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Flaherty in conflict: watchdog

Minister sent letter backing radio station

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OTTAWA -- The federal ethics commissioner says Finance Minister Jim Flaherty broke the rules by supporting the radio licence application of a company in his riding.

Mary Dawson has ordered Flaherty to refrain from writing such letters of support without first seeking permission from her office.

Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair responded by asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper to investigate Flaherty's letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, saying this surely "requires action on your part."

Flaherty and the Prime Minister's Office have said the veteran cabinet member was merely helping a firm in his riding -- as any MP should -- by sending a letter to the CRTC, the federal broadcast regulator, backing Durham Radio Inc.'s licence bid.

In her order made public Friday, Dawson said Flaherty violated the Conflict of Interest Act -- the law governing ethical conduct of cabinet members -- as well as federal accountability guidelines for ministers.

"It is improper for you, as minister of finance and minister responsible for the Greater Toronto Area, to have written a letter of support on behalf of a constituent to an administrative tribunal in relation to its decision-making," Dawson wrote in the order.

"I therefore order you to refrain from writing any similar letters in the future without seeking approval from my office."

Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act prohibits ministers from using their position to try to sway decisions when doing so would improperly advance another person's private interests.

Guidelines issued by the Prime Minister's Office say cabinet members should not intervene in licence decisions of tribunals such as the CRTC.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 A22

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