Talking and Learning About Ethics

As we near the end of 2016 and look back on the year that was, I think it’s fair to say that public sector ethics issues have been front-and-centre. From scrutiny over senate expenses and the moving expenses of political staff, to the ongoing spotlight on so-called cash-for-access political fundraisers – ethical issues are attracting a lot of public attention these days, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. This makes it even more important for those of us who work in this field to discuss the collective challenges and issues that we face.   Our inaugural Public Sector Ethics Conference: Building Trust in Government held in Toronto on September […]

Guest Blog: Paperless Office

The emergence of digital technology was supposed to reduce the need for paper. Instead, paper has seemed to multiply.  We squeeze it into filing cabinets, pile it on our desks and jam it into drawers. Going paperless might seem like an impossible dream, but recently our office decided to take on that challenge.  The following is a description of what we did and how we did it. -Commissioner Sidney Linden   Having a paperless office does not mean there is no paper. There is always paper. It means that all business records, including case records, are kept in digital form, which is considered the authoritative form of the record. It […]

Public Sector Ethics Conference

It has always been my view that people doing similar work, or with similar responsibilities, should come together to discuss issues and developments of mutual concern, or just to share knowledge, experience, and expertise. It helps to break down “silos”, encourages new ideas and lessons to surface and circulate, fosters the creation of relationships and networks, and promotes consistency in approaches. So organizing a public sector ethics conference has been something we’ve wanted to do for some time. Our objective for this conference is to raise the profile of the subject by bringing together public servants and oversight bodies from the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government, practitioners and […]

Ontario’s New Integrity Commissioner

Ontario has a new Integrity Commissioner. The Honourable J. David Wake began his five-year term on February 1. He replaces Lynn Morrison, who was associated with the office since its inception in 1988, and served as Commissioner since 2007. I am proud to say I had a warm and collegial relationship with Lynn, who incidentally was my ethics executive, since the establishment of our office that same year. Lynn was always a willing,  knowledgeable and experienced partner in the field of public service ethics. One of our most valuable collaborations was incorporating Lynn and her counsel into the ethics executive orientation sessions we host periodically, where Lynn discussed whistleblowing  and […]

Post-Service Rules

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 […]

Public Service and Political Activity

The next federal election will take place on October 19th, the first instance of a fixed election date in Canadian federal politics. It used to be the case that public servants, at both the provincial and federal levels, were subject to broad political activity prohibitions. This was seen as necessary to uphold the neutrality and professionalism of the public service in a democratic system. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms changed things. Evolving attitudes probably also played a role. Today we have a more nuanced and workable system that balances the rights of citizens to participate in the democratic process with the need for a neutral and professional public service. […]

Political Activity Restrictions – A Real-Time Case

Political activity rules governing public servants, in Ontario and elsewhere, seek to balance the need for a professional, non-partisan public service with the need to respect public servants’ political and constitutional rights. While specific rules vary across jurisdictions, determining what is or is not a political activity, and when engaging in political activity might affect the ability of a particular public servant to carry out his or her duties to the Crown, is one of the more challenging aspects of public sector ethics oversight. Below are some links to an interesting real-time case that demonstrate the challenge of finding the right balance. Federal lawyer defies PSC over political bid Lawyer’s […]

Case Summaries

Each year, the Conflict of Interest Commissioner’s annual report includes a selection of summaries of the conflict of interest and political activity questions or issues dealt with during the year. These summaries are intended to assist Ontario public service decision-makers in interpreting conflict of interest and political activity rules and applying the rules to similar situations.

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Do the Right Thing

In previous blogs I explained that conflicts of interest may sometimes occur as a fact of life in a complicated society and that people should develop their own ethical compass and know when to seek advice.  I discussed how leaders are responsible for their own and their organization’s ethical integrity and they should foster an ethical culture. In this blog I am writing about something that supports most of what I havepreviously written, namely, that after decades of public service in a variety of roles, I am convinced that most people in government want to do the right thing simply because it is right. I believe there is a heightened […]

Commissioner Expenses

Under the Travel, Meal and Hospitality Expense Directive (November 2014), all regulatory agencies are required to post details of travel, meal and hospitality expenses of senior executives and government appointees for the agency on a quarterly basis throughout the calendar year. Fiscal Year 2015-16 Fourth Quarter Fiscal Year 2016-17 First Quarter (no expenses were incurred this fiscal quarter) Second Quarter (no expenses were incurred this fiscal quarter)