries of cabinet, and agency appointees and employees – is the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
Individuals leaving public service – at whatever level – should be made aware of their post-service ethical obligations. Our website contains a page on post-service rules. A more comprehensive information sheet, linked below, is also available, and it is good practice to provide this resource to every public servant, whether in a ministry or public body, and regardless of level of seniority, who is about to end his or her employment with the Crown.