Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Oversight keeps MP's pension pay from public

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OTTAWA -- Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' pension payouts haven't been publicly disclosed for nearly three years because of an oversight by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner -- which the minister did not correct.

The pension -- more than $18,000 a year owing to his years as a lawyer for Manitoba Justice -- should have been publicly reported shortly after September 2007, when he began collecting the pension.

But it wasn't made public in an updated disclosure summary the ethics commissioner's office prepared and which Toews signed in March 2009.

Tony Dittenhoffer, assistant commissioner for the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, called it an "administrative oversight" on the part of their office as Toews initially disclosed his future pension earnings from the government of Manitoba in 2006.

However, it wasn't publicly reportable at that time because he wasn't yet earning the pension. Although the Conflict of Interest Code for MPs requires MPs to report assets, liabilities, business interests and outside income to the ethics commissioner on an annual basis, the office didn't undertake an annual review of Toews' disclosures for more than 2.5 years between May 2006 and November 2008.

Dittenhoffer said during the November 2008 review, his office neglected to amend Toews' documents to reflect that his pension was no longer just future income but was being earned.

"Minister Toews returned the documents to our office without an annotation concerning the receipt of pension income. A disclosure summary was prepared by our office and signed by Mr. Toews on March 5, 2009,'' Dittenhoffer said Friday.

The source and nature of all outside income over $10,000 a year is to be disclosed publicly under the Conflict of Interest Code.

"In summary, although minister Toews could have corrected the deficiency in the documents, the office did have the information on file that pension income had been anticipated," Dittenhoffer said.

The Free Press first asked both Toews and the ethics commissioner to explain the missing pension income in June but no explanation was given. Toews' office said only that the income had been disclosed in 2006 but would not explain why it was not on the disclosure summary.

The Free Press sought answers again Thursday as to why the pension income was not in Toews' public disclosure summary and again neither Toews' office nor the ethics commissioner's office explained why the pension income was missing.

On Friday, Toews' spokesman Chris McCluksey called the Free Press story on the pension disclosure "false and misleading." He would answer no questions about the missing information, directing all questions to the ethics commissioner. Toews gave permission to the office to disclose the reasons for the missing information Friday.

Manitoba MP and former NDP ethics critic Pat Martin said it was disappointing the error wasn't noticed for nearly three years.

"No one's taking the damn disclosure very seriously if they 'fail to notice' substantial earnings," said Martin.

He said perhaps MPs should be required to file their income tax returns with the ethics commissioner to ensure all income is clearly noticed. "That would prevent these unfortunate lapses in memory," said Martin.

Democracy Watch head Duff Conacher said he has little faith in the disclosure system because Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson conducts no audits of MPs' disclosures to ensure compliance and if a breach is uncovered through a complaint, the maximum fine is a mere $500.

"If anyone in Canada parks their car illegally they have a better chance of getting caught and facing a fine than a cabinet minister who is acting unethically," Conacher said. "That is perverse."

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2010 A4

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