Merger with the Office of the Integrity Commissioner

I am excited to inform you that our office (the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner) will be joining forces with the Office of the Integrity Commissioner to be a single entity. The Office will have responsibility for overseeing ethics for public servants and elected officials working for the Province of Ontario.

This change was included in the recent Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018 that received Royal Assent on December 6, 2018. In the coming months, we will be working with our colleagues in the Integrity Commissioner’s Office to make the transition as smooth as possible.

For information about the Office of the Integrity Commissioner and his message about the merger, please visit that Officer’s website here

Second Biennial Public Sector Ethics Conference – Publication of Proceedings

Our first public sector ethics conference, held in September, 2016, was a great success. We were pleased to continue our collaboration with IPAC, the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall law schools, as well as the federal, Ontario and Toronto integrity commissioners to host a second conference, on May 31st and June 1st of this year. Panels and breakout sessions featured distinguished speakers and moderators. There were over 150 attendees from all three levels of government, including academics, lawyers, and many other public service roles, all sharing a common concern for competent, efficient, fair and honest government. Feedback from the conference was, once again, overwhelmingly positive.

The proceedings of the conference have been recorded in an issue of IPAC’s magazine, Public Sector Management. I want to thank all the conference organizers, speakers, and panel members.

Back by Popular Demand – 2nd Biennial Public Sector Ethics Conference

You may recall that our inaugural Public Sector Ethics Conference: Building Trust in Government, was held in Toronto in September, 2016. The goal was to bring a diverse group of professionals together to discuss public sector ethics. I believe it is fair to say, based on the feedback we received, that the event was a great success. As I have noted on many occasions, it is important for those of us who work in this field to discuss the collective challenges and issues that we face.

The proceedings of the conference, as well as a short video synopsis, have been published by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC), whose partnership was critical to the conference’s success.

As it was my hope that the 2016 conference was just the beginning, I am pleased to announce that we will be hosting a second conference this year, entitled Building Trust in Government – 2018.

This all-day conference will take place on Friday, June 1st, with registration, a reception and keynote speech the night before. It will consist of four expert panels, covering, just like last time, an engaging array of public-sector ethics issues:

  • Do blind trusts work? Who can own what and who must sell what?
  • What are some of the most important recent efforts in ethics law reform?
  • What are some of the emerging issues and challenges in the areas of inclusion, equity and diversity?
  • What is the appropriate relationship between elected officials and public servants?

Our keynote speaker at the May 31 opening reception is the remarkable Penny Collenette. Former Senior Fellow of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and now Adjunct Professor of Common Law at the University of Ottawa, Ms. Collonette has enjoyed a unique career spanning the worlds of business, academia, politics and public policy. She has written and commented extensively on ethics, corporate responsibility, governance and leadership.

We are again fortunate to assemble an excellent conference advisory committee, including academic luminaries Anita Anand and Lorne Sossin, as well as Joe Friday, David Wake and Valerie Jepson, integrity commissioners in the federal government, Ontario, and Toronto respectively.

And once again, we are pleased to partner with the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC), whose CEO, Dr. Robert Taylor, continues to be invaluable. As with our 2017 conference, IPAC will assist in preparation of the post-event publication.

We’re sure the conference will again prove to be a valuable contribution to public service ethics discourse.

Reserve the dates in your calendar – May 31 & June 1, 2018.

For additional information and to register for the conference go to IPAC’s dedicated website page.

Sidney B. Linden

Sharing Our Stories Easily! – A New Search Tool

In my previous blog, I discussed how our agency routinely publishes summaries of decisions that are novel or interesting in order to assist public servants and ethics executives in consistently interpreting and applying the conflict of interest and political activity rules. These are available in our annual reports and from our internet site.

I also discussed an initiative to invite other ethics executives to provide our office with summaries of decisions made by them, so that we could make them available on our internet site together with our own. We had already received 27 decision summaries from various ministry ethics executives, and would soon be reaching out to public bodies (agencies).

Most important of all, I explained that we were working  on developing a more useful and sophisticated search tool for decision summaries. This tool would allow users to find relevant summaries much more quickly and easily.

It is done!

We have now launched our new search tool for decision summaries.

The tool allows the user to search summaries by type of matter (e.g., conflict of interest, political activity), by a particular rule (e.g., accepting gifts, hiring family members, switching sides), and by source of decision (i.e., Conflict of Interest Commissioner, ministry ethics executive, or public body ethics executive). There is also a keyword search.

Please visit our decision summaries page and try our new search tool.

Agencies and ministries should feel free to send us summaries of interesting conflict of interest or political activity decisions they have made.

Our aim is to accumulate a significant number of diverse, rich and interesting decision summaries that will serve as an important resource and promote the consistent application of Ontario’s public service ethics rules.

Sharing Our Stories

It is not uncommon for agencies like ours, that make decisions in specific cases, to prepare and publish summaries of those decisions that are novel or interesting or that illustrate particularly well the statutory rules that the agencies apply.

Every year, in our annual report, our office publishes a number of decision summaries. They are not considered binding precedent, but are intended to assist public servants and ethics executives in consistently interpreting and applying the conflict of interest and political activity rules. And these are also made available on our internet site so they can be easily accessed. Needless to say, decision summaries are completely anonymized.

Over the years, our office has received a lot of positive feedback from members of the ethics community, including OPS ethics executives, legal counsel and staff, on the usefulness of these summaries.

However, other ethics executives, including agency chairs and deputy ministers, have the same statutory authority as I do to receive inquiries, from employees of their respective organizations, about application of the conflict-of-interest or political activity rules, and to make determinations on such inquiries. Our office is not an appeal or review body for such decisions.

And so it has always made sense to me to invite other ethics executives to provide our office with summaries of decisions made by them, and then to make them available on our internet site, together with our own. With the support and assistance of the Chief Administrative Officers’ Forum, we have now made this happen. We have collected 27 decision summaries from various ministry ethics executives. The particular value of these summaries is that they address ethics issues arising in the ministry context and may therefore be more useful and relatable for deputy ministers and their staffs.

These summaries can be found on our Decision Summaries internet page, under Other Ethics Executives. We hope to grow the number of summaries every year. Note that at present, the summaries are listed using the “nick names” we have given them. We are working with our technology cluster to develop a more useful search tool for decision summaries that will allow users to find relevant summaries quickly and easily.

We also hope to expand our collection to include decision summaries provided by agencies, which would provide yet another useful perspective for the benefit of this large and important sector.

We wish to thank the Chief Administrative Officers’ Forum for its support and assistance in this initiative, and especially Lydia Proctor, head of the Forum secretariat, and all the deputy ministers and their staffs who provided summaries this time round.

Building Trust in Government – Publication of Ethics Conference Proceedings

Our recent public sector ethics conference, entitled “Building Trust in Government”, as discussed in two of my earlier blogs in July and December 2016, was a great success. The goal of the conference was to bring a diverse group of professionals together to discuss public sector ethics, strengthen relationships within the ethics practitioner community, expand our networks and identify potential solutions to common challenges.

Feedback from conference participants was overwhelmingly positive, and hopefully the conference was the beginning of what will be an active and ongoing discussion.

The conference took place in the shining new Jackman Law Building, re-furbished headquarters of the University of Toronto Law School. The Honourable Hal Jackman, noted philanthropist and former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, whose generosity made the new facility possible, attended the conference. And of course, we are grateful to Ed Iacobucci, Dean of U of T Law School, for his remarks and for allowing us to use the venue.

The proceedings of the conference have been recorded in an issue of Public Sector Management, the magazine of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC), whose invaluable partnership was critical to the success of the conference. IPAC also produced a short video synopsis of the conference. Anita Anand and Lorne Sossin are editing a volume of papers to be published in Canadian Public Administration.

Once again, I want to thank all the conference organizers, speakers, and panel members, as well as the many participants who gave us their time and interest.

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 29 and 30 provided a forum and an opportunity to do just that.

Participants included ethics executives and senior public servants from all three levels of government, public body chairs and senior executives, lawyers, academics and integrity officials.   Our goal in bringing this diverse group of people together was to penetrate the silos we too often work in, strengthen our relationships, expand our networks and identify potential solutions to the common challenges we face.  The overwhelmingly positive feedback we received through our post-conference survey suggests that we achieved our objectives.  In the next month, IPAC, our conference partner, will publish a special edition of its Public Sector Management Magazine that will capture the insights shared by our distinguished speakers and panelists.  We hope that this experience is just the beginning of what will become an active and ongoing national discussion about how we can continue to work together to help strengthen and protect public service ethics in Canada.

As part of our effort to keep that conversation going, we partnered with Ontario’s Treasury Board Secretariat to produce two educational videos. The first video, “Deputy Minister turned Vice President”, addresses the question of what kind of work you can do when you leave the public service – something no doubt top-of-mind for many public servants approaching retirement.  The second video, “Hockey Mom” tackles the issue of preferential treatment.  Both videos depict actual scenarios you may encounter as a public servant and provide tips on how ethics executives can apply Ontario’s conflict of interest rules in these two areas.   These videos add to our already existing video archive.  I hope you enjoy them and I encourage you to share them with colleagues and staff.

I wish you all a restful and rejuvenating holiday season and all the best in 2017.

Commissioner Sidney Linden


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 means that business records made or received in paper form are converted to digital form.

It means that print-outs of digital records, or paper originals, are considered transitory.

It means that digital business records are organized and disoverable within a logical and controlled filing scheme.

It means that all digital business records observe a standard naming convention and that no central paper filing system is maintained or purported to be maintained.

It means, basically, that the official record of the organization is digital.

And it means all this must be done legally and properly.

The COIC Information Renewal Project realized this vision of the paperless office.

The project was driven by the office being designated in 2013 as a public body under the Archives and Recordkeeping Act and by the simple fact that we were running out of space for our paper case files.

We needed expert help, so we recruited a practicum student from the University of Toronto School of Information Sciences. And of course we worked closely with Archives of Ontario.

First, we needed to develop archival records series for the office. We had already adopted the common records series for such things as policy, administration and communications. But we also needed agency-specific records series, in particular for case files which documented our core business function.

Our practicum student developed records series using Archives templates, for our digital case file documents, for case file data, for commissioner engagements (not covered by the common series), and, perhaps most importantly, for source documents.

While digitized originals can be treated as transitory, Archives advised that best practice is to have a source document records series dealing specifically with paper records that are digitized. The series authorizes destruction after the record has been scanned and a quality control check performed.

So now, case files do not have to be kept in paper form. All records relating to a case are stored in the shared directory. Case records made or received in paper form (usually just case notes and signed letters) are scanned and do not have to be retained.

You may ask: But the commissioner is a statutory decision-maker. What if someone appeals one of your decisions? What about the best evidence rule that says a paper original has greater probative value than a copy?

That’s not much of an issue. Recent changes to the Evidence Act mean that a print-out has the same weight as a paper original, as long as the integrity of your electronic records system can be demonstrated if the record is challenged.

All our records series were submitted to Archives for review and approval. They had to be approved by the Archivist before we could dispose of any of our case records.

Now, there is no use doing any of this, that is to say, making digital records authoritative, if they are disorganized and hard to find. This is no better than having a disorganized paper filing system.

So we got up to speed on functional classification, which enables you to classify digital records according to the functions and activities they support, which is better than doing so by, say, subject, or creator name, or project name, or just ad hoc.

In a series of workshops, we established the main functions of the organization and their constituent activities. The shared drive was reorganized accordingly. Scope notes were prepared describing the contents of activity folders and related records series. A file naming convention was adopted. Function and activity folders cannot be created or modified without formal approval.

Finally, a set of concise information management policies was written to formalize all of this, and to ensure the office can demonstrate system integrity if a print-out is ever challenged in court.

Before we could start destroying paper case files, we had to make sure the digital version of a file in the database was complete. So, our practicum student reviewed all paper case files going back to the beginning of the office, and made sure the entire contents of these files were mirrored in the digital case folder.

All this in place, we could now legally shred all the paper files that had accumulated over 10 years, as well as case files from the predecessor, part-time commissioner prior to the establishment of the office. Every destruction event was meticulously documented by a Record of Destruction signed by the Executive Director.

About 25 linear feet of paper files were thus eliminated. Two large filing cabinets were emptied, liberating about 450 cubic feet of space for other uses.

I have often dreamt about being able to implement a records rationalization project, including something radical like going genuinely paperless. It is often hard to do so because of competing priorities, resource constraints, internal dynamics, and management hesitancy. So this was great.

The project could not have succeeded without the support of Commissioner Linden, who, despite his quite healthy concerns about going paperless, embraced the project enthusiastically, but also the support and encouragement of our Executive Director, Derek Lett, and legal counsel, Daman Thable.

I also wish to acknowledge the excellent work of our UofT practicum student, Peter Murray, and the generous guidance and encouragement of Minaz Dharssi of the Archives of Ontario.

James De Monte

Senior Policy Advisor


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 academics. Having a good mix from within the ethics community is important, as it will foster the exchange of diverse views, and hopefully  make the event interesting and worthwhile.

This all-day conference will take place on Friday, September 30th, with dinner and keynote speech the night before. It will consist of four expert panels, covering what we hope is an engaging array of public-sector ethics issues:

  • What are some of the emerging issues and challenges in public-sector ethics?
  • Are ethics and integrity regimes most effective if they are proactive or reactive?
  • Is the existing balance between free speech and public service neutrality sustainable, especially in the information age?
  • What are some of the successes in ethics oversight from different jurisdictions?

The keynotes are very exciting. For the dinner keynote, we have former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, and for the luncheon the Honourable Bob Rae, who will speak to us about the value and efficacy of public service ethics oversight. These gentlemen need no introduction.

In planning this event, we have been fortunate to assemble an excellent advisory committee, which, like our various panelists, represents an exceptional talent mix. It includes academic luminaries like Anita Anand, Lorne Sossin and Phil MacEwen. It also includes Mary Dawson, David Wake and Valerie Jepson, the federal, Ontario, and Toronto integrity commissioners respectively, as well as the Deputy Attorney-General and Secretary of Cabinet.

The event is being organized in partnership with the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC), whose CEO, Dr. Robert Taylor, has been invaluable with his advice and support. IPAC will also assist in preparation of the post-event publication. Mary Gusella, who is a director of the Ethics Practitioners’ Association of Canada, has also been very helpful. Our Executive Director, Derek Lett, has been holding it all together.

The number of seats for this event is limited, and our target audience is essentially ethics executives in ministries and public bodies, senior officials and academics and practitioners in the field. Even so, we’re sure the conference will prove to be a valuable contribution to public service ethics discourse. Finally, our hope is that this conference will lead to many similar events in the years to come.

Additional information on the conference can be found on IPAC’s dedicated website page.

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.