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Flaherty broke rules by writing CRTC letter: ethics commissioner

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty takes part in a press conference in Ottawa on Jan. 16, 2013.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal Ethics Commissioner has ruled Finance Minister Jim Flaherty acted improperly and breached the Conflict of Interest Act by writing a letter to the CRTC on behalf of a constituent.

A spokesperson for Commissioner Mary Dawson confirmed to the Globe that she has issued a compliance order that directs the minister to refrain from writing similar letters in the future without seeking approval from her office.

"It is improper for you, as Minister of Finance and Minister responsible for the Greater Toronto Area, to have written a letter of support on behalf of a constituent to an administrative tribunal in relation to its decision making," the commissioner wrote in her compliance order to the minister.

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Referring to the order, CRTC spokesperson Jocelyne Brisebois in an e-mail:

"While ministers are not precluded from representing their constituents in their capacity as Members of Parliament, they are prohibited, under section 9 of the Act, from using their positions as public office holders to seek to influence decision making so as to improperly further the private interests of another person," wrote Ms. Brisebois. "As the facts are clear and an order has been made, the Commissioner will not be launching an investigation."

Mr. Flaherty's office issued a quick response, stating that the use of the minister's title in the letter was a "regrettable" oversight. In a statement, the minister says he fully intended for the letter to be sent in his capacity as MP for Whitby-Oshawa.

"In fact, I insisted the M.P. reference be added to the text to emphasize the point," he wrote. "However, due to an oversight my ministerial title was used in the signature block. This is regrettable and I can assure the Ethics Commissioner that this will not happen again."

The tone of Mr. Flaherty's response was in sharp contrast to Thursday, when both the minister and the Prime Minister's Office insisted the minister had done nothing wrong.

Mr. Flaherty wrote the letter on March 30, 2012 on behalf of Durham Radio Inc.'s bid to obtain a licence to operate a new FM station for the Toronto area. The opening at 88.1 FM was highly coveted. The Durham station did not win the competition.

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Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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