There is time, and then there is Ottawa time. It can be tabulated by phases of the moon. I know a branch of government, Archives Canada, that takes six weeks to make a photocopy. Delivery in three weeks is called “rush service.” I’m not making this up.
Yet even in The Land Where Time Stood Still, a new standard of inertia has been achieved by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson. She recently cited Industry Minister Christian Paradis for violating the Conflict of Interest Act, but this was not startling; Paradis is quite a character. His misconduct had already been documented by enterprising reporters and the Commons’ Committee on Government Operations. More interesting was the fact it took Dawson almost two years to crack the case.
The timeline of the commissioner’s investigation reads like a panda chewing bamboo leaves very, very s—l—o—w—l—y. Dawson spelled it out in a 26-page report:
- June 3, 2010, she receives a complaint Paradis improperly used his office to help ex-MP Rahim Jaffer pitch solar panels to the Department of Public Works;
- June 18, she notifies Paradis he is under investigation;
- July 23, Paradis’ lawyer responds in writing to the complaint;
- October 25, she talks with Paradis in person for the first time.
So, to summarize: on receiving a complaint Dawson spent two weeks plotting her course of action, then took almost five months to interview the subject of her investigation. As Dawson put it later, “It’s just that it takes time; sometimes you’re over a summer or something.”
On the day Dawson released her report—we’ll call it Day 1—I asked her office, what took so long? I waited all day for the phone to ring, until supper was cold.
The saga continued:
- Through 2010-11 Dawson assigns two investigators to interview 21 witnesses;
- March 22, 2012 she publishes a final report concluding Paradis acted improperly.
To summarize once more: in twice the time it took to conduct the Nuremberg Trials, the ethics commissioner armed with subpoena powers, a $7-million budget and full staff of 50 mandated to look into jiggery-pokery at Public Works took 21 months to interview 21 people, most of whom were government employees compelled to co-operate anyhow.
Day 4: I wait for Dawson’s office to call. How many hours were actually spent on the Paradis probe, I asked. The phone was silent.
Day 5: I encounter Commissioner Dawson at a chance scrum: “I’ve asked your office for that number. Can I ask you for that as an undertaking?” “Oh, my goodness,” she says; “Yes, we’ll figure that out.”
Dawson, appearing before a Commons committee on an unrelated matter, was subjected to pointed cross-examination by New Democrat MP Charlie Angus:
DAWSON: “That is the longest investigation that we’ve had to date.”
ANGUS: “It’s the first time we have a sitting Cabinet minister who has been found in breach of the law … I’m concerned about the delays and the stalling … If we had managed to get this settled in a timely manner, do you think that Canadians would have been better represented?”
DAWSON: “I really can’t comment.”
Later, Angus fumed to reporters. “There’s an issue of accountability to the Canadian people here,” he said.
Angus noted in the time it took investigators to saunter through the Conflict of Interest Act, Paradis was re-elected in Mégantic–L’Érable and reappointed to Cabinet.
“I think Canadians have been let down,” Angus continued. “We need better turnaround time; people are watching.”
Day 6: A message from the Commissioner’s Office! “It is important to keep in mind that the length of time an investigation takes is a function of its complexity,” an aide writes. Yes, I reply—but how many hours were spent on the investigation?
Day 7: The phone is silent. Baseball season is underway. The Tigers look good this year.
Day 8: The commissioner’s office again: “I think it would be helpful if you could articulate just what it is you are trying to get at,” an aide writes. Santa Maria! I reply, who takes 21 months to talk to 21 people?
Day 9: Phone silence recommences.
Day 15: Phone. Still. Silent. The crocuses are up.
Day 21: Silence. After 21 days, Commissioner Dawson’s office has proven unable to pick up a phone and explain why an investigation took 21 months.
That’s okay—I think I found my answer.
Original article on Hill Times website (subscription required)