MPs not diligent enough in reporting gifts they receive: ethics czar

·Politics Reporter

It seems that our members of parliament are a little lax when it comes to following disclosure rules surrounding gifts they receive.

Under parliamentary ethics rules, all gifts — no matter what the value — must pass the 'acceptability test' which states that acceptance of the gift must be determined solely on the basis of whether it could be reasonably seen to have been given to influence the member. Gifts or other advantages that pass the 'acceptability test' must be disclosed to the ethics office and publicly declared when they are valued at $500 or more.

But, according to House of Commons ethics czar, Mary Dawson, MPs aren't being as diligent as they should be.

For starters, Dawson says that there is a persistent misconception among MPs that as long as the gift is under $500, it's okay to accept it.

"As I have said on numerous occasions in my annual reports ... the monetary value is not the determining factor as to whether or not a member may accept a gift or other benefit," Dawson said according to the Canadian Press.

In her annual report, released Thursday, Dawson recommends that parliament slash the disclosure limit on gifts to $30.

"I have come to the conclusion that, in the case of the Code, the best way to deal with gifts and other benefits would be to significantly lower the threshold for public declaration. All acceptable gifts above this threshold would be publicly declared," she said.

"I believe that by doing so, Members would pay more attention to the question of whether or not gifts that they receive are acceptable."

This is not the first time Dawson has voiced her frustration about noncompliance on the part of the MPs.

Last December, Dawson — who calls the current rules an "honour system" — said she'd like to tighten the rules around the gifts MPs receive, saying politicians don't always seem to understand the principles involved.

According to a CBC News article from December, a review of some of the top ministers showed very few declarations.

In the last three years, Defence Minister Peter MacKay has registered only CFL tickets and a baseball autographed by Joe Di Maggio. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty hasn't registered a gift in almost two years and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird only declared one item.

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice said it's time to change the law.

"We know that they are receiving lots of gifts but we cannot track them," he told CBC.

"There is no obligation for them to register anything."

The law should change, but don't expect MPs to be too enthusiastic about it.

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