Canada’s former ambassador to China will not face a federal ethics probe into his joining mining giant Rio Tinto while finishing his diplomatic posting.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s office confirmed to Global News Monday that Dominic Barton, who served as Ottawa’s man in Beijing from Sept. 2019 until last month, will not face an investigation over accepting a job on Rio Tinto’s board.
“(Barton) did not have direct and significant dealings with Rio Tinto while he was Canada’s Ambassador in China. This was discussed with the commissioner prior to Mr. Barton’s pursuit of employment,” wrote Melanie Rushworth, a spokesperson for Dion’s office in a statement to Global News.
Rushworth said Barton, a former chief executive of international consulting firm McKinsey, contacted Dion’s office in October 2021 to “seek specific guidance in respect of post-employment pursuits.” Barton disclosed an Oct. 8 meeting with representatives from Rio Tinto at that time.
“Based on the information provided, Commissioner Dion determined Mr. Barton would not contravene (ethics rules) by accepting a position on the board of directors of Rio Tinto … As such, no examination will be undertaken based upon Mr. Barton’s actions prior to accepting the position,” Rushworth said.
Barton, who developed close ties in China through his business career, surprised observers in December when he announced he’d be stepping down after just two years in the key diplomatic job.
At the time, Barton said he worked to ease tensions with Beijing during his tenure, and cited the return of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — who had been detained by Chinese authorities since late 2018 — as the fulfillment of a key mission given to him by Prime Minister Justin Trudeu.
Just weeks after his announcement, Barton’s name was floated in the international press as a potential successor to Rio Tinto’s outgoing chairman, Simon Thompson. On Dec. 19, the mining multinational made his appointment official.
More than half of Rio Tinto’s revenue comes from China, where the Anglo-Australian miner sells a significant amount of iron ore for the country’s steel mills. The opposition New Democrats called on Dion to investigate Barton’s appointment in December.
But Dion’s office found that Barton’s Oct. 8 meeting with Rio Tinto executives did not amount to “direct and significant official dealings” with the miner while he held the ambassadorial post.
“Upon determination that this meeting was not significant within the meaning of the Act, no other follow-up on this meeting was needed with (Dion’s office) before Mr. Barton’s acceptance of the offer of employment,” Rushworth said in a statement.