When is it ok for a politician or a government employee to accept a gift?

It depends.

Provincial Government

My first experience with gifts in the workplace came during an internship with the Ministry of Highways. I was tasked with soliciting prizes from contractors and consultants for an upcoming employee golf tournament. My supervisor carefully reviewed the wording of the letter to ensure clarity that these gifts were being provided to the participants of the tournament and were not to be considered a gift to the Ministry.

I later became a full-time employee of the Ministry and learned what not to do from a colleague.  He accepted tickets to an NHL hockey game from an industry partner. My colleague received a reprimand for his conduct.

Municipal Government

It was not long after entry into the Municipal government sector that shock set in. Gifts in the category of NHL hockey tickets, that elicited a reprimand of my former provincial government colleague, were commonplace. I struggled with the ethics of receiving such gifts. On one hand, it was an accepted practice and on the other, it felt wrong. I shared my concern with my supervisor who encouraged me to accept these gifts and probed with questions like:

“Are you really going to let a set of hockey tickets influence your professional judgement in contract awarding?”

No of course not, but …

Where is the line?

Gifts fall into three categories:

  1. Acceptable
  2. Not-acceptable
  3. Grey Area

The grey area is problematic. Politicians and administrators can dramatically reduce the grey area by putting into place clear boundaries for the acceptance of gifts within Acts, Regulations, By-laws, Codes of Conduct and Policy. Without clearly defined boundaries individual politicians and government employees must use their own judgment based on vastly differing sets of ethics, values, and principles. This leaves the door wide open for conduct that erodes public confidence.

Federal Government

NHL hockey tickets are one thing. Vacations by a Prime Minister to a private island owned by the Aga Khan is quite another.

In this case, there was a well-defined set of parameters within the Conflict of Interest Act to guide functioning. Despite these parameters, we still ended up with the Trudeau Report. The real tragedy of this blunder is the opportunity costs of the collective effort that were expended on debate and investigation. This effort should have been allocated to the betterment of our Country. Instead, we are left with yet another ineffectual apology.

No more apologies! Canada deserves better.

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau: your actions will speak louder than your words. It’s never too late to start leading.