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Ethics commissioner should release report on PMO’s dealings with Barrick Gold

CBC reports, “Stephen Harper’s chief of staff still enjoys the full confidence of the prime minister following revelations he wrote a $90,000 cheque to cover living expenses claimed by Senator Mike Duffy, Harper’s office said today. …Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s spokesman, said the Prime Minister’s Office will ‘co-operate fully’ with the parliamentary ethics officer who is (now) examining whether Wright was in violation of the Conflict of Interest Act when he wrote a personal cheque for Duffy.”

The Hill Times adds, “Conflict of Interest Commissioner Mary Dawson has begun inquiring into the affair directly with Mr. Harper’s office, and most likely chief of staff Nigel Wright, after CTV disclosed on Wednesday that Mr. Wright wrote a personal cheque for more than $90,000 to Sen. Duffy the money after negotiations last February, before a Deloitte audit on his expense claims and ineligible expense claims by Senator Patrick Brazeau and Senator Mac Harb, was released.”

And the Globe and Mail notes, “Rob Walsh, who served for 12 years as the law clerk and parliamentary counsel until his retirement last year, said the government can’t simply brush aside Mr. Wright’s actions. ‘It really is quite appalling and there should be a full accounting made by the Prime Minister’s Office and by Mr. Duffy,’ he said. Mr. Walsh served as the non-partisan guide to Parliament in ethics-related investigations under both Liberal and Conservative governments. He said what makes the situation a serious matter is the suggestion that the Prime Minister’s Office apparently interfered with the Senate investigation of Mr. Duffy’s expenses. ‘This looks like a cover-up’, he said.”

Previous ethics investigation discontinued without a report
The CBC report also mentions, “Last year, (Wright) was reviewed (by the parliamentary ethics officer) because he had been lobbied by Barrick Gold three times while working in the Prime Minister’s Office. Wright is friends with Barrick Gold founder Peter Munk, and his son, Anthony, who worked with Wright at Onex.”

In August 2012, Harper helped block a resolution at a Summit of the Americas meeting on Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands. Barrick Gold was reportedly concerned by this because they believed it would make it harder for them to obtain outstanding permits for the Pascua Lama mine from the Argentine government.

The Canadian Press reported, “Pointed questions are beginning to swirl around (Wright) and whether he used his position to further the financial interests of (his) friends at Barrick Gold Corp. Dawson is following up with Wright after the disclosure that he was lobbied twice by Barrick, the world’s largest gold producer, in May. …According to a report summary filed by Barrick with the federal lobbying commissioner, someone from the company — the report does not identify who — contacted Wright on May 14 to discuss international relations and international trade. Nine days later, a second report indicates, Barrick talked to Wright again on the same subject matter — this time along with Harper’s foreign policy adviser, Andrea van Vugt, and his principal secretary, Ray Novak, who is Harper’s point man on government-to-government relations.”

In September, the ethics commissioner began a formal conflict of interest examination of Wright with respect to his dealings with Barrick Gold. In late-November, Postmedia News reported, “At issue is whether Wright acted improperly in connection with lobbying activities made by Barrick Gold Corp.”

But today’s CBC report notes, “On Wednesday, the ethics commissioner’s office told CBC News that Dawson has discontinued her examination of Wright and Barrick Gold because ‘she no longer had reason to believe that Mr. Wright had contravened the Conflict of Interest Act. She did not issue a report.'”

Earlier this month, Democracy Watch stated, “The Ethics Commissioner is a major part of the problem with ethics enforcement – since 2007 she has rejected at least 80 complaints filed with her without issuing a public ruling (it could be more as she did not disclose the total number of complaints she received in 2008-2009 nor in 2010-2011). She has received complaints about, or become aware of, at total of at least 100 situations, but has only issued 17 public rulings.”

In light of all of this, there is reason to still be concerned about Wright’s actions with respect to Barrick Gold. The Council of Canadians is calling on Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to continue her investigation of Wright’s dealings with Barrick Gold or at the very least issue a full public report on the matter.

For more, please read:
UPDATE: Did Harper’s chief of staff lobby for Barrick Gold?
NEWS: Chile fines Barrick Gold $250,000 for violations by its Pascua Lama mine
NEWS: Chilean court halts Pascua Lama mine