IX Public service values and conflict of interest

This section provides a general discussion of how public service values and probity apply to heads of agencies. Heads of agencies must exemplify and promote ethical values within their organization and provide the necessary leadership in creating an environmental context conducive to integrity and probity on the part of members and employees, and of the decision-making process within the agency.

1. Ethics Framework

Since the exercise of official duties and responsibilities is a public trust, sound and practical ethical values take on a considerable importance and must form part of an organization’s ethics framework. This framework will create a sense of awareness and belonging among agency officials to the organization’s ethical values and the consequent need and expectation to place the public interest ahead of their own private interests. A comprehensive ethics framework consisting of a statement of values, principles of conduct and specific measures in preventing conflicts of interest from arising must reflect the particular nature of each agency’s responsibilities if these are to be easily understood and adhered to by all its members and employees.

2. The Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders

To reinforce the application of ethical values on an individual basis and to emphasize integrity in public office, the Prime Minister, in June 1994, issued the Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders. Its purpose is to enhance public confidence in the integrity of public office holders and the decision-making process in government. All persons working in the federal government, including all Governor in Council appointees (GiCs), whether full-time or part-time, are subject to the Principles contained in Part I of the Code.

These Principles stress the high standards Canadians expect of those in public office. The first two principles, which are the most important ones, set the tone for ethical conduct. The first is that public office holders shall act with honesty and uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of government are conserved and enhanced.

The next principle moves that idea further by stating that public office holders have an obligation not simply to observe the law, but to act both in official and personal capacities in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny. This requirement, that compliance with the law is not enough, is crucial to the whole approach guiding one’s behaviour and conduct.

GiCs serving on a full-time basis are subject to Part I of the Code, the Principles of general application; Part II, the compliance measures including the requirement to provide a confidential report to the Ethics Counsellor with respect to assets, liabilities, former and current activities, as well as some gifts, hospitality and other benefits received and Part III, the post-employment conditions. The Office of the Ethics Counsellor is responsible for ensuring that their compliance arrangements meet the requirements of the Code. GiCs serving on a part-time basis according to section 4(2) of the Code, are subject to the Principles set out in Part I and to such other compliance measures established by their organization.

All agency employees who are public servants (i.e., for whom the Treasury Board represents the employer), are subject to the Code for the public service and to any other compliance measures determined by the agency head. This Code is similar in coverage to the Code for public office holders but differs in that employees are required to disclose in confidence only those assets, liabilities and outside activities which might place them in a conflict of interest in respect of their duties and responsibilities. Heads of agencies are responsible for their employees’ compliance arrangements.

All other agency employees who are not public servants are subject to those compliance measures as may be determined by the agency head for whose application that individual is responsible.

Heads of agencies have an obligation to provide members and staff with information and guidance on the ethical standards and values expected of them and the compliance arrangements required of their organization to meet these standards. Agencies and departments may also have their own internal codes of conduct to which employees as well as heads must adhere. Heads of agencies must also arrange to have in their agency code, procedures for the timely disclosure and resolution of conflicts, whether real, potential or apparent.

Contact for further information

Office of the Ethics Counsellor
Tel.: (613) 995-6852