NDP draws fire over CBC conflict of interest
by David Akin
OTTAWA – One of the NDP’s strongest advocates for the CBC is being paid tens of thousands of dollars a year by the state broadcaster while voting on the CBC’s funding and debating its future.
Liberal and Conservative MPs now say NDP MP Andrew Cash should resign his position on the House of Commons heritage committee for violating conflict of interest rules.
But Cash says the ethics commissioner cleared the way for him to debate CBC funding even though he has earned nearly $40,000 a year for providing music to the popular CBC television program Dragon’s Den.
On Sept. 26, 2011, Cash provided a commitment in writing to the House of Commons ethics commissioner and to the clerk of the House of Commons that he “shall not participate in debate or voting at the Standing Committee of Canadian Heritage on matters to do with the CBC in which I have a private interest.”
And yet, within a month of making that commitment – and on several occasions since – Cash has not only debated CBC matters, he participated in votes on CBC’s funding.
Liberal MP John McCallum said those debates and votes were clear violations of his commitments to the ethics commissioner and to MPs’ conflict of interest rules.
McCallum said Cash should quit his committee responsibilities.
“Absolutely,” McCallum said Wednesday. “He was correct in going to the ethics commissioner … but then he goes out and completely breaks his commitment. I think that is a clear case of breaking the rules.”
Conservative MP Blake Richards, who just joined the heritage committee last month, agreed with McCallum.
“Mr. Cash should step aside until this matter is settled,” Richards said. “Mr. Cash broke his word to the ethics commissioner. We need to know whether he was using his position as an MP to further his own financial interests.”
Cash earns $2,426.44 – the union rate – for each new episode of Dragon’s Den that airs. In 2011, there were 16 new episodes. That would have netted Cash nearly $40,000 or more than one-quarter of his $157,000-a-year MP’s salary.
The issue of MPs earning outside income became a hot topic last week after Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau voluntarily disclosed that he has earned $277,000 in speaking fees since become an MP.
Cash said he relied on advice from the ethics commissioner to allow him to continue to debate CBC issues and be a member of the heritage committee even while receiving CBC royalty cheques.
“As I have extensive experience in the field it was clear to me that I had something to contribute to this committee and, after discussing with … commissioner, it was also clear I could do so without putting myself in a conflict of interest,” Cash said.
“I certainly don’t think artists should be excluded from sitting on the heritage committee – just like there’s certainly nothing wrong with lawyers sitting on the justice committee or doctors on the health committee.”
Cash provided a letter from the ethics commissioner dated Sept. 29, 2011, that appears to contain contradictory advice.
“Your contract with the CBC is considered a private interest and as a result, (the MP’s conflict of interest code) prohibits you from participating in debate or from voting on matters specifically related to CBC’s funding or plans and priorities that may affect your private interest. If the matter in question is of general application or affects CBC as one of a broad class, you would not be prohibited from participation,” ethics commissioner Mary Dawson wrote.
In that letter, Dawson also acknowledged Cash’s commitment not to speak about funding cuts at an upcoming heritage committee meeting.
Cash did so anyway, arguing against funding cuts when his committee met Oct. 25, 2011.