The good news is that Alberta has a Conflicts of Interest Act (coming in a future blog, Alberta’s Whistleblower Act and how it’s also full of holes). The bad news is that the definition of “conflict of interest” is either so thin you could put it in a razor and shave with it, or a loop hole so large you could store school portables in it.
Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, one of the Officers of the Legislature who found their budget cut in December, while clearing him of formal wrongdoing, released as scathing a report on the election tactics of Education Minister Gordon Dirks as Alberta’s conflict of interest legislation allows her.
Not many punches pulled. Was the Minister’s announcement of portables for a school in his riding political opportunism? Sure. Would the commissioner have told him not to do it if he had bothered to seek her counsel? You bet. Will be legislation be changed to prevent this sort of thing in the future? Not a chance.
— Jamie Post (@Jamie_Post) October 27, 2014
Saskatchewan and Manitoba both place restrictions on the use of Government resources as a campaign tool during general elections and by-elections. While the Premier was promising to “restore faith” with this fall’s Accountability Act, his government rejected proposed amendments which would have prevented government Ministers and MLAs from wielding government dollars and promises like someone waving an election sign at a busy intersection.
In fall of 2013, the Conflicts of Interest Act went before committee for review. The result was superficial, with recommendations such as changes to the definition of ‘private interest’, the ability to sanction members who don’t cooperate with the ethics commissioner and for the commissioner to instigate investigations on his/her own, being rejected.
The NDP, in their minority report to the committee, addressed the issue of ‘private interest’, at that time in regards to the inquiry into lobbying efforts of the MLA for Edmonton-Manning:
The Officers of the Legislature, who have had their budgets cut for the coming year, can find, highlight and point out poor behaviour by those in power and the abuse or mismanagement of resources. But they have little in the way of legislative tools to hold government to account and institute change. Only the voters can do that. So I’ll ask you, my fellow electors, when can we change the way things are done in this province? The more things don’t change, the more they stay same. And with a lessened opposition, difficult freedom of information legislature to use and navigate, and reduced funding to the legislative officers, the less we’re likely to even know about.