October 21, 2020
The Honourable J. David Wake, Integrity Commissioner, today released his report into a complaint regarding Peter Bethlenfalvy, President of the Treasury Board Secretariat and Member of Provincial Parliament for Pickering-Uxbridge. The report is in response to an affidavit submitted by Taras Natyshak, Member of Provincial Parliament for Essex, on February 5, 2020, in which he requested an opinion under section 30 of the Members’ Integrity Act, 1994.
Mr. Natyshak alleged that Minister Bethlenfalvy:
1. Breached section 2 of the Members’ Integrity Act, 1994 by using his office to influence a decision to further his private interests; and
2. Failed to follow parliamentary convention by allowing staff to engage in partisan activities using ministerial resources which would also be contrary to the Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006.
In conducting the inquiry, the Commissioner, counsel and investigators of the Office interviewed nine witnesses via videoconference and received additional information from another four individuals.
On the evidence, the Commissioner found that Minister Bethlenfalvy did not breach the Members’ Integrity Act, 1994, as alleged.
The inquiry established that Minister Bethlenfalvy’s ministerial staff prepared an ad spend strategy to boost his social media presence and that the strategy became a partisan exercise, in part because it targeted likely Progressive Conservative supporters and conservative voters. The strategy also suggested that Minister Bethlenfalvy’s riding association fund the ad spend. The Commissioner determined that it is a well-established parliamentary convention that government resources, including salaried time of ministers’ staff, cannot be used for a partisan purpose.
The Commissioner, however, found that Minister Bethlenfalvy was not aware of the ad spend strategy and did not approve it. Additionally, the minister was not in a position where he reasonably should have known about the strategy or the steps his staff may have taken to implement it, and therefore the Commissioner found that Minister Bethlenfalvy had not breached parliamentary convention by allowing government resources to be used for a partisan purpose. Since a personal interest has been interpreted as a pecuniary or financial interest, and since there was no evidence that such an interest was ever engaged, the Commissioner also found that section 2 of the Members’ Integrity Act, 1994 did not apply.
The inquiry highlighted various issues related to the use of government resources in partisan activities. As a result, the Commissioner made five recommendations:
1. Ongoing ministers’ staff training on the Conflict of Interest Rules and ethical conduct;
2. A legislative review of the Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006;
3. A review of approval processes in ministers’ and MPP offices;
4. That MPPs check their constituency websites to ensure that they are not linked to their social media accounts that contain partisan content; and,
5. That a legislative committee explore the development of social media guidelines for MPPs and their staff.
The full report can be found at www.oico.on.ca under MPP Integrity, Commissioner’s Reports.
The Commissioner is not available for interviews.
About the OIC
The Office has seven mandates under five pieces of legislation:
- Members’ Integrity, providing confidential conflict of interest advice to MPPs;
- Ministers’ Staff Ethical Conduct, providing conflict of interest advice and direction to public servants in ministers’ offices;
- Lobbyist Registration, operating Ontario’s lobbyist registry and conducting investigations into matters of potential non-compliance;
- Disclosure of Wrongdoing, receiving whistleblowing disclosures from current and former members of the Ontario Public Service;
- Public Sector Ethics, providing conflict of interest advice and direction to a broad range of public servants; and,
- Expenses Review:
- Reviewing the travel, meal and hospitality expenses of Cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants, Opposition leaders, and their staff; and,
- Reviewing the travel, meal and hospitality expenses of selected agencies.
Michelle Renaud, Senior Advisor, Policy and Outreach