OTTAWA – Federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson has quietly resumed her investigation of former Stephen Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright over his secret $90,000 payment to Sen. Mike Duffy.
Her annual report, tabled Thursday in Parliament, says “the Wright examination was resumed in early June 2016.”
It provides no further explanation.
Wright was at the heart of a protracted scandal that rocked the former Conservative government, but he was never charged with an offence.
The commissioner suspended her investigation of the former right-hand-man to the prime minister in June 2013 amid an RCMP investigation that resulted in 31 criminal charges against Duffy, including an allegation that the Harper-appointed senator had accepted a bribe.
A judge earlier this spring cleared Duffy of all charges in a scathing judgment that pointed the finger at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Justice Charles Vaillancourt ruled in April that Duffy was “just another piece on the chessboard” and described the behaviour of senior PMO staff as “unacceptable in a democratic society.”
Wright, who resigned from the PMO and returned to private life in May 2013, was not charged with offering a bribe to Duffy, although he acknowledged cutting a personal cheque to the senator in order to pay off contested expense claims and attempt to bury a politically embarrassing spectacle for the Harper government.
The federal ethics commissioner can investigate allegations of wrongdoing under the Conflict of Interest Act and the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons, but is largely toothless beyond naming and shaming miscreants.
Wright’s case was listed in Dawson’s annual report among business carried over from the previous year, alongside her investigation of former Harper adviser Bruce Carson, whose ethics investigation remains suspended while illegal lobbying and influence peddling charges play out in court.
Dawson also included a special “matters of note” section this year to detail her concerns about political fundraising by the new Liberal government.
The ethics commissioner identified four “high-profile” fundraisers she examined, including a private reception at a Toronto law office headlined by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, and appeals by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau that offered donors a chance to win face-to-face meetings.
“While all four instances referred to above raised questions about the appropriateness of the way the fundraisers were organized, it was never clear that there was a contravention of the (Conflict of Interest) Act,” says the annual report.
Dawson’s report recounts her past investigations of similar cash-for-access allegations under the previous government and noted it is an ongoing issue.
And she reprised her previous — and ignored — recommendations that the “House of Commons might wish to consider implementing a separate code of conduct to address the political conduct of members and their staff, including political fundraising activities and I continue to believe that such rules should be established.”
“This would go some way to maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of ministers and parliamentary secretaries,” says the report.
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