Private Interests and Public Duties (M07-16/17)

A new public servant in a position dealing directly with farm and rural stakeholders, including the oversight of some transfer payment agreements with agricultural and food related organizations, declared that they and their family were very active in the agriculture and food sector/community outside of the employee’s public service role. The declaration described the employee’s personal involvement with a family farm business, their voluntary membership in an economic development and local food organization that had potential to seek public project funding, and the active involvement of immediate and extended family members in community and provincial rural organizations that would receive public funding.

In assessing the potential for conflict or the perception of a conflict the ethics executive considered the ability of the public servant to provide preferential treatment, approve public funding, and share confidential information. This assessment was conducted in the context of the employee’s position and outside activities. Specifically considered was the public profile of the employee’s role in dealing with stakeholders, the profile of family members, and the related nature of the public and private business activities.

The directions to the employee focused on separating the public service role from personal activities and avoiding the perception of preferential treatment by ensuring that public processes were utilized for farm business applications to government programs. Personal activities were to be conducted on personal time without the use of government resources. Approved leaves were required if activities were to occur during a normal work day. The duties and responsibilities of government employment were to take precedence.

The employee was also directed to avoid situations where they could be providing advice to family members in the course of their public service role. The employee was directed to advise their manager if this situation occurred and refer the family member as directed by the manager.

While participating with external organizations, the employee was to refrain from acting in such a way as to give the impression of representing the ministry or the Crown. The employee was directed not to participate in the development of applications, be signatory to applications and to recuse themselves from discussions in relation to applications to the Government of Ontario (including agencies) for funding. Further, the employee was directed to advise the chairs of the organizations of their duties and obligations as a public servant as related to conflict of interest and in particular their inability to participate in discussions about public funding for the organization.

The employee was also reminded of the responsibility of all public servants not to use or disclose confidential information in the course of their public or private activities.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 3, 5, 6, 8 & 9.

Real Estate on the Side (M08-16/17)

A public servant who worked in a ministry division responsible for policy related to the Crown’s realty holdings was undertaking the articling segment of the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) Salesperson Education Program and sought a conflict of interest determination. The public servant was a licenced sales person with the Real Estate Council of Ontario and an independent contractor with a real estate broker. The public servant’s position (as Senior Policy Advisor) involved policy and program development, ministry consultation and advice and stakeholder relations and committee work related to the government’s realty portfolio under the administration and control of the minister.

There could be overlap between the public servant’s duties to the Crown and the outside activity, where as part of the outside activity the public servant could be engaged in transactions that involve government realty. This could be in a situation where a client of the real estate broker wants to acquire government property. The applicable rules under O. Reg. 381/07 were those regarding confidential information, preferential treatment and engaging in business.

It was determined that the situation has the potential to create a conflict of interest. The public servant was provided with direction with respect to: not disclosing or using confidential information obtained in the course of employment; conducting the outside activity so it does not interfere with performance as a public servant; not using government premises, equipment or supplies in connection with outside employment; ensuring that no person derives an advantage from the public servant’s employment as a public servant; and in the course of outside activity, not identifying  as an Ontario public servant or acting in such a way as to give the impression that the public servant is representing the Crown. In the event that the public servant becomes aware of a potential or actual conflict, there was direction to abstain from any discussions on the issue or recuse oneself from the situation.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 5, 6 & 8.

Part-Time Teaching (2) (M11-16/17)

A ministry employee disclosed their intent to undertake a temporary employment opportunity to teach a course at a college as an undertaking outside of their ministry duties. The topic and subject matter of the course was related to their ministry duties. The employee requested direction as to whether, as part of the course that they intended to teach, and with prior approval, they could gain access to, and use, internal ministry documents and examples from their ministry work experience for teaching purposes.

The ethics executive considered that the specific types of documents that the employee was seeking to use in connection with the course were publicly available on the internet, and as such, were not confidential and therefore not subject to the restrictions under section 5 of the rules. In view of section 8 of the rules, the ethics executive considered that the employee did not have regular and ongoing involvement in their ministry duties with the college, and that their employment with the college was limited to a few hours per week. However, the ethics executive considered that a concern could arise that the college, through the employee’s ongoing employment with the ministry, may gain or appear to gain an advantage over other academic institutions in dealing with the government, including accessing government information, experts, or programs, including matters of employment or funding.

The ethics executive determined that in the external employment, the employee reserved the right to employ the skills and experience that they retained as a professional working in the field, including that which they gained through their ministry employment, to the extent that they complied with the conflict of interest rules and other specific directions. In particular, if the employee wished to use any ministry material that was not available to the public for teaching purposes, they were required to request permission from the ethics executive in order to do so. Where speaking of specific ministry experiences in the external employment, the employee was required to refrain from disclosing any confidential information, or information that is otherwise unavailable to the public.

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

Seasonal Pilot (M16-16/17)

A seasonal pilot with recall rights requested a determination from the deputy minister about his plan to be a pilot for a private charter company on a part-time basis during his scheduled days off and on a full-time basis while on his seasonal hiatus from the ministry. While on hiatus, an employee’s contract with the ministry has ended, but they have a continuing employment relationship with the ministry based on their recall rights.

As ethics executive, the deputy minister had two key concerns. The first involved the possibility that the employee’s private flight hours could cause him to exceed Transport Canada flight hour restrictions and interfere with his ministry role, contrary to section 8(2) of the regulation which prohibits outside employment if it would interfere with a public servant’s ability to perform their duties to the Crown. The second concern was that the private company might be contracted to the ministry for flight services, which could create the perception that the private company might receive preferential treatment contrary to section 6(2) of the regulation. The deputy was assured that the employee’s flight hours would not interfere with his ministry duties, that he was not involved in procurement of flight services for the ministry and that the private carrier did not provide flight services to the ministry.

The deputy determined that the outside employment would not result in a conflict of interest, provided that the employee did not represent himself as a ministry employee, use ministry resources, share any confidential information, or allow the outside employment to interfere with his ministry duties.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 6 & 8.

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.

Event Planning (M20-16/17)

A public servant was the friend of a person employed in a senior role with an events organization. The public servant could be asked to approve the participation of other public servants in events hosted by the organization.

Section 6 of O. Reg. 381/07 prohibits a public servant, when performing his or her duties to the Crown, from giving preferential treatment to any person or entity. A public servant must endeavor to avoid creating the appearance that preferential treatment is being given.

To mitigate the risk that the public servant might be perceived to be giving preferential treatment to the events organization, the ethics executive directed the public servant to delegate to a peer within the ministry the public servant’s authority to approve requests from other public servants to participate in events hosted by the organization.

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

Paralegal Services (M23-16/17)

A public servant requested a determination to operate a private paralegal practice.

The public servant’s paralegal activity had the potential to overlap with their regular duties to the Crown, specifically in the area of prospective paralegal clients receiving preferential treatment in the justice system due to the public servant’s connection to the judiciary.

The ethics executive determined that there was a conflict between the public servant’s regular duties to the Crown and their paralegal activity. The public servant was directed to cease and desist all their paralegal activities while they were working for the Crown. The ethics executive determined that this specific matter was deemed a conflict due to the fact that court staff are expected to be impartial and neutral in the administration of justice, while paralegals advocate on behalf of a party in the justice system. In addition to this, the ethics executive also determined that this matter was a conflict on the basis that the public servant’s visible role in the administration of justice could conceivably give rise to a public perception that the public servant has favourable access to the judicial system, and is, therefore, in a position to provide preferential treatment to individuals for whom they work as a paralegal.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 6 & 8.

Long-Term Relationship (M25-16/17)

A ministry employee was in a long-term personal relationship with a staff member who was a direct report.

The relationship did not meet the criteria of a spousal relationship as set out in the regulation and therefore was not in contravention of the sections regarding benefiting self, spouse or children or hiring or supervising family members. However, the deputy minister was concerned about the perception that the direct report might receive preferential treatment from the manager, and that the relationship had developed long before the situation was brought to the deputy’s attention.

The deputy minister determined that the situation represented a conflict of interest and directed that the supervisory functions for the direct report be assigned to another manager while the branch director reviewed options to address the situation. The director was directed to report back to the deputy on actions taken.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 3 & 7.

Hanging my shingle, Part 1 (C01-14/15)

A designated senior public servant in a public body was on a paid leave of absence.  Following the expiration of the paid leave of absence, the public servant was due to retire.  The public servant wished to work as an independent consultant while on the paid leave, building on her career as a public servant, and had been approached with specific opportunities.

The Commissioner determined that while on the paid leave of absence, the public servant could provide independent consulting services, in specific scenarios, but that the in-service conflict of interest rules continued to apply.  The public servant’s work as a consultant must not conflict with her duties to the Crown, and no person could derive an advantage, in connection with her consulting work, as a result of her employment with the public body. In addition, the public servant must not appear to give clients of the public body any preferential treatment.  Specifically, the public servant should not participate in discussions or decisions with other entities with respect to clients of the public body.

The Commissioner reminded the public servant that on retirement, the post-service conflict of interest rules would apply, including the one-year restriction on lobbying and employment.

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

Family matters (C05-14/15)

The spouse of an ethics executive for a public body was the head of an organization that regularly had dealings with the public body.  The ethics executive advised the Commissioner that in order to mitigate the risk of a conflict of interest, steps had been taken to shield the ethics executive from any conversations or emails within the public body regarding the organization, and that the appropriate individuals had been advised of the potential conflict.

The Commissioner confirmed that the ethics executive had acted appropriately and put in place an effective mitigation strategy.

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