June 17, 2005, NDP Calls For Resignation Of Ethics Commissioner
Macleans:June 17, 2005 - 14:53
NDP to call for resignation of "incompetent" ethics commissioner
OTTAWA (CP) - Parliament's independent ethics watchdog is an incompetent "wet noodle" who should be replaced, critics say.
Bernard Shapiro, named ethics czar by the Liberals last year, has been asked in recent months to look into at least two cases of alleged conflict in the Liberal cabinet.
He has not released final reports in either case, and has been cast by the opposition as a bumbling foot-dragger.
Now, the NDP says Shapiro has declined to expand an inquiry into the controversial Grewal tapes affair to include the prime minister.
They have demanded an explanation, and MP Ed Broadbent says he will formally call for Shapiro's resignation next week.
Conservative deputy leader Peter MacKay threw his weight behind the growing push to oust the commissioner.
"Mr. Shapiro seems to be demonstrating daily that he's just as anemic as his predecessor," MacKay said Friday outside the Commons.
"He's a wet noodle on this issue," he said of the ethics commissioner's probe of secretly recorded discussions between Tory MP Gurmant Grewal and Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, the prime minister's top aide.
"And yes, I think (Shapiro) should resign. I think we should have someone there who's competent, independent and prepared to hold to account government officials that were involved in what appears to be a vote-buying exercise in return for cabinet positions."
No one from Shapiro's office was immediately available.
But a spokesman for the prime minister brushed off calls for Shapiro's dismissal.
"Mr. Shapiro is an officer of Parliament," said Scott Reid. "If we were to excuse these officers every time they made a decision one politician or another disagreed with, we'd defeat the purpose of independent officers altogether."
But disdain for Shapiro's performance is not limited to opposition MPs.
Duff Conacher, spokesman for the public interest group Democracy Watch, is even more critical.
"I think it's generous to say incompetence when it amounts to bias."
The group plans to press Shapiro to step aside while his work over the last year is independently reviewed. If he refuses, Democracy Watch will ask a court to order such a probe by the end of July, Conacher said.
He has repeatedly assailed Shapiro for appointing Borden Ladner Gervais, a law firm with close Liberal ties, to investigate allegations that former Immigration Minister Judy Sgro was in conflicts of interest.
She resigned in January to clear her name. But Shapiro, citing various delays and legal snags, has still not released his final report.
Conacher says Shapiro has shown a disturbing tendency to protect public officials rather than investigate legitimate complaints of rule-breaking.
Shapiro has also been asked to probe the propriety of negotiations about Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal's possible support for the Liberals in exchange for plum jobs for him and his Tory MP wife, Nina.
Grewal went on stress leave after his secret tapes became public. He made headlines again earlier this month when he was spotted at a Vancouver airport trying to get additional tapes delivered to Ottawa in a hurry.
The RCMP has cleared him of wrongdoing in the airport incident.
Cpl. Dave Williams says the Mounties never launched a full-scale investigation because Grewal had cleared airport security before his actions drew attention.
"It was a safety concern for the airline, but once everybody goes through security - and he was on the secure side - you can exchange packages as long as everybody knows what's in the package.
"If we found out that it had come in from a non-secure method, we may have been involved," Williams said from Richmond, B.C. "But we had no evidence to even suggest that."
Transport Canada has also cleared Grewal in the airport incident. Air Canada is still conducting its own investigation.
Debate was raging at the time of the airport incident over the authenticity of the tapes. Several audio experts concluded that the recordings had been altered before being made public.