Preliminary thoughts on a code of conduct for legislators.

Author:Wilson, Howard

There has been much debate over the past several years on what might be an appropriate code of conduct for MPs and Senators. In July 1995 a Special Joint Committee of the House and Senate was established to look at this issue. The first witness to appear before the Committee was the federal Ethics Counsellor Howard Wilson. The following article, based on his testimony on September 18, 1995, provides an overview of the some of the issues facing the Committee.


From my perspective, the best way to engage the debate is to clearly distinguish between the rules that are appropriate for legislators, whether in the House of Commons or the Senate, and those additional rules that are required of members of the executive branch, that is the Government in particular Ministers.

An important principle, in many ways an over-arching principle, is that MPs and Senators should not be prevented from having outside interests and being active participants in the community. Many argue that this is essential for the health of our parliamentary democracy.

For example in Ontario the Members' Integrity Act, 1994 passed the Legislative Assembly last year unanimously. It received Royal Assent on December 9, 1994, but has yet to be proclaimed. In its preamble, the first paragraph states:

"The Assembly as a whole can represent the people of Ontario most effectively if its members have experience and knowledge in relation to many aspects of life in Ontario and if they can continue to be active in their own communities, whether in business, in the practice of a profession or otherwise."

In the United Kingdom the Nolan Committee was set up by the Government "to examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office". In its first report, in May of this year, in discussing outside employment for MPs, the Committee made the following comments:

"19. We believe that those Members who wish to be full-time MPs should be free to do so, and that no pressure should be put on them to acquire outside interests. But we also consider it desirable for the House of Commons to contain Members with a wide variety of continuing outside interests. If that were not so, Parliament would be less well-informed and effective than it is now, and might well be more dependent on lobbyists. A Parliament composed entirely of full-time professional politicians would not serve the best interests of democracy. The House needs, if possible to continue with a wide...

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