Winnipeg Free Press takes a run at Vic Toews

Mia Rabson and Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press make a story out of what they perceive to be a non-disclosure of pension income from former Manitoba MLA Vic Toews, now Minister of Public Safety in the government of Canada. Rabson and Toews have sparred before in print and this story suggests that Toews has neglected to follow requirements for full disclosure and is running afoul of his party’s pledge of accountability.

The story as reported by the Winnipeg Free Press:

MP’s pension not listed on registry
Court documents show Toews receives $18,000 annually from province

OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has not disclosed $18,000 in annual pension payments as required by law in a conflict-of-interest declaration for the public registry he personally signed.

The Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons requires all MPs to disclose assets, liabilities and sources of income over $1,000 outside their MP salary. If they earn income over $10,000, that fact is to be made public in a disclosure summary posted on the ethics commissioner’s website. There is no pension income listed in Toews’ most recent summary he signed on March 5, 2009. All MPs are required to review and sign the annual summaries before they are made public. Toews’ office insists he made the disclosure although it has never appeared on the summaries made available to the public over the past four years.

There are 48 MPs from all political parties who have pension income listed in their disclosure summaries.

Documents obtained by the Free Press show Manitoba’s senior federal cabinet minister has been earning the pension since 2007.

In an affidavit filed in Manitoba court April 10, 2010, Toews acknowledges earning $18,267.84 a year from the Manitoba Civil Service Superannuation Board. Those pension payments began when he turned 55 in September 2007.

Also included in court documents is an email Toews wrote to his lawyer in May 2007. In that email, Toews indicates he had not disclosed to the ethics commissioner the pension he was about to start receiving or a condo his wife owned in Gatineau, Que.

When the Free Press asked about that email in June, Christine Csversko, Toews’ director of communications said “the email is not accurate.”

Ethics have been a key flashpoint on Parliament Hill since the sponsorship scandal helped lead to the defeat of Paul Martin’s Liberal government. The Harper Tories came to power largely on a promise to raise the ethical bar of the country’s federal politicians by introducing a new era of accountability and transparency.

The Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons has been in place since 2004 and is intended to enhance public confidence in both MPs and Parliament, demonstrate to the public that MPs are held to standards that place the public interest above their personal interests and provide a transparent system for the public to judge whether or not that is true.

Each year, MPs must disclose to the commissioner assets and liabilities, including outside income over $1,000, property, businesses, investments, and debts such as loans, mortgages and credit card debt. Only certain things are made public, such as the existence and source for mortgages and loans, businesses owned by the MP and outside income over $10,000 annually.

A spokeswoman with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner told the Free Press via email Thursday “income over $1,000 received in last 12 months and during the next 12 months must be disclosed to our office. It is only made public (source and nature, no value) if the income is over $10,000.”

Margot Booth, manager of communications for the ethics commissioner’s office, said she could not comment specifically on Toews’ situation other than to say a misunderstanding or administrative error could explain why information was missing on the public registry.

Toews’ spokesman, Chris McCluskey, said he has confirmed with the Office of the Ethics Commissioner that Toews “disclosed the existence of Government of Manitoba pension income in 2006.”

McCluskey did not respond Thursday when asked to explain why the pension income is not on any disclosure summary.

All that is contained on the latest summary for Toews dated March 5, 2009, are two blind trusts. According to Toews’ 2006 disclosure summary, those include an RSP and an investment account.

And a statement from Vic Toews’ office:

“Contrary to the false and misleading information disseminated by the Winnipeg Free Press in its July 16 edition, Minister Toews has properly disclosed all income to the Ethics Commissioner, as required. This includes a pension related to prior employment outside of politics. This disclosure was first made in 2006 and disclosure has been acknowledged by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner. Minister Toews is not in receipt of any pension income as a result of holding any political office.”

The statement from the Office of the Ethics Commissioner is provided for your reference below:

“In the spring of 2006, Minister Toews disclosed to our Office his pension rights under the Government of Manitoba Civil Service Superannuation plan. At the time, he provided a statement of his deferred pension benefits indicating that a monthly pension would be payable commencing September 10, 2007. At the time, it was the practice adopted by our predecessor (the Office of the Ethics Commissioner) not to include any future income in the Disclosure Summary signed by MPs. This practice has recently been revised to better reflect the requirements of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. The annual review of the compliance arrangements of MPs is currently underway and the source and nature of income over $10,000 to be received in the next 12 months, if any, will now be included in the public disclosure of MPs.

In accordance with established practice at the time, the Disclosure Summary signed by Minister Toews on May 31, 2006 did not include any information concerning income to be received in the next 12 months. Pension rights are not subject to public disclosure.

An annual review of Minister Toews’ compliance arrangements next took place starting in November 2008 and was completed in March 2009. Due to an administrative oversight on the part of our Office, the documents sent to Minister Toews for his review did not reflect the information he had provided to our Office with respect to the receipt of pension income from September 2007 onward, although they did make reference to pension rights from the Government of Manitoba. Minister Toews returned the documents to our Office without an annotation concerning the receipt of pension income. A Disclosure Summary was prepared by our Office and signed by Mr. Toews on March 5, 2009.

In summary, although Minister Toews could have corrected the deficiency in the documents, the Office did have the information on file that pension income had been anticipated. Not including it in the Disclosure Summary for his signature was an oversight on the part of the Office. An annual review of Minister Toews’ compliance arrangements is currently underway and a new and updated Disclosure Summary will be signed and deposited in our Public Registry once the review is completed.”

Chris McCluskey, the aforementioned spokesman for Minister Toews posted the following comment on the Winnipeg Free Press’ story,

The reporter requesting comment, Mia Rabson, was advised by e-mail from the Office of the Minister of Public Safety yesterday afternoon at 2:56PM EST that the statement expressed in this article is false. Her question, and our response, were as follows:

“Q: We would like to know why the pension income is not listed in his disclosure summary. Was it in fact disclosed? If not why not?

A: As confirmed by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner, Minister Toews disclosed the existence of Government of Manitoba pension income in 2006.”

In spite of this, the editors of the Winnipeg Free Press went to print with a news item containing a statement which they knew to be false. The Minister’s Office has requested a retraction. We have been waiting for an acknowledgement of this request since 3:30PM EST this afternoon.

The statement released by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner is clear:


We continue to wait for confirmation of receipt of our e-mail to the Winnipeg Free Press, accompanied by a reasoned answer as to why the article containing false statements was intentionally printed. We believe the readers of the WFP deserve no less.

The comment still does not appear on the story and is currently being held in moderation (McCluskey emailed me a copy). The WFP story still appears on their website despite information that they have received from Toews’ office and from the Ethics Commissioner.