UNIT 05: THE WAR AGAINST CORRUPTION – ETHICS CODES AND
MINISTERIAL RESPONSIBILITY OBJECTIVES:
After completing this unit, you should be able to:
• explain how governments in Canada approach the issue of corruption
• assess the adequacy of the Codes of Conduct for MPs and ministers
• analyze the doctrine of ministerial responsibility.
Canada, as we are discovering is not immune to scandals. Corruption is ever-present, if
not all-pervasive. In a better world, politicians and bureaucrats would be scrupulously
honest and there would be no need for laws or ethics codes or sanctions for transgressors.
In our imperfect world, however, governments struggle to write rules and to devise
means to ensure compliance. We will look this week at the ways that governments try to
curb corruption. Specifically, what is the federal government, in particular, doing to keep
Canadian politics clean?
There is no one way to deal with corruption. Some of the more blatant offences are dealt
with under the federal Criminal Code. These include fraud, theft, bribery, accepting an
advantage or benefit, and breach of trust. Other forms of corruption are dealt with under
various codes, rules and guidelines drawn up by governments and adopted by Parliament
and provincial legislatures.
But even the most comprehensive system of laws and rules cannot eliminate corrupt
behaviour when individuals ignore these laws and rules – and when supervisors do not
conscientiously monitor the conduct of the people who report to them. That’s what
happened in the case of the Sponsorship scandal. The rules were in place, but they were
Created after the near defeat of federalism in the Quebec referendum of 1995, the
Sponsorship program was conceived to raise the recognition level of the federal
government (and to increase appreciation of its good deeds) in the provinces, especially
in Quebec. The program, which eventually grew to $332-million, sponsored fairs and
festivals, artistic and sporting events (everything from auto races to ice-fishing derbies)
and a whole range of cultural activities. Events that received sponsorship funds were
expected to give credit to the federal government, fly Canadian flags and invite cabinet
ministers or other federal dignitaries to preside over the activities. A great deal of
Sponsorship money was also used to finance pro-Canada advertising campaigns in
In theory, the Sponsorship program was the responsibility of the Minister and Deputy
Minister of Public Works (the federal department that oversees advertising contracts). In fact, the Sponsorship program was treated differently from other programs. It was run out
of the Prime Minister’s Office by the PM’s chief of staff and other senior officials. The
administrators in Public Works had no say in what the money was spent on or who
received it. They and their minister did what the powerful PMO told them to do. With no
true administrative oversight, spending decisions were made on a purely partisan basis.
Abuses were bound to occur, and they did.
Stepping back for a moment from the Sponsorship scandal, let’s look at what
Parliament has been doing in the war against corruption. It has taken a three-
1. Adoption of Rules – Codes of ethics.
For an account of the long, slow history of the
development of conflict-of-interest rules for MPs, see the article by Margaret Young of
the Research Branch of the Parliamentary Library in Unit 05 of the e-Reader.
Eventually, Parliament did adopt a Conflict of Interest Code for members of Parliament,
which includes Rules of Conduct for MPs. The code and rules will be found in the e-
Reader in Unit 05. Also in the e-Reader is a somewhat more stringent set of rules called
the Code for Public Office Holders. Known informally as the Prime Minister’s Code,
these rules govern cabinet ministers and senior officials (including heads of agencies,
ambassadors, etc.) There’s a separate set of conflict of interest rules for senators; it is
similar to the rules for MPs. Looking ahead to Unit 09, there is also a Code of Conduct
Video 5.1: Parliament has adopted a “Code for Public Office Holders,” informally
known as the “Prime Minister’s Code.” What type of conduct does it seek to
address? How does the Code work and is it effective?
2. Registration (disclosure of interests):
MPs and ministers are required to report or
register their financial holdings and interests. They are also required to disclose the
holdings of their spouses and dependent children, a provision that is an ongoing source of
contention, particularly among spouses.
Summaries of these disclosures are available for public examination. Cabinet ministers
face a more onerous reporting requirement than ordinary MPs.
The Lobbyists’ Registration Act, now renamed the Lobbying Act, requires lobbyists to
register details of their activities, including the identity of their clients, the subjects or
issues on which they are lobbying, who in the government they are dealing with, and so
on. The principle is that, just as members of the public are entitled to know about
potential conflicts among their elected representatives, they are entitled to know what the
lobbyists – who try to influence elected representatives – are up to.
The best rules in