Ethics watchdog chides NCC chief Mark Kristmanson for 12 violations of rules

Kristmanson
NCC chief executive Mark Kristmanson. File photo.

The feds’ ethics watchdog says Mark Kristmanson, the head of the National Capital Commission, violated conflict-of-interest rules a dozen times as talks swirl about an Ottawa city councillor replacing him as CEO of the federal agency.

Mario Dion's report, issued Wednesday, says Kristmanson ran afoul of ethics standards when he accepted invitations to events from organizations with official business ties to the commission.

The organizations that had Kristmanson and his wife to events include the National Arts Centre, the Canadian Museum of Nature, Via Rail and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Kristmanson was "personally involved" in decisions about construction projects at the arts centre and nature museum, the approval of Via Rail's design for Ottawa's train station, as well as the society's lease of a prized federal property at 50 Sussex Dr., on the Ottawa River.

Dion says there was no evidence to suggest Kristmanson was asked to perform an official function at any of the events, which would have made the invitations exempt from ethics rules.

In his report, Dion says the examination started more than a year ago, when his office received an anonymous letter. A review dating back to Kristmanson's appointment in 2014 found multiple events that he should have publicly disclosed, including one where tickets were valued at $200.

Kristmanson was fined this past August for failing to publicly declare events where he was invited to present, or act in his capacity as CEO of the National Capital Commission.

He argued he was following the practice of past CEOs and expectations from his board. He said his attendance at events "reflected the expectation that the NCC's CEO should act as a community leader assuming a visible public role at events and ceremonial occasions in the national capital," Dion's report says.

Kristmanson also questioned whether accepting an invite from another Crown corporation could be problematic because all reported to the government.

Dion rejected the argument.

"I see no distinction that can be drawn on the basis of the corporate status of the donor and see no reason to treat donors from federal public sector entities differently than private sector counterparts," his report says.

Meanwhile, multiple media reports say that Rideau-Rockcliffe ward councillor Tobi Nussbaum could be Kristmanson’s replacement as NCC chief. Both CTV News and CBC News reported Wednesday that Nussbaum, who was re-elected to council in October, is either in the running or set to take the reins when Kristmanson’s five-year term ends in February.

– With files from OBJ staff