March 10, 2015 / 5:55 PM / 3 years ago

Canada cabinet member broke ethics laws, official watchdog says

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian cabinet member broke ethics rules by giving special treatment to a project proposed by a political ally of the ruling Conservatives, an official watchdog said on Tuesday, an embarrassment for the government ahead of an October election.

Canada's Public Works Minister Diane Finley speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said then Human Resources Minister Diane Finley intervened improperly in 2011 to ensure a skills center in the city of Markham, Ontario, would get government funding. Officials had earlier decided the center was not eligible.

While Dawson has no mandate to hand down a punishment, the report makes awkward reading for the ruling Conservatives, who came to power in early 2006 promising to clean up politics and increase accountability. Finley is now public works minister.

Dawson said Finley intervened after coming under pressure from two cabinet colleagues to look again at the project, which was proposed by one of their supporters.

“I found that Ms. Finley’s decision to fund the Markham project was improper ... and that she reasonably should have known that, in making the decision, she would be in a conflict of interest,” said Dawson in her ruling.

“It was clearly inappropriate that the funding went to the Markham project.”

The government eventually withdrew the funding after the proponent could not obtain the necessary building permits.

No one in Finley’s office was immediately available for comment.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alan Crosby

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