The Conflicts of Interest Act (COIA), which establishes conflicts of interest rules for Members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and political staff, has been extended to public agencies. Similar requirements are in place for senior government officials through the Public Service Act. COIA also provides for investigations and enforcement for breaches of the Act.
COIA applies to all public agencies, boards and commissions governed by the Alberta Public Agencies Governance Act (APAGA) and all of their subsidiaries:
- carry out public functions on behalf of government
- may be primarily funded by government or be responsible for managing or allocating substantial amounts of public funding
- are accountable to government
These agencies include 20 public post-secondary institutions and agencies that perform regulatory and adjudicative functions as well as service delivery and advisory functions.
Why COIA was extended to public agencies
Public agencies account for about half of government’s total budgetary spending. Albertans expect public agencies to be held to a high ethical standard and governed with integrity and transparency. As such, a consistent and comprehensive set of conflicts of interest rules was needed to better ensure that public agency staff and board members are acting in the public interest.
Requirements for agency staff and board members
All public agency board members and staff will be subject to a code of conduct. These codes must include:
- prohibition of using one’s position to advance their private interests
- limitations on the receipt of gifts, including setting the maximum monetary value allowed
- limitations on conflicting outside employment and a review process
- a process for receiving complaints and investigating alleged breaches
- information about when core elements become applicable to each person or category of people who are subject to the code
Each APAGA public agency has until April 30, 2018 to submit an updated code of conduct, covering all agency board members and staff, for review and approval by the Ethics Commissioner.
COIA also applies to the subsidiary of an APAGA agency, where the agency has majority control. This means that applicable subsidiaries of APAGA agencies are obliged to submit their updated code of conduct to the Ethics Commissioner for review by April 30, 2018.
These codes must include:
- specific elements and requirements identified in the COIA
- information about when it becomes applicable to each person or category of people who are subject to the code
See below for more information about codes of conduct, including the 'Public Agencies Governance Framework'.
The Ethics Commissioner has until March 31, 2019 to review all agencies’ codes of conduct to make sure they comply with the Act, and report back to the responsible Minister and agency CEO or Chair.
Public agencies whose codes of conduct have been approved by the Ethics Commissioner must publish their codes of conduct by April 30, 2019.
- Public agencies must set out a notice period, indicating when the code of conduct will be implemented.
- Approved codes of conduct will take effect for senior officials and designated senior officials following a two-year transition period or upon a new appointment or contract renewal, whichever comes first.
Requirements for senior officials
In addition to being subject to their agency’s code of conduct, all board chairs and CEOs or equivalents are prohibited by the Act from using their position to advance their private interests, whether in their decisions, influencing the decisions of others, or using insider information.
Public agency CEOs or equivalents are also now subject to additional rules, as are MLAs and senior public servants, including limitations on:
- other employment
- business undertakings
The Ethics Commissioner may approve additional employment and appointments if it is determined that these commitments will not create a real or apparent conflict of interest.
- Statutory restrictions for CEOs and equivalents and board chairs relating to restrictions on private interests, the use of influence and insider information and the requirement to disclose real and apparent conflicts of interest will apply immediately.
- New CEOs and equivalents will immediately become subject to restrictions on concurrent employment, offices and appointments. These requirements will apply to existing CEOs and equivalents following a two-year transition period or upon new appointment or contract renewal, whichever comes first.
For more information on the requirements, read Conflicts of Interest Act At A Glance (PDF, 348 KB).
Requirements for designated senior officials
Additional requirements will apply to public agency CEOs and equivalents of significant agencies. These requirements are consistent with those in place for senior public servants, and include:
- disclosure of financial information and information on direct associates to the Ethics Commissioner
- restrictions on holding stocks and other securities
- a 12-month cooling-off period from holding certain positions following employment with a public agency
Significant agencies include those that:
- perform a regulatory function
- make independent and/or binding decisions
- manage or allocate substantial amounts of public funding
- have extensive interaction with the private sector
Significant agencies and designated senior officials were identified through an Order in Council.
See the list of agencies and DSO positions covered under the new statutory requirements.
- Statutory requirements for concurrent employment, disclosure to the Ethics Commissioner, restrictions on holding public securities and post-employment restrictions will be subject to a transition period.
- New designated senior officials (DSOs) will immediately become subject to disclosure requirements and restrictions on public securities and post-employment.
- The requirements will apply to existing DSOs following a two-year transition period or upon new appointment or contract renewal, whichever comes first.
For more information about these requirements, read:
Non-compliance with disclosure requirements includes:
- not disclosing to the Ethics Commissioner on time
- knowingly disclosing false or misleading information to the Ethics Commissioner
Designated senior officials who violate the post-employment restriction are subject to a fine of up to $50,000.
Code of conduct
A code of conduct provides a framework to guide ethical conduct and reflects the key values of the public agency and the public it serves.
Each public agency will have a code of conduct for its members and employees, will have a process for administering their code and will make their code available to the public.
The Public Agencies Governance Framework (framework) (PDF, 285 KB) requires that all directors be screened for potential conflicts of interest prior to their appointment.
Role of the Ethics Commissioner
The Ethics Commissioner is responsible for:
- reviewing and approving codes of conduct for each APAGA public agency by March 31, 2019
- advising agencies on any necessary revisions to ensure compliance with COIA
The Ethics Commissioner will also:
- receive and review disclosures from designated senior officials
- have the authority to investigate alleged breaches of the Act as necessary