Invitation from an Entity (M01-17/18)

A public servant was invited to an event by an entity. The value of the event exceeded $200.00. The entity had previously done work for the Crown in the area in which the public servant works. The entity does not currently have a contract with the Crown. But the entity might in future bid on work for the Crown.

Section 4 prohibits a public servant from accepting a gift from specified persons and entities if a reasonable person might conclude that the gift could influence the public servant when performing his or her duties for the Crown. The persons and entities include those that seek to do business with the Crown. A gift includes a benefit of any kind.

In the circumstances, the ethics executive directed the public servant to decline the invitation.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 4.

 

Operating a Small Business (M02-17/18)

A public servant  operates a small business outside of the public servant’s employment with the Crown.  The public servant is self-employed on a part-time basis. There is no nexus between the public servant’s duties to the Crown and the public servant’s small business. There is no connection between the public servant’s clients and the ministry in which the public servant works.

Section 3 prohibits a public servant from using or attempting to use their employment with the Crown to benefit themselves.

Section 5 prohibits a public servant from disclosing confidential information obtained during the course of their employment with the Crown except where the public servant is authorized to do so.  A public servant is prohibited from using confidential information in a business or undertaking outside of their work for the Crown.

Section 6 prohibits a public servant, when performing their duties to the Crown, from giving preferential treatment to any person or entity.  A public servant must endeavour to avoid creating the appearance that preferential treatment is being given.  A public servant is also prohibited from offering assistance to a person or entity in dealing with the Crown other than assistance given in the ordinary course of the public servant’s employment.

Section 8 prohibits a public servant from engaging in an outside business if the undertaking would interfere with the public servant’s ability to perform their duties to the Crown or, if in connection with the undertaking, any person would derive an advantage from the public servant’s employment as a public servant.

To ensure that the public servant does not use and is not seen as using the public servant’s employment with the Crown to benefit themselves, the ethics executive directed the public servant not to use the public servant’s employment with the Crown to market, promote or solicit clients for the small business. The ethics executive further reminded the public servant of the public servant’s obligation to continue to comply with the conflict of interest rules, including the obligation: not to disclose or use any confidential information derived from the public servant’s employment with the Crown; not to create the appearance that preferential treatment is being given to a person or entity that could benefit from it; not to offer assistance to a person or entity in dealing with the Crown other than assistance given in the ordinary course of the public servant’s employment; not to allow the small business to interfere with the public servant’s employment with the Crown; not to provide an advantage to any person as a result of the public servant’s employment with the Crown; not to utilize government premises, equipment or supplies for the purposes of the small business.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 3, 5, 6 & 8.

Helping a Spouse’s Business (M03-17/18)

A public servant wanted to work part-time in the business of the public servant’s spouse. The outside employment would occur either on weekends, during vacation or when the public servant is on a leave of absence. There is no nexus between the public servant’s position in the OPS and the outside employment.

Section 8 prohibits a public servant from engaging in an outside business if the undertaking would interfere with the public servant’s ability to perform his or her duties to the Crown or if, in connection with the undertaking, any person would derive an advantage from the public servant’s employment as a public servant.

To mitigate the risk of a conflict, the ethics executive directed the public servant: not to use his or her position with the Crown to attempt to secure any benefit for the spouse’s business; not to use his or her position with the Crown to promote the spouse’s business; not to seek preferential treatment by or privileged access to public servants when carrying out duties for the spouse’s business; not to participate in any activity of the spouse’s business involving the potential or actual provision of goods and services by the spouse’s business to the Crown; and not to identify as an Ontario public servant or act in such a way as to give the impression that the public servant is representing the Crown, when carrying out duties for the spouse’s business.

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

Attending a Conference (M04-17/18)

A public servant wanted to attend a conference. A friend of the public servant works in a senior position for the organization hosting the conference. The public servant intended to pay the full conference fee and had no role in the conference other than as an attendee.

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 endeavour to avoid creating the appearance that preferential treatment is being given. The ethics executive considered whether the public servant’s attendance at the conference would create the appearance of preferential treatment either to the friend or the friend’s employer.

The ethics executive was satisfied there was a legitimate business rationale for the public servant to attend the conference in issue.

The ethics executive reminded the public servant that the public servant must endeavour to avoid creating the appearance that the public servant is giving preferential treatment to the organization or anyone affiliated with the organization.

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

Access to Confidential Information (M05-17/18)

A public servant’s duties to the Crown might potentially give the public servant access to confidential information regarding either (1) the outside entity on which the public servant sits as a member of the Board of Directors or (2) the employer of a family member.

Section 5 of O. Reg. 381/07 prohibits both the disclosure and use of confidential information.

Section 8 of O. Reg. 381/07 prohibits a public servant from engaging in outside activity if, in connection with the employment or activity, any person would derive an advantage from the public servant’s employment.

To mitigate the risk of a potential or perceived conflict under either the rule that prohibits the disclosure or use of confidential information and/or the rule that prohibits a public servant from engaging in an outside activity if any person would derive an advantage from the public servant’s employment, the ethics executive directed the public servant to discuss in advance with the relevant manager any work that may involve either of the two organizations in question so that the manager could either restrict the public servant’s access to confidential information or assign the public servant other work.

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

Selling Things to Other Public Servants (M06-17/18)

A public servant had a part-time side business selling consumer products. All sales took place outside of regular work hours. The public servant’s customers included other public servants. The public servant’s duties to the Crown included, on occasion, an oversight role in respect of other public servants.

Subsection 3(1) of the Conflict of Interest Rules prohibits a public servant from using or attempting to use his or her employment by the Crown to directly or indirectly benefit himself or herself.

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 also endeavor to avoid creating the appearance that preferential treatment is being given.

Paragraph 5 of Section 8 of O. Reg. 381/07 prohibits employment in an outside business if any person would derive an advantage from the public servant’s employment as a public servant or if it would interfere with the public servant’s ability to perform their duties.

The ethics executive determined that the public servant’s side business has the potential to create a conflict of interest. To address the potential conflict of interest, the ethics executive directed the public servant not to use the public servant’s employment by the Crown to market or promote the side business or solicit customers, and to recuse him/herself from oversight activity involving a public servant who is a customer of the side business or who, within the prior 12 months, has been a customer of the side business.

O. Reg. 381/07, s. 3, 6 & 8.

Ethics Executive Orientation Workshops

Welcome! Ethics executives are an important part of upholding the public’s trust. Ethics executives are responsible for providing advice and making determinations on ethics matters within a public body or government organization.

We believe providing education and support to new and existing ethics executives is an important part of our mandate. Ethics executives need to understand their role and the rules they must use when making decisions on conflicts of interest. They also need to know what support is available to them in making these determinations.

Part of the support our office provides is a 3 hour orientation workshop in Toronto. These workshops are designed for agency chairs and designated ethics executives. Invitees may bring other appointees and senior employees who could benefit from the orientation.

The goal of the orientation workshop  is to help ethics executives understand how and when to engage our office and to build their capacity in making ethical determinations. The Integrity Commissioner of Ontario, who has a responsibility for whistle blowing and several other mandates affecting public servants directly, also joins us in hosting these workshops.

If you are an agency chair or designated ethics executive who has not been oriented, and would like to make sure you are invited to the next workshop, click here and send us a note.

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.