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This article was published 24/10/2011 (3866 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- The federal ethics watchdog is looking into conflict-of-interest complaints against some Tory MPs, which have the potential to scupper the Harper government's plans to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board.
Both the NDP and Liberals have written Mary Dawson alleging a number of Conservative MPs are involved in grain farming and therefore stand to personally benefit from elimination of the board's marketing monopoly on wheat and barley.
As a result, the opposition parties say, those MPs should not be allowed to debate or vote on the measure.
New Democrat MP Pat Martin said Monday he's identified at least seven Tories who are, in his opinion, clearly in a conflict of interest. Two more may be in conflict.
And he said there are likely more who would indirectly benefit from ending the wheat board monopoly, which the Tories maintain will result in western farmers being paid higher prices for their crops.
"These (seven) are just the people that are directly putting seeds in their ground and harvesting grain. Other people that are peripherally associated with the grain industry or their families have to recuse themselves," Martin said.
If 11 or more Conservatives were forced to recuse themselves, the government would no longer have majority support for dismantling the board. The opposition parties oppose the move.
Under the conflict-of-interest code for members of Parliament, MPs are not supposed to debate or vote on a question in which he or she has "a private interest." Furthering one's private interest is described as an action that increases or preserves the value of an MP's assets or increases an MP's income.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz dismissed the opposition complaints, noting the code also provides an exemption on issues of broad, general application. "Using this ridiculous analogy is equivalent to saying a taxpayer cannot vote on a budget because it decreases the taxes they pay," Ritz said in comments issued by his office.
"Our party will be standing up and voting as the only party that truly represents Western Canada. We will be voting to give farmers the marketing freedom they want and deserve -- the same freedom that farmers enjoy in Ontario."
However, the matter did not seem so immediately cut and dried to the independent ethics commissioner, who received a complaint from the Liberals on Friday and the NDP on Monday.
Jocelyne Brisbois, a spokeswoman for Dawson, said the watchdog "is considering whether the bill with respect to the Canadian Wheat Board's role in marketing grain for farmers is a matter of general application."
Martin said a bill that applies only to western grain farmers can't be classified as having a general application.
-- The Canadian Press