It's an ethical minefield out there. Just ask Heritage Minister Shelly Glover.
Manitoba's senior government MP and cabinet minister will likely spend most of this week fending off allegations of ethical misconduct over an unusual political fundraising event held last week in her home riding of Saint Boniface.
The Conservative Electoral District Association (EDA) of Saint Boniface held a reception on Jan. 16 designed to give "members of the Winnipeg arts community" and representatives of organizations that have "had dealings" with the Department of Canadian Heritage a chance to meet and talk with Glover. Attendees were asked to make a political donation of $50 each for the honour of schmoozing with the minister.
In total, the event raised $1,200. One guest reportedly donated an additional $500.
The ugly truth is that this is just another in a long list of misdeeds produced by the dysfunctional ethical barometer that guides many of our federal politicians
By Saturday, however, Glover's office was in full retreat. Concerned the event could have been construed as a deliberate effort to sell access to a government minister, a spokesman indicated the donations had been returned. Furthermore, details of the event and the decision to return the money had been reported to the federal ethics commissioner.
In a statement released on Saturday, Glover said she was not aware the event was populated with representatives of arts and cultural organizations, many of whom had asked for or received money from her department. "Given the fact that some of the attendees have dealings with the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Minister decided that any conflicts of interest -- real or apparent -- must not occur," the statement said.
Was this actually a bid to wring money out of individuals and groups who are either partly or wholly dependent on funding provided by Glover's department? In this instance, it seems the fundraiser is better characterized as a brain fart emitted by an addled mind in her riding association.
Glover moved quickly to denounce the event and return the money, which is about all you can ask a politician to do after the event in question had transpired. However, that does not mean the matter should be closed.
With all due respect to the staff who produced the statement on Glover's behalf, this was not an "apparent" conflict of interest. Any time a minister connects a political donation to any event built around the business of his or her ministry, it's a real conflict of interest.
The ugly truth is this is just another in a long list of misdeeds produced by the dysfunctional ethical barometer that guides many of our federal politicians. Even in Ottawa, you can hardly point a finger solely at the Conservatives when crimes against ethics are recounted.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has been dogged by revelations he continued to earn fees as a public speaker after he was elected to the House of Commons in 2008. Since becoming an elected public servant, Trudeau has charged charities and other non-profit entities $277,000.
The story saw new life last week when Trudeau admitted he had improperly claimed $840 in government travel expenses during trips to make paid public appearances.
While embarrassing, the travel expense admission is not the central concern here. Trudeau has done a horrible job of explaining how he could ethically justify charging fees for public appearances when he was a paid elected official. Even though he is not a member of the government, those fees seem profoundly inappropriate for a man who leads an opposition party and one day wants to head up the government.
Looking once again at Glover's mess, it's important to remember federal cabinet ministers have been mixing government and partisan business for as long as anyone can remember. That's not a mitigating fact, just context for judging Glover.
It is a tradition in this country, practised by Tories and Grits alike, that when a federal minister travels on government business, they also attend partisan events on evenings and weekends. The travel itineraries for some ministers are so jammed with party events, it challenges the notion government business was the real reason the trip was undertaken in the first place.
And if we are going to be really honest here, we'd have to admit registered political parties regularly sell access to federal politicians, including the prime minister, when they need to raise money.
Every prime minister up to and including Stephen Harper has hosted receptions and dinners -- where access to the politician is a central focus of the menu -- to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for party war chests. Individuals, corporations and not-for-profit organizations that do business with the federal government buy entire tables at these events so they can see the politician and be seen as supportive.
These events don't specifically seek to put interested parties dependent on any one ministry together with the minister, but it is essentially the same transaction.
Glover will likely survive this latest gaffe. And her EDA has no doubt learned its lesson.
Next time her Saint Boniface riding organizers organize a fundraiser, access to the minister will still be on the menu. However, the guest list will no doubt be much more generic and less focused on any one group or constituency.
I guess that's progress.