Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending the appointment of senior Liberal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc’s sister-in-law as Canada’s interim ethics commissioner.
“The interim ethics commissioner has been a senior official in the ethics commissioner’s office for over 10 years now. [She] first started under Stephen Harper, and has done excellent work under the previous ethics commissioner, including replacing him for stretches when he was on medical leave for some serious health problems,” Trudeau told reporters on Friday, facing questions about the choice.
“And secondly, if there is any office in the country that understands how to manage conflicts of interests and ethical perception issues, it is that office there that has always done exceptional work at ensuring the confidence of Canadians,” said Trudeau, who became the first prime minister to find himself on the wrong side of federal conflict of interest rules.
On Tuesday, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner’s office quietly announced that Martine Richard would be taking on the role as interim commissioner. Richard has been a senior staffer in the office for a decade.
Though, as The Hill Times first reported, in her previous role within the office as senior legal counsel, she had to recuse herself from involvement in at least two investigations into Liberal ethics issues, due to a perceived conflict of interest.
An ethics screen remains in place to shield Richard from any future conflict of interest, according to the government.
The Conservatives were the first to cry foul over this appointment in the House of Commons, and on Friday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre suggested in jest that the Liberals had become the “family and friends party, where they name friends, family members to protect them from accountability.”
“What I’m worried about is that Liberals are going to run out of friends and family to name to these top positions… We’ve got almost 40 million people in Canada, are you telling me we can’t find a single one that’s not either a ski buddy of the prime minister, or a sister in law of one of his ministers? Give me a break,” Poilievre said. “If you don’t laugh about it, you’ll cry.”
Appearing alongside Trudeau on Friday, Dominic LeBlanc told reporters that he did not at all participate in the process that lead to Richard’s appointment. Back in 2018 LeBlanc was found to have breached conflict of interest rules, in connection to granting an Arctic surf clam licence to a company that employed one of his wife’s 60 first cousins.
Arguing at the time that he did not have a close relationship with the family member in question, LeBlanc said he “obviously didn’t think that this was caught by the definition of relative or family in the act.”
Richard is set to hold the role for six months, while “an open, transparent and merit-based selection process” gets underway to name the next permanent ethics watchdog following Dion’s February retirement.