PM defends appointment of cabinet minister's sister-in-law to top ethics post

·3 min read
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending the appointment of Martine Richard, the sister-in-law of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, as interim ethics commissioner. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending the appointment of Martine Richard, the sister-in-law of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, as interim ethics commissioner. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending the appointment of a relative of one of his cabinet ministers as the government's top ethics watchdog.

Opposition parties slammed the government Thursday over the fact that Martine Richard, who became interim conflict of interest and ethics commissioner earlier this week, is the sister-in-law of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

Richard took up the interim post after former commissioner Mario Dion announced his retirement last month, citing persistent health issues.

On Friday, Trudeau pointed to Richard's previous experience in the office to defend her appointment.

"It's important to understand that the interim ethics commissioner has been a senior official in the Ethics Commissioner's Office for over 10 years now, first started under Stephen Harper, and has done excellent work under the previous ethics commissioner," Trudeau told a news conference, adding that Richard stepped up when Dion was on medical leave.

WATCH Trudeau defends cabinet minister's sister-in-law appointment to top ethics post 

Trudeau said the office knows how to avoid impropriety.

"If there's any office in the country that understands how to manage conflicts of interest and ethical perception issues, it is that office there that has always done exceptional work at ensuring the confidence of Canadians," he said.

"From the very beginning, there were already measures in place to ensure that the work is done professionally and without conflicts, given the connections."'

A spokesperson for the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner said there are measures in place to guard against any conflict of interest involving Richard and LeBlanc.

"Since she joined the office, Ms. Richard has always had a conflict of interest screen in place for any matters related to her brother-in-law Minister Dominic LeBlanc," the spokesperson said in an email statement.

"A screen is put in place once a potential conflicts of interest has been identified. Unlike a recusal, a screen is a preventative measure to shield the person from becoming aware of a situation that would place them in a potential conflict."

The statement said responsibility for the appointment rests with the Privy Council Office (PCO).

An online posting for the position says review of applications will start on May 23, 2023.

LeBlanc, who was also at the news conference, said in French that he did not participate in the selection process and recused himself from any government discussions on the matter.

The office has found both Trudeau and LeBlanc in violation of the Conflict of Interest Act — Trudeau twice and LeBlanc once.

Just prior to his retirement, Dion recommended enhanced training and education for senior government officials, citing repeated conflict of interest and ethics violations over the past five years.

Trudeau alluded to Dion's reports on his government.

"I will highlight as well that the work that the previous ethics commissioner did, in which the current interim commissioner was a close part of, was certainly, very clearly, doing its job in rigorous ways," Trudeau said.

Liberals are party of 'family and friends': Poilievre

On his way into question period Friday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre raked Trudeau over his government's ethics violations, mentioning Trudeau and LeBlanc's contraventions of the Conflict of Interest Act.

"Maybe they can talk about Liberal ethics violations around the Christmas table while they're eating turkey dinner as family members," Poilievre said of LeBlanc and Richard.

The Conservatives have attacked Trudeau over his appointment earlier this month of former governor general David Johnston to the new role of special rapporteur on foreign interference. They've cited Johnston's former position as a member of the Trudeau Foundation's board of directors and Johnston's friendship with the Trudeau family.

Poilievre also called Paul Rouleau, the former commissioner of the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) that looked into the self-styled Freedom Convoy protests, a "Liberal staffer." Rouleau worked for former Liberal leader and former prime minister John Turner in 1980s.

Poilievre said the Liberals have become the party of "family and friends."

"What I'm worried about is that Liberals are going to run out of friends and family to name to these top positions," he said Friday.