Individuals elected to the provincial legislature and members of Executive Council are subject to the Members’ Conflict of Interest Act (the “Act”). The primary purpose of the Act is to ensure that Members do not use elected office to further their private interest.
A conflict of interest arises when a Member has the opportunity to further his or her private interest through the performance of his or her official duties. An apparent conflict of interest arises when there is a reasonable perception that a Member’s ability to perform his or her official duties must have been or would be affected by his or her private interest.
Members who believe they might be in a real or apparent conflict of interest are encouraged to request the Commissioner’s confidential opinion on the matter. The Member may need to follow the recusal process set out in section 10 or 11 of the Act or take other steps to avoid the conflict.
Members are also prohibited from using public office to further their private interest in other ways, including through the use of insider information; or using their office to seek to influence a decision, to be made by another person, to further their private interest.
Within 60 days of being sworn in, and every year thereafter, Members are required to disclose their assets, liabilities and financial interests and those of their spouse, children and Private Corporations owned by any of them. More information about the Disclosure Process is available here.
Due to the extra responsibilities of ministerial office, there are restrictions on Ministers’ business, professional and employment activities. These restrictions are set out in section 9 of the Act. Members who were carrying on a business at the time of their appointment may be required to entrust their business to a trustee. The trustee must be at arm’s length and must be approved by the Commissioner. Former members of Executive Council are also subject to post-employment restrictions, set out in section 8 of the Act.
British Columbia’s first Conflict of Interest Commissioner, the Honourable Ted Hughes, was appointed on September 25, 1990. Soon after, on December 1, 1990, the Members’ Conflict of Interest Act was proclaimed into law. British Columbia was the second jurisdiction in Canada, after Ontario, to enact conflict of interest legislation. The Act provides a statutory framework for dealing with conflicts of interest involving Members of the Legislative Assembly, and ensures that there is a transparent system of financial disclosure.
In 1992, the Members’ Conflict of Interest Amendment Act, 1992 was passed. The bill amended definitions for conflict of interest, post-employment rules, filing and disclosure processes, and member conduct and penalties. These changes were brought into force November 4, 1992. Perhaps the most significant amendment was the inclusion of an “apparent” conflict of interest. British Columbia remains one of the only jurisdictions in Canada to include such a provision in its legislation.
Between 1992-2011, several minor amendments were made to the Act.
Legislative reviews were conducted between 1997 and 1999 and in 2012. In its 2013 Report, the Select Standing Committee on Parliamentary Reform, Ethical Conduct, Standing Orders and Private Bills made 34 recommendations for amending the Act.
Making a Complaint
If you have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a Member has contravened the Act (or section 25 of the Constitution Act), you can request the Commissioner’s opinion under section 19 of the Act. Your request must be in writing setting out the nature of the contravention alleged and the grounds for the belief.
It is a serious matter to allege that a Member has contravened the Act; mere suspicion or innuendo is insufficient. You should carefully consider the grounds for the request and prepare a thorough and complete submission clearly setting out the basis for the allegations, with as much supporting evidence as possible. As a matter of courtesy and fairness, you are expected to refrain from commenting publicly on the matter until the Commissioner has informed the Member involved about the allegations.
Members who are the subject of the allegations will be informed as soon as possible and provided with a copy of the allegations. The Member will have an opportunity to respond and submit evidence, and may be represented by legal counsel. Depending on the nature of the allegations, the Commissioner may interview the Member and other witnesses under oath, and may request documents. The Commissioner has the authority to subpoena witnesses and compel the production of documents if any party is uncooperative.
After reviewing all the relevant information, the Commissioner will issue a written Opinion, and will report that Opinion to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. The Commissioner’s Opinion is final. There is no appeal procedure if the complainant or the subject disagree with the Commissioner’s conclusions. If the Commissioner finds that a Member has contravened the Act, he can recommend a penalty to be imposed by the Legislative Assembly.
- Alberta – Ethics Commissioner
- Manitoba – The Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Conflict of Interest Act
- New Brunswick – Conflict of Interest Commissioner
- Newfoundland and Labrador – Commissioner for Legislative Standards
- Northwest Territories – Conflict of Interest Commissioner
- Nova Scotia – Conflict of Interest Commissioner
- Nunavut – Integrity Commissioner
- Ontario – Integrity Commissioner
- Prince Edward Island – Conflict of Interest Commissioner
- Quebec – Ethics Commissioner
- Saskatchewan – Conflict of Interest Commissioner
- Yukon – Conflict of Interest Commissioner