The Role of the Ethics Committee in the Mulroney-Schreiber Affair

Some people, including Conservative Members on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, argue that the Committee should not be studying the Mulroney-Schreiber Affair because a Parliamentary Committee is too partisan a forum to deal with allegations of wrongdoing against individuals.

However the Committee has a much more important role than simply determining whether people violated the law or ethical standards. They have a duty to recommend to the House of Commons what the laws and ethical standards should be. If the committee finds, as Conservative Members state, that Brian Mulroney did not violate any laws or Codes of Ethics the committee might still find that his behaviour was inappropriate and recommend changes to the ethical codes or legislation.

Indeed, if accepting cash payments of thousands of dollars and then hiding it in safety deposit boxes and not claiming it as income until it looks like you might be caught is not illegal then the law needs to be changed.

The Committee’s most important role may be in recommending stronger ethical standards for public office holders so that individuals could not engage in the type of sleazy behaviour that the Committee is uncovering yet not be in breach of ethical standards, even though it contravenes any common sense interpretation of “ethical”.

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