National News

Committee recommends sanctions for senator

By Jennifer Ditchburn, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Another Conservative senator is facing sanction in the upper chamber, this time over the awarding of work contracts to a girlfriend.

The Senate ethics committee's report into Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu recommends that he apologize on the floor of the chamber for breaching conflict of interest rules and not acting quickly enough to fix the situation.

The committee wants Boisvenu to apologize for failing "to prevent a real or apparent conflict of interest from arising and the resulting impact on the public confidence and trust in the integrity of each senator and in the Senate."

The Conservative-dominated committee also wants Boisvenu to take — at his own expense — a course on appropriate employer-employee relations.

Boisvenu declined to comment Monday.

Boisvenu hired assistant Isabelle Lapointe in 2010, the year he was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Sometime afterward he began an extra-marital relationship with her.

Although he received advice from the former Senate ethics officer in 2011 that he could be perceived to be in a conflict of interest, Boisvenu renewed her contract two more times.

In 2013, media reports revealed that Boisvenu had been billing the Senate for stays at Lapointe's home in Gatineau, Que. It was only after that point that she took a job elsewhere in the Senate. Boisvenu repaid the Senate $900 for the expenses.

"He had the perception that the nature of the political institution meant that different standards applied as opposed to what is applicable in a public sector institution," read the report.

The senator had said he did not think his relationship fit into the definition of "family members," "spouse," or "common-law spouse," within the conflict of interest code.

Boisvenu had also directly approached the Senate clerk over Lapointe's working conditions and vacation entitlement after she left his office.

Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard found in June that Boisvenu had breached the conflict of interest code, but that it was an "error in judgment made in good faith." She did not recommend any sanctions.

The committee's report comes in the wake of four Senate suspensions over travel and housing expenses. While initially defending senators Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy, Harper later adopted a tougher public tone on any potential improprieties.

"Whether you are a parliamentarian or a staff member, Canadians expect (and) I expect people be held accountable for their actions," Harper said in a speech last November.

Boisvenu is one of the government's key spokesmen in the Senate on law and order issues. He became a victims' rights activist following the murder of his daughter in 2002.

He has been open about the emotional turmoil that the relationship with Lapointe caused, telling reporters in 2013 he was torn between his wife and his girlfriend.

"Since Ms. Lapointe left...it's as if the life of the office left," Boisvenu said.

"My assistant, she was the heart of the office, really she was the cement, between my political adviser, between my staff. When that disappears, everything falls apart."

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