Ethics Commissioner on Difficulty of Filling Job: ‘Could Be the Political Nature’

Ethics Commissioner on Difficulty of Filling Job: ‘Could Be the Political Nature’
Konrad W. von Finckenstein waits prior to his appearance before a House of Commons science and technology committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 3, 2011. (Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press)

Interim Ethics Commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein isn’t sure why his post is so difficult to fill and he won’t commit beyond his agreed tenure.

“I would be willing to do it for six months. There haven’t been discussions beyond six months,” Mr. von Finckenstein said on Sept. 18, in response to a question from Bloc Québécois MP René Villemure. The new commissioner was testifying before the House of Commons ethics committee.

Mr. von Finckenstein began his post on Sept. 3 after the post remained empty for six months following Martine Richard’s resignation over controversy that Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc is her brother-in-law.

No new ethics investigations could be opened before his appointment. He now says he has eight active cases involving 11 individuals.

Mr. von Finckenstein says he was the most qualified person for the job based on the pool of candidates.

“It goes by qualifications, and I think that I have the experience,” he continued. “Most of my life was in government. It’s something that interests me; it’s something that I understand. I was told, ‘We’re having a hard time filling this position. Would you do it for six months?’ And I said ‘Yes.’”

Mr. von Finckenstein left the door open to remaining in his role at the conclusion of his agreed-upon six-month appointment.

He says that, because decisions rendered by the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and Ethics Commissioner carry political ramifications, it could explain why so many people would appear dissuaded.

“If it was only about making rulings, I think it would be easy to find someone,” Mr. von Finckenstein said. “It could be the political nature.”

The previous ethics commissioner found Liberal ministers in violation a number of times, with the latest being Trade Minister Mary Ng for awarding a government contract to a friend’s PR firm.

“We’re living in the era of social media and everything is always exaggerated. And we need to be careful of what we say all the time. We need to be sure that something is legal and correct, but it could be poorly received, so that could be why people are hesitating.”

The commissioner added that he isn’t daunted by difficult assignments such as this one.

Mr. von Finckenstein has worked in government for 39 years and says he has experience both developing and implementing legislation. He also touted his experience working as a judge while answering questions on Sept. 18, when the House of Commons reconvened for its fall session.

“My personal ideas are always things that were left at the door,” Mr. von Finckenstein said. “One needs to focus on the case at hand regardless of personal beliefs.”

“I often ask myself whether or not my personal views are having an impact or not, and I don’t think that has been the case.”