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 lobbyist registration with agency chairs and CEOs and acquainted them with the functions of her office. I wish Lynn a long, happy and productive retirement.

Commissioner Wake and I go back a long way too. David was appointed a judge of the Ontario Court (Provincial Division) in 1994, when I was the Chief Justice. These were busy years for the court, with many challenges and reforms. David was an active and enthusiastic supporter of these reforms while also presiding in court. He obviously did a good job, because in 1999, when my term as Chief Justice ended, one of my associates became the Chief Justice, and David was appointed Associate Chief Justice in his place. I congratulate David on becoming Integrity Commissioner and am thrilled that an individual with his background and experience has been appointed to fill Lynn’s shoes. David’s full biography can be found on the Integrity Commissioner’s website.

We are often asked how our office relates to that of the Integrity Commissioner? Needless to say, the existence of two ethics commissioners in Ontario has the potential to confuse (of course, if a person approaches the wrong office on a particular ethics matter, we ensure that he or she is redirected to the correct office).

The Integrity Commissioner is an officer of the legislature. As such, he is separate from the executive branch of government. This more arms-length relationship is essential to the types of mandates the commissioner has responsibility for, including those relating to the conduct of elected officials and the disclosure of wrongdoing. In contrast, our office is an agency of the Crown, subject to the same rules as other agencies, although still at arms-length and independent regarding procedural and substantive decision-making. As I have written in a previous blog, this is consistent with the notion that overseeing the ethical behavior of public servants is part of the larger public service management system.

The Integrity Commissioner’s  “core mandate” is to oversee the ethical conduct of members of provincial parliament and Cabinet ministers. But the Integrity Commissioner also oversees the ethical conduct of ministers’ staff, and he is the Lobbyist Registrar. He also reviews expenses for certain politicians and agency employees, and oversees the disclosures of wrongdoing.  In contrast, our office, the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, is concerned with the ethical conduct of public servants, including those in the agency sector.

Notwithstanding our differences, and our separate mandates, both of our offices are important to the overall objective of the government. We are both “ethics commissioners”, operating in the same general field, and the ethics rules we apply are broadly similar. In fact, for public servants and ministers’ staff, they are almost identical. Our mutual goal is ethical government and helping to create a province where people trust government, both political and bureaucratic. The over-arching principles guiding both offices are universal. I am confident that going forward, we will continue the productive and collegial relationship that our two offices have cultivated.

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