Ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler made a pair of written recommendations to the Provincial Government Tuesday. The first was to extend the cooling off period that a cabinet minister has to wait before taking a role in a private firm from one year to two. The second was to drop the cap limit on the value of hospitality gifts from lobbyists to MLAs from $400 to $100 in value. Trussler says that 75% of the calls to her office from MLAs are in regards to whether or not they can accept a certain gift from a lobbyist. In her recommendation she writes, “Directly excluding giving of more expensive gifts by lobbyists would go a long ways towards reducing perceptions that members are being, or are able to be, influenced by lobbyists.”
Trussler says her proposed $100 cap would still allow for “meet and greet” events followed by a meal, adding, “For the most part, lobbyists seeking the attention of individual members should be meeting with them in their offices.”
Former Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk says his advice for new MLA’s is to disclose everything in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety. He says the $100 cap is a good idea, provided the ethics commissioner is prepared to make exceptions on a case by case basis.
“Sometimes MLAs are invited to events where we want them to be there on behalf of government. It’s important that they participate and the value may be actually more than $100.00. So, as long as she has latitude and gives them exceptions, I think that it’s a pretty good, transparent rule.”
Lukaszuk says he has concerns about extending the cooling off period for cabinet ministers before taking a role with private industry. He says going two years without gainful employment would be a hardship for anyone, former ministers included.
“MLAs right now in Alberta have no pensions whatsoever, and they no longer have transitional allowance. So when a cabinet minister leaves, either by choice or gets voted out, he or she or any MLA will not have anything at the end of the day.”
That’s not the worst of it, thought. Lukaszuk says adopting a two year cooling off period would shut the door to cabinet to all but the wealthy.
“Because they will be the only ones who could afford to live without any income for two years. I think it needs some thinking because it could become very problematic. The fact is that you simply cannot deprive a retired MLA of being able to earn a livelihood. Yes, there should be conflict parameters put around, but to simply give them a cooling off period for two years and not putting in some kind of transitional allowance that would allow them to live for those two years would make politics a very exclusive profession for only those who can afford to do that.”
Trussler writes, “A one-year cooling-off period is too short as former ministers still have considerable contacts and influence within their former departments.” She also says that during the cooling off period a former MLA should vet all job offers through the office of the ethics commissioner. She also wants broader latitude when it comes to notifying the public when they’re performing an investigation, and why.