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From Gatineau with Love: Don’t Send Me Flowers, Ever!

When it rains it pours. And when it pours the sewers back up.

Jean-Pierre Blais aboard his Arc of Incoherence has managed to thump-step into a pile of mung. Again!

Understanding that the CRTC is in the cross-hairs of everyone save the legally blind, it is almost inconceivable that what has happened has…well, happened.

Today’s drama reads like a third-rate plot spun by a fourth-rate novelist. It involves a box of chocolates, a bouquet of roses, commissioner Linda Vennard, and the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

This is a plot at best about venial sin, put under the grim light of the Inquisition--and likely spun by a grim reaper hoping to leverage political capital from an unfortunate and silly affair bereft of sex, salacious Sophie Grégoire gossip, or even commonplace influence peddling.

How all very boring! How very Canadian.

It all started when a multicultural FM ownership sent a box of chocolates and a basket of flowers to Vennard, a then newbie commissioner for Alberta and the Northwest Territories. The occasion was not to entice her into a Chippendale whirling dervish. It was as innocent as the occasion of her birthday.

Somehow this egregious acceptance spun uncontrollably into the public sphere and has become wildly and widely circulated in the mainstream media that is ravenously hungry for victims, and financially incapable of actually covering global firestorms other than paying annual fees to Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, the cash-strapped Canadian Press, and Mad magazine.

The Ethics czar Mary Dawson has weighed heavily on Vennard’s veniality after it was leaked/discovered that she had taken a gift from knowing clients, even though the present was accepted by an assistant and Vennard may or may not have actually known who the tisket-tasket came from.

That was not good enough for the rectitude of Ottawa’s best, and Dawson has concluded that Vennard breached the Conflict of Interest Act in accepting a gift from RedFM, a license holder in her purview.

In a 17-page report that cost a bundle and some, Dawson writes: “Dr. Vennard’s only connection with the RedFM representatives who gave her the gifts was as stakeholders of the CRTC, and she had met them only once since her appointment two months earlier.”

Phew! So far, so good. But she continues.

“A birthday gift under such circumstances is unusual and unexpected.”

The report goes on to say that the flowers and chocolates “might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence her as the company is a stakeholder of the CRTC,” and would not qualify under the exception that permits the acceptance of gifts that are “a normal expression of courtesy or protocol or are within the customary standards that normally accompany the public office holder’s position.” 

Dawson doesn’t stop here. In her written submission, Vennard estimated the value of the gifts at “about $50 to $60,” but according to the invoice turned over by RedFM, the total cost was more than twice that, at $123.90.

“Dr. Vennard stated that she believed that accepting the gifts of flowers and chocolates was acceptable and that she was not in a conflict of interest as a Governor in Council appointee,” Dawson wrote.

“As well, she stated that she considers the gifts to be merely a token gesture to acknowledge her birthday and believed that refusing it would have been impolite … (In her) view, the only reason that these gifts were sent was because her assistant had notified the representatives of RedFM that it was her birthday.”

This, Dawson notes, “was done without Dr. Vennard’s knowledge.”

“[She] believed that the flowers and chocolates were not sent to influence her, but rather as a gesture to acknowledge her birthday,” the report continues.

“She saw no difference between these gifts and the birthday emails and e-cards she received from a few of her professional contacts.”

In her report, Dawson states she launched a preliminary review in January, following a referral from the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

She ultimately concluded there were no grounds on which to pursue the concerns raised in the initial complaint against Vennard, which included allegations related to expense claims, gala tickets and past lobbying interests on the part of her spouse which proved to be completely unfounded.

In typical Ottawa fashion, the Ethics Commissioner doesn’t have the power to impose administrative penalties for breaches related to gift rules, although she can fine public office holders up to $500 for other contraventions.

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Dr. Vennard is the commissioner for Alberta and the Northwest Territories, and as such is scheduled to be on the upcoming Edmonton Public Hearing that has RedFM as an applicant.

Vennard was new to the CRTC when she unknowingly accepted the gifts of chocolates and flowers. She was appointed in May, 2015 and prior to was a professor at the U of Calgary’s Department of Communication and Culture where her area of specialty was “the social context of science and technology, and advanced communication technologies and digitization in particular,” according to her biography on the CRTC website.

 “She has also conducted research on the ethical and societal impacts of the adoption of science and technology,” it said.

RedFM sent the gifts in July after meeting with her once prior. The radio station also presented Vennard with a branded t-shirt and mug after she visited their office the next month. Dawson found those “token gifts” were acceptable. She also found a bowl of soup worth $8.95, for which RedFM paid during an initial lunch meeting in May, was acceptable.

One can read the 17-page “Vennard Report” made by Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commission here.

It is worth noting here that ousted Ontario commissioner Raj Shoan had alleged Vennard had made comments that might be construed as ethnic jaberwocky in Gatineau during his time at the House of Gloom; however, this complaint was never proven.

RedFM -- CKYR 106.7 -- is a multilingual/ethnic radio station in Calgary that broadcasts primarily South Asian (Hindi and Punjabi) content but it also airs programming in Arabic, Bengali, Croatian, Fijian, Gujarati, Korean, Persian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Sindhi, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil and Vietnamese. In fact, it appears from its government circular, to be playing just about everything except Travis Tritt, Edward Bear and Donald Trump sing-alongs. 

The ownership is applying for an FM license in Edmonton later this month.

Interesting times in Gatineau.

Interesting times for taxpayers tired of getting stuck with the bill, and without so much as a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers to show for it. 

 

 

 

 

 

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