Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 15/7/2010 (4214 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has not disclosed $18,000 in annual pension payments as required by law in a conflict-of-interest declaration for the public registry he personally signed.
The Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons requires all MPs to disclose assets, liabilities and sources of income over $1,000 outside their MP salary. If they earn income over $10,000, that fact is to be made public in a disclosure summary posted on the ethics commissioner's website. There is no pension income listed in Toews' most recent summary he signed on March 5, 2009. All MPs are required to review and sign the annual summaries before they are made public. Toews' office insists he made the disclosure although it has never appeared on the summaries made available to the public over the past four years.
There are 48 MPs from all political parties who have pension income listed in their disclosure summaries.
Documents obtained by the Free Press show Manitoba's senior federal cabinet minister has been earning the pension since 2007.
In an affidavit filed in Manitoba court April 10, 2010, Toews acknowledges earning $18,267.84 a year from the Manitoba Civil Service Superannuation Board. Those pension payments began when he turned 55 in September 2007.
Also included in court documents is an email Toews wrote to his lawyer in May 2007. In that email, Toews indicates he had not disclosed to the ethics commissioner the pension he was about to start receiving or a condo his wife owned in Gatineau, Que.
When the Free Press asked about that email in June, Christine Csversko, Toews' director of communications said "the email is not accurate."
Ethics have been a key flashpoint on Parliament Hill since the sponsorship scandal helped lead to the defeat of Paul Martin's Liberal government. The Harper Tories came to power largely on a promise to raise the ethical bar of the country's federal politicians by introducing a new era of accountability and transparency.
The Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons has been in place since 2004 and is intended to enhance public confidence in both MPs and Parliament, demonstrate to the public that MPs are held to standards that place the public interest above their personal interests and provide a transparent system for the public to judge whether or not that is true.
Each year, MPs must disclose to the commissioner assets and liabilities, including outside income over $1,000, property, businesses, investments, and debts such as loans, mortgages and credit card debt. Only certain things are made public, such as the existence and source for mortgages and loans, businesses owned by the MP and outside income over $10,000 annually.
A spokeswoman with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner told the Free Press via email Thursday "income over $1,000 received in last 12 months and during the next 12 months must be disclosed to our office. It is only made public (source and nature, no value) if the income is over $10,000."
Margot Booth, manager of communications for the ethics commissioner's office, said she could not comment specifically on Toews' situation other than to say a misunderstanding or administrative error could explain why information was missing on the public registry.
Toews' spokesman, Chris McCluskey, said he has confirmed with the Office of the Ethics Commissioner that Toews "disclosed the existence of Government of Manitoba pension income in 2006."
McCluskey did not respond Thursday when asked to explain why the pension income is not on any disclosure summary.
All that is contained on the latest summary for Toews dated March 5, 2009, are two blind trusts. According to Toews' 2006 disclosure summary, those include an RSP and an investment account.
Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin -- his party's former ethics critic -- said the way the code works means if an MP doesn't properly disclose something, it is very difficult for anyone, particularly the public, to figure that out.
"It's strictly an honour system and the room for abuse is huge," said Martin.
He said cabinet ministers in particular should be stellar about following the code to the letter.
"Cabinet ministers, of all people, have to set the standard," said Martin.
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Martin noted there has been a lot of criticism of politicians who draw a government pension while receiving a government salary for a different job, known as double-dipping.
According to a Canadian Press story earlier this week, 31 of the 48 MPs with publicly disclosed pension income, earn that income from government, including Manitoba Liberal MP Anita Neville. Manitoba Conservative MP Inky Mark reports a pension that comes from the Manitoba Teachers' Society.
Some, however, choose to forgo their pension income because of the controversy of double-dipping. Manitoba NDP MP Jim Maloway and former NDP MP and now-Winnipeg mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis are among them.
Maloway said he's giving up $30,000 a year in pension income from his 22 years as a Manitoba MLA, but he said he's doing it because "it's the right thing to do."
"I just feel like we're making a fairly good compensation as MPs so if you don't need it, why take it," said Maloway.