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Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators
The Senate of Canada
Canada, K1A 0A4
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INTRODUCTION TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON
ETHICS AND CONFLICT OF INTEREST FOR SENATORS
The Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators (the committee) is responsible for all matters relating to the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators (Code). It may give general direction to the Senate Ethics Officer concerning the interpretation, application and administration of the Code, and is authorized to exercise these powers on its own initiative. The committee also considers any inquiry reports from the Senate Ethics Officer, an independent officer of the Senate.
The composition of the Committee is unique: it is composed of five members, three of whom constitute quorum. According to the Rules of the Senate (Rules) and the Code, two members are elected by secret ballot in the caucus of the government, and two members are elected by a secret ballot in the caucus of the opposition. The fifth member is elected by a majority of the four other members. The selection process is formalized by the presentation of a motion by the Leader of the Government, seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, which is deemed adopted without debate or vote when moved. When a vacancy occurs in the membership of the committee, the replacement member is elected by the same method as the former member being replaced. The Chair of the committee is elected by at least four members of the Committee. The committee has no ex officio members.
The Code provides for an Intersessional Authority during a prorogation or dissolution of Parliament. All members of the committee are members of this Intersessional Authority until the members of a successor of the committee are appointed by the Senate. The intersessional authority is different from a standing committee. Its powers are limited and it cannot report directly to the Senate.
The process described above for appointing members to the committee was not followed during the 42nd and 43rd Parliaments. In the 42nd Parliament, in order to accommodate new senators who were not at the outset members of a recognized party, the Senate adopted a motion on December 7, 2016, which provided that, notwithstanding the current provisions of the Rules and the Code with respect to the composition of the committee, it consist of two Conservative senators, an independent Liberal senator and two senators who are not members of a recognized party, and that all members be chosen by their own caucus or group by secret ballot. A subsequent motion to extend that membership of the committee to the end of the session was adopted on December 7, 2017, which also allowed the committee to continue as an intersessional authority during the period of dissolution, pursuant to section 37 of the Code.
Shortly after the opening of the 1st session of the 43rd Parliament, a successor committee was appointed by the Senate, similar to what was done in the 42nd Parliament. Consequently, on December 10, 2019, the Senate adopted a motion to name senators directly, rather than by following the process for naming members as prescribed in the Code, which only contemplates the existence of government and opposition senators. During the 2nd session of the 43rd Parliament, a similar process was once again followed, and a motion was adopted by the Senate on December 3, 2020 naming, for the first time, six senators as opposed to the regular five members directly to the successor committee.
Before the enactment in 2004 of An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer) and other Acts in consequence (the “Act”), most conflict of interest rules for Senators were encompassed in legislation and the Rules of the Senate. The 2004 Act established a new conflict of interest regime by creating the office of the Senate Ethics Officer and by requiring that the Senate adopt a conflict of interest code for its members.
The Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament worked on various proposals for a conflict of interest code for Senators and other consequential amendments to the Rules. On May 11, 2005, the committee presented its Third Report to the Senate, in which it recommended the adoption of the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators and the establishment of the Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators. The Committee on Rules stated that three goals governed the structure of the committee: confidentiality, non-partisanship, and representation and confidence of all Senators. The Senate concurred in the committee’s report on May 18, 2005.
The provisions of the Parliament of Canada Act with respect to the Senate Ethics Office also came into force on April 1, 2005. Mr. Jean T. Fournier was appointed the first Senate Ethics Officer, effective April 1, 2005, for a term of seven years. On July 6, 2005, the first membership of the Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators was prescribed by the Senate, and the committee held its first meeting on July 19, 2005.
Mr. Pierre Legault is currently the Senate Ethics Officer.
The committee has reviewed and amended the Code a number of times since its inception.
In 2008 the committee recommended amendments that were aimed to adjust improve and refine the provisions of the Code. Key changes to the Code that came into effect as a result included:
- The independence of the Senate Ethics Officer is noted explicitly in the Code;
- A Senator who has made a declaration of a private interest in the Senate or a committee of which he or she is a member must not participate in debate or a vote on the matter and must withdraw from committee proceedings.
In 2012, the committee recommended further amendments to the Code “to adapt the provisions of the Code to contemporary realities and practices; to avoid any misunderstanding about the outside activities of Senators; to increase the transparency of the conflict of interest regime applicable to Senators; and to enhance public confidence and trust in the conflict of interest regime applicable to Senators.” A key change is the posting of senators’ public disclosure summaries on the Senate Ethics Officer’s website.
The Code was amended in April and June 2014. The April amendments strengthened preventive measures under the Code, established a clear, fair and balanced inquiry process and enhanced the independence of the Senate Ethics Officer. The June amendments reaffirmed the commitment of the Senate and each individual Senator to the highest standards of conduct. The Code was renamed: Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators to better reflect Senators’ obligations under the Code and the provisions of the Parliament of Canada Act establishing the position of Senate Ethics Officer. The committee was also renamed: Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators, in May 2015.
During the 42nd Parliament, the committee conducted a formal periodic review of the Code and its provisions, in accordance with section 59. The review included an invitation to all senators, the Senate administration, and the Senate Ethics Officer for comments on the Code and its application. The committee submitted a report (Seventh Report) in August 2019 containing 65 potential amendments to the Code. Since the Senate was adjourned for an extended period of time at the time of the report's presentation and a dissolution of Parliament followed, the report could not be debated or adopted by the Senate.
During the 43rd Parliament, the committee undertook additional work to review the Code and its provisions. Two substantive reports were presented during the 2nd session of the 43rd Parliament. Its Second Report recommended amendments to the Code in relation to the Senate Harassment and Violence Prevention Policy, which subsequently took effect once the policy came into force in August 2021. Its Third Report recommended several procedural and administrative amendments to the Code, which came into effect following the adoption of the report in June 2021. Building on the committee’s Seventh Report (1st session of the 42nd Parliament), the committee also presented updated principles guiding its composition and recommended that the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament consider and propose amendments to the Rules in relation to the committee’s composition.
Detailed information on current work of the committee can be found on the parliamentary website at https://sencanada.ca/en/committees/conf.