Queen’s Park politicians want ‘gaping loophole’ on gift-giving closed

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Ontario politicians call for an overhaul of the Members Integrity Act to close loopholes
WATCH ABOVE: Politicians at Queen’s Park are calling on the Ford government to overhaul the Members Integrity Act to close a loophole of influence. Global News’ Queen’s Park Bureau Chief Colin D’Mello reports – Mar 20, 2023

Politicians at Queen’s Park are calling on the Ford government to overhaul the Members’ Integrity Act and eliminate a “gaping loophole” that allows family members of MPPs to receive gifts from those looking to influence government policy.

The calls for change are related to an ongoing probe by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner into a stag and doe party at Premier Doug Ford‘s home in August, which was attended by developers and intended to raise money ahead of his daughter’s wedding.

While Ford acknowledged that the price of entry to the stag and doe was $150 per ticket, the premier denied receiving any of the funds directly and denied any knowledge of gifts being given to his daughter and son-in-law.

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In a letter to the premier, dated Jan 31, 2023, the Integrity Commissioner accepted Ford’s version of events and indicated that the family fundraiser technically didn’t violate the province’s ethics rules governing MPPs.

“The gift provisions in the Act pertain to gifts or benefits received by MPPs that are connected with the performance of their duties of Office,” Commissioner J. David Wake told the premier in the letter.

“As such, the gift rule is not applicable to any gifts received by your daughter and son in-law at the wedding or at the stag and doe.”

In an interim report into his stag-and-doe probe, the commissioner called the current laws on gifts “very specific” and restricted only to elected officials.

“The gift rule in section 6 of the Act is very specific,” Wake wrote. “It applies only to the member who receives the gift. It does not apply to gifts received from third parties to an adult child of the member or her spouse.”

“Even the definition of ‘family’ in the Act is restricted to the member, the member’s spouse and minor children,” the report states.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles called it a “massive, gaping loophole” that needs to be addressed.

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“I think that for Ontarians, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Stiles told reporters at Queen’s Park. “There’s a loophole there, if family members can profit from government decisions.”

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the province’s rules should be tightened to include adult children of politicians.

“Any reasonable person would think if a family member benefits from a member’s relationship with people who do business with government, that’s wrong,” Fraser said.

In fact, the Integrity Commissioner’s own guidance on how to interpret the gift rule seems to indicate a narrower view of what’s allowed under the Member’s Integrity Act.

“MPPs should avoid circumstances where a reasonable person might conclude that a gift or benefit was given with an intention to influence them in carrying out their duties,” the commissioner’s website states.

The provincial law also states that MPPs are expected to “act with integrity and impartiality that will bear the closest scrutiny.”

A spokesperson for Ford said the premier’s office had “no intention of getting involved in the private lives of family members, including birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings or any other special celebration.”

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Wake’s interim report also sparked concerns of a new gift-giving precedent at Queen’s Park as stakeholders look to influence government officials.

Duff Conacher, founder of Democracy Watch, previously said the commissioner’s application of the gift rules essentially creates the loophole and renders the law “ineffective.”

“Just don’t buy off the politicians themselves, buy off the party or their relatives, or their sons or daughters who are adults and you’ll be fine,” Conacher told Global News.

“It just doesn’t make sense.”

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