Spouse is Head of Stakeholder Organization (M17-16/17)

The declarant’s spouse was the incoming head of an organization which was one of the ministry’s main stakeholders. The declarant occupied a management position within the ministry, in a part of the ministry that did not normally interact with the organization, but that was involved in supporting initiatives in which the organization had an interest.

The declarant, as part of their public service role, would be aware of confidential information that would be of interest to the organization of which the declarant’s spouse was to become the head.

The ethics executive determined that there was potential for a conflict between the declarant’s public service duties and their spousal relationship. The declarant was directed to recuse himself/herself from any matters in their public service role in which the organization in question was participating, and was reminded of the obligation not to disclose confidential information, provide preferential treatment or otherwise use employment with the Crown to benefit one’s spouse.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 3, 5 & 6.

Blogging on Issues of Interest (M18-16/18)

The declarant maintained a personal blog for content related to issues of interest to their profession.

The subject matter of the declarant’s blog had the potential to overlap with issues in respect of which the declarant’s branch was engaged and the declarant could be asked to provide advice to the government in the future in their role as a public servant.

The ethics executive determined that there was potential for a conflict between the declarant’s public service duties and their blog. The declarant was directed to refrain from blog posts about policy issues in which the declarant’s branch was engaged or that would detract from the public’s confidence in the objectivity and impartiality of the public service, and to avoid associating their public service employment with the blog.  The declarant was also reminded of the obligations not to disclose confidential information and not to use government premises, equipment and supplies in relation to the outside activity.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 5 & 8.

Manager Running for Municipal Office (M19-16/17)

A public service manager contacted their ethics executive regarding their intention to run for municipal councillor. In connection with the candidacy, the public servant expected to be fundraising “during the campaign period”, as well as distributing flyers, canvassing and participating in media communications. The public servant sought a determination whether the they were required to take an unpaid leave of absence in order to do these things.

While the PSOA permits public servants to undertake political activities, there are a number of restrictions, including the requirement to take a leave of absence before certain activities can be undertaken. It was determined that the applicable restricted activities in these circumstances included 1) raising funds on behalf of a municipal candidate if the public servant’s duties include supervising staff, and 2) engaging in political activity which could interfere with the performance of one’s duties as a public servant.

The request for a leave of absence was approved. The public servant was directed not to undertake any fundraising activities until the leave of absence was commenced, as the public servant was a manager who supervised staff. The public servant was also advised that in accordance with the Public Service of Ontario Act (PSOA), the leave of absence would end on election day. The direction also set out the rule in section 77(d) of the PSOA that public servants are not allowed to associate their public service position with political activity except to the extent necessary to identify their position and work experience. The public servant was also reminded that the PSOA continues to apply during the leave of absence and of the rules regarding confidential information in section 5 of O. Reg. 381/07. The public servant was asked to advise the ethics executive of the outcome of the election so that next steps required under the PSOA could be determined.

PSOA, s. 77, 79; O. Reg. 381/07, s. 5.

Expert Witness on Behalf of a Law Firm (C12-12/13)

The chair of a public body sought a determination as to whether he/she would be permitted to act as an expert witness on behalf of a law firm. The chair had been approached by the law firm because of his expertise in a specific field, and not because of his/her position with the public body.

Since there was some overlap between the field of expertise and the activities of the public body, the Commissioner determined that there was some potential for conflicts of interest if the chair acted as an expert witness. The Commissioner advised the chair to ensure that he/she did not use or disclose any confidential information in the course of giving expert testimony, and to state at the beginning of the testimony that he/she would not be testifying in his/her capacity as a public servant but rather in his/her capacity as an expert in the field. In addition, the Commissioner advised the chair to be careful not to make any statements or public comments known to be contrary to the policies of the Ontario government. The Commissioner suggested that the ministry responsible for the public body be made aware of the chair’s intention to testify on the matter.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 5 & 8.

Teach and Develop Curriculum (C11-11/12)

The CEO of a public body sought a determination as to whether he/she could teach and develop the curriculum for a specific program at an Ontario university.

There was some potential for interactions between the university and the public body, and it was possible that the public servant could be called upon to provide assistance to the university with issues related to his/her role as a public servant. It was also possible that he/she could interact with the same stakeholders in both roles. In light of these possible intersections, the Commissioner determined that there was some potential for conflicts between the two roles. The public servant would be required to abide by the following conditions while teaching and developing a curriculum for the university:

i.        The public servant would ensure that he/she did not disclose or use, in the course of the university work, any confidential information obtained while a public servant;

ii.        Individuals and groups associated with the university work would not receive, and were made aware that they could not receive, any assistance or information from the public servant beyond that which he/she would provide in the ordinary course of carrying out his/her responsibilities as a public servant;

iii.        The public servant would recuse him/herself from all discussions and decision-making in matters where there is an intersection between the university and the public body or the Crown, including matters where the university is lobbying or taking a position inconsistent with that of the public body or the Crown;

iv.        The public servant would not participate in fundraising activities directed at the public body or the Crown; and

v.        The public servant would recuse him/herself from any decision-making as a public servant if the decision could result in a benefit to the university.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 5, 6, 8, 9.

Company with Dealings with Senior Ontario Government Officials (C17-09/10)

The Public Appointments Secretariat (PAS) sought the commissioner’s advice with respect to a proposed appointment to a public body. The proposed appointee held a senior position in a company that had dealings with senior Ontario government officials and had an interest in government matters of general public concern (e.g., initiatives and policies). The commissioner was asked to provide advice as to whether conflicts of interest could arise if this individual were to be appointed to the public body.

The commissioner’s advised that, given the individual’s employment, there was a risk of contravening a number of conflict of interest rules if the appointment took place. However, in the commissioner’s view, the risk could be mitigated by restricting the individual’s activities. For example, the individual could recuse himself/herself from participating in the public body’s decisions on any matters related to the company or matters where there was an opportunity for the company to benefit.

The commissioner also advised that, if the individual was appointed, the PAS should ensure that the appointee was aware of the restrictions on the use and disclosure of confidential information and that staff of both the public body and company were aware of and documented steps to be taken to mitigate any potential conflict of interest arising from the appointment.

In addition, to enhance transparency and limit the appearance of preferential treatment, the commissioner suggested that both organizations consider communicating publicly the steps taken to minimize the risk of a conflict of interest.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 5, 6, 9.