It’s a situation that amazes many Canadians that don’t closely follow politics in Ottawa.
In Canada, un-elected senators that can make or break proposed laws, can also rake in pay as corporate board directors, in addition to their public salaries.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and adjunct professor of law and politics at the University of Ottawa, believes that loopholes in ethics laws have often allowed Canadian parliamentarians to serve their own personal and corporate interests, instead of the public’s interest.
However the case of B.C. Sen. Larry Campbell, who sits on the board of a B.C. casino company at the centre of a money laundering scandal, illustrates that the Senate Ethics Officer actually has tools to close conflict of interest loopholes, Conacher said — if the will to act exists.
Global News has reported that Sen. Campbell has collected more than $800,000 in cash compensation and about $2.1 million worth of shares as a board director of the company that owns the troubled River Rock Casino, Great Canadian Gaming. Campbell also is chair of the Great Canadian Gaming committee responsible for overseeing company compliance and ethics, and whether surveillance and security at River Rock Casino is adequate.
River Rock is at the centre of a money laundering scheme in which organized crime networks laundered at least $100 million in B.C. casinos, independent reviewer Peter German, a former high-ranking RCMP officer, has said.
German concluded that casinos “unwittingly” allowed money laundering to occur.
Great Canadian Gaming says that it welcomes German’s findings, and that River Rock and Great Canadian have not been subject of enforcement regarding their practices.
On Wednesday, Campbell did not respond to a request from Global News to answer Conacher’s comments about his case. Campbell has also refused to answer Global News questions about German’s findings in B.C. and the alleged money laundering at River Rock Casino, and also whether Campbell’s twin roles, as public servant and corporate board member, could put him in a conflict of interest.
Conacher says he believes there is a conflict between Campbell’s duty to act for Great Canadian shareholders, and his duty to promote the interests of B.C. citizens. But the senate ethics code has rules to order Campbell to step down from the company’s board and sell his Great Canadian Gaming shares, according to Conacher.
Specifically, the code requires senators to give precedence to their parliamentary duties over any other duty or activity, and also has sections “including ensuring and actually enhancing public confidence,” in senators, and “avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Conacher said.
“Senator Campbell is in a constant conflict of interest between his duties as a board member to further the company’s interests, and his duty as a senator to uphold the overall public interest of the people of B.C.,” Conacher said Wednesday in an interview. “Senator Campbell can help the company’s interests both by taking part in discussions, debates and votes that affect the company’s interests — and also by not doing anything that might hurt the company’s interests, such as not making any public statements or proposals concerning casino-connected money laundering.”
In the past, Campbell has disclosed a conflict and recused himself, when the Senate was considering matters that could impact Great Canadian.
Global News also asked the Senate Ethics Officer to comment on Conacher’s call for action on Campbell’s case.
“While the Senate Ethics Officer welcomes information and comments from members of the public and the media, he is bound by confidentiality … and cannot comment on individual circumstances of senators,” spokesman Pierre Legault said.
Meanwhile, a Senate ethics committee will be re-examining the issue of whether parliamentarians should be allowed to sit on corporate boards.
And on Wednesday NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said he wants the House of Commons ethics committee to look at conflict of interest loopholes.
WATCH: B.C. senator dodges money laundering questions
“I think it is very problematic for MPs to have side gigs,” Angus said. “And I think it is even more problematic to have senators sitting on the boards of major corporations, and not doing their job, which is to serve people.”
Outside Senate today, Campbell’s colleagues would not comment on his case. But some said having jobs outside of the upper house is a good thing.
Conservative Sen. Larry Smith said ethics rules in place are adequate, as long as they are followed.
“Having these boards and having other interests gives another perspective to the development and credibility of your senators,” Smith said.