On my roles as MP and with Giant Tiger Stores Ltd.April 23, 2018
Over the weekend, the Toronto Star published an article by Alex Ballingall entitled “Moonlighting MPs — Does your representative in the House of Commons have a second job?”. You can read the article HERE.
Since I haven’t dealt with this subject in detail and in one place before, I thought it would be helpful for the people I represent to see my detailed accounting of how I balance my role as Member of Parliament with my role in my family’s business, Giant Tiger Stores Ltd. The reporter submitted a list of questions to me for this story, and I replied with detailed answers. Most of my responses were not quoted, but with the reporter’s agreement I am publishing the full set of his questions and my answers.
Introduction (Alex Ballingall, Toronto Star): We’re writing a story about MPs who have declared income from sources outside of their parliamentary salaries – including from private companies, law firms, and other sources. In my search of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner’s online public registry, I found that Scott Reid declared “employment income” from Giant Tiger Stores Ltd. in his disclosure dated Feb. 24, 2017. The disclosure says he received the income in the 12 months before and after that date. I’m wondering if it’s possible to ask Mr. Reid a few questions about this.
Question 1: Are you still receiving this income?
Scott Reid (SR): Yes.
Question 2: Can you tell me about the job for which you’re being remunerated?
SR: I am the Vice-Chairman of the Board of Giant Tiger Stores, Ltd. Giant Tiger is a privately-held company, and the Reid family owns a controlling interest. My father, Gordon Reid, founded the company at age 28, in 1961. He is now 84 years old, serves as Chairman of the Board, and continues to work five days a week. Given his age, it is necessary to have a family member in training, to take over the role of chairman in the event of his incapacity. This is the role of the vice-chairman. At Giant Tiger headquarters (GTHQ) on Walkley Rd in Ottawa’s southeast, I have an office adjoining my father’s office.
It is not the role of a board member to be involved in day-to-day management of the enterprise. However, I devote considerable personal time to Giant Tiger—particularly on weekends and when away on holidays. I read extensively in the business literature, as I regard it as a reasonable expectation for a Board member (and particularly a potential future Chair) to be able to regard the business in the most abstract light—the so-called ‘view from 30,000 feet.’ I then articulate my views on key management decisions at the company’s Board meetings, and via memoranda to executives.
Question 3: How many hours per week do you spend on this?
SR: On weeks when the House of Commons is sitting, I typically spend one day at my office at GTHQ (usually Friday, as this is a shorter-than-normal and low event day in the House of Commons). There are occasions on which House of Commons work makes this impossible, however. For example, the all-night voting marathon that concluded at 3:00 pm on Friday, March 23, 2018 was not compatible with a day at Giant Tiger HQ.
On weeks when the House of Commons is not sitting, I can devote a greater amount of time to Giant Tiger, although how much time varies, depending upon a variety of considerations. In addition to working at the office, I spend some time in the field visiting stores, our new warehouse, or visiting competitors. As noted in the answer to question 2, I also use some time that is outside of what would be thought of as ‘normal work hours.’
Question 4: How do you balance that with your duties as an elected politician? When do you find the time to do this additional work?
SR: This question deserves a detailed answer, which I have attempted to provide below.
- Parliament sits only 26 weeks a year, so any MP who is sufficiently organized has a larger amount of free time than would be true for most jobs. Many MPs devote the majority of this time to partisan work. (By ‘partisan work,’ I most emphatically do not mean parliamentary work, as most MPs who are not in Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet spend relatively little time during break weeks on Commons-related activity, unless they are involved in a Commons committee that is meeting during a break week. I am referring to work on behalf of, or for, the party itself, or in preparation for the next election—assisting with candidate nominations in other ridings, working on one’s own riding database and mailing list, etc.)
- Some of the typical MP’s remaining time is spent on constituency-related activity, but the most genuinely meaningful constituency work consists of resolving government-relations issues regarding passports, pension-related issues, etc., and in my own case I find that this can be done either by my staff at my constituency office in my absence, or (in cases where my personal attention is required) can be done by means of a teleconference call just as well on weeks when the Commons is sitting, as on weeks when I’m back in the riding. On such a call, the constituent is typically at his or her home, my staffer is attending from the riding office, and I call in from my Parliament Hill office.
- I have served for over seventeen years, and as time goes on, I have been able to find ways of reducing the amount of time it takes to complete the same task. For example: I host two Robbie Burns events each January. But the amount of time that is needed for set-up and takedown, and for finding a piper, providing food, etc. has been reduced to a fraction of what it was when I first started doing this. I estimate that good planning and carefully-maintained routines have reduced the time-commitment needed for routine / scheduled constituency tasks by about ⅔, with no loss of output.
- Most MPs spend somewhere between a day and a day and a half on the weekly round trip from Ottawa to their constituencies, on each of the 26 weeks that the Commons is sitting. Compared to the travel time that is eaten up each week by MPs travelling back and forth between (say) Labrador or rural Saskatchewan, the fifteen or twenty MPs who live within driving distance of Ottawa therefore are left with something between 25 and 35 extra days of available work-time per annum. I’m one of the lucky fifteen-to-twenty: My house in Perth is almost exactly a one-hour drive from Parliament Hill, when there’s no traffic. I am able to use much of this time for my non-MP activities—which are not limited to my role at Giant Tiger.
- Notwithstanding (c), it would be much more difficult for me to balance my responsibilities if Giant Tiger were located in a city other than Ottawa, or if I represented a riding that was further away. But my riding, Parliament Hill, and GTHQ are all within an hour’s drive of each other (Giant Tiger HQ is a twenty-minute drive from Parliament Hill).
- A concrete illustration will explain how I’ve dealt with the issue of balancing my Commons responsibilities with external demands on my time, on the occasions when balancing the two has not been possible. I was the shadow minister for Democratic Reform during the period when Prime Minister Trudeau was seriously considering changing Canada’s electoral system (the year-and-a-half immediately following the 2015 election), and also during the two-month period in the spring of 2017 when the Liberals attempted to use a procedural trick on the Procedure and House Affairs committee to completely restructure the House of Commons Standing Orders. I responded to both challenges by making the relevant committee work my full-time job during these periods and everything—Giant Tiger, my attendance in the House of Commons, and family time—was set aside to allow me to devote myself exclusively to the demands of my Shadow Cabinet role.
Question 5: Why do you do it?
SR: Public policy is my passion, and always has been. After 18 years in elected office, I have developed the kind of specialized knowledge (relating to electoral law, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics code, and a few other areas) that are only possible in a person who has been in the job for a long time. (By now, I have served longer than all but a few dozen of Canada’s 338 MPs). Having developed two decades’-worth of expertise, one walks away from this kind of opportunity to be of service only with the greatest reluctance.
You may recall that the debate over my dilatory motion, in the Procedure and House Affairs committee, became the longest filibuster in Canadian parliamentary history, lasting from March to May 2017.) At such times, it was my responsibility to put my parliamentary duties first—and besides, it was exhilarating to be able to be so intimately wrapped-up in defending Canadian democracy from a prime minister intent on rewriting the rules to suit himself. In 2016 / 17, the opposition parties had to be smarter than a prime minister who, under our system of government, holds most of the face cards in his hand. This was where two decades of experience were able to pay off. I think this was the most important work I’ve ever done as an MP, and it was certainly the most stimulating.
Meanwhile, working at Giant Tiger alongside my father, who founded the company 57 years ago, gives me the chance to work and learn at the side of the person whom I respect and admire more than anyone else.
This kind of balancing act would not be possible in practice—nor would it be permitted by law—if I were in cabinet. But that is not an issue right now. In shadow cabinet there is no formal requirement to not serve in a role similar to the one in which I serve at Giant Tiger. Nonetheless, there are practical considerations relating to juggling one’s time, as noted above. I exited the shadow cabinet shortly after my accession to the role of vice-chairman at Giant Tiger was announced, in January 2018.
Question 6: How do you ensure that none of your office resources as an MP are used in the performance of your other job(s)?
SR: This question presumably relates, primarily, to the misuse of staff time. Giant Tiger has its own secretarial staff, so there is simply no need to draw on my Parliamentary staff for any Giant Tiger-related work.
From my perspective, the trickier challenge is ensuring that House funds do not get expended on another non-parliamentary project in which I am deeply involved. I am the project leader for a web-based archive of documents relating to the Constitution of Canada, called PrimaryDocuments.ca. (This is a project of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.)
We maintain a separate payroll for this project, which is maintained by a bookkeeper whose contract is paid by myself, out-of-pocket. Additionally, we conduct teleconferences for this project using an outside service-provider (Calliflower) so as not to improperly bill these calls to the House of Commons, and we have made other similar adjustments to ensure that no House of Commons resources were expended on the project. We took care, early in this project (which has been ongoing for about five years) to consult with House of Commons officials to confirm how to handle upcoming expenses so as not to cause any costs to be inappropriately billed to the taxpayers.
And now, here is an answer to a seventh question, which you did not ask—but which deserves an answer:
Question 7 (unasked): How do you avoid conflicts of interest between your role as an MP, and your role in your off-the-Hill job?
SR: The House of Commons standing orders contain a conflict of interest code, which is overseen by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. Any MP who follows this code will safely avoid conflicts of interest.
In addition to minimal compliance (reporting on purchases and sales of assets, etc.), MPs have the option of proactively contacting the office of the Commissioner to ask questions and seek advice as to the best way to deal with any potential conflicts.
Whenever I worry that a conflict could potentially arise in the future, I contact the office of the Commissioner to explain the potential conflict, ask for the Commissioner’s advice as to the appropriate course of action, and indicate my intention to follow that advice. For example, I contacted the Commissioner prior to accepting the role of vice-chairman of Giant Tiger Stores, Ltd, to see if that would be compatible with serving as an MP. I contacted the office again to see whether or not it would be acceptable for me to become chairman of the board at some future point, while retaining my seat as an MP, and was pre-cleared for that as well—although as the son of the present chairman, I hope that this is an eventuality that will not arise for some time.
As a result of the various disclosures I’ve done over the years, and the advice that I have sought from time to time, I have a lengthy file of my periodic and on-going correspondence with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner relating to my extra-Parliamentary activities.
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