Ethics commissioner will not investigate former envoy to China for taking mining job

NDP asked commissioner Mario Dion to probe possible conflict of interest

Peter Zimonjic · CBC News · Posted: Jan 17, 2022 7:47 PM ET 

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s office says he will not be investigating Canada’s former ambassador to China for accepting a job with mining giant Rio Tinto, which has extensive business dealings in China.

“I can confirm Commissioner Dion is not launching an examination into Dominic Barton as he did not have direct and significant dealings with Rio Tinto while he was Canada’s Ambassador in China,” Dion’s office said in an email to CBC News. 

The NDP wrote to commissioner Dion earlier this month asking his office to probe Dominic Barton’s appointment as chair of the board of directors at Rio Tinto.

“Given that Mr. Barton met with Rio Tinto executives as recently as October 2021, it should be of concern to all Canadians that less than three months after meeting with the gold mining company, he announced his intention to become the Chair of Rio Tinto’s Board of Directors,” NDP MP Matthew Green said in his letter. 

The statement from Dion’s office said Barton reached out to the ethics commissioner last October to ask whether a virtual meeting with representatives of Rio Tinto on Oct. 8 violated the Conflict of Interest Act. 

“Upon determination that this meeting was not significant within the meaning of the Act, no other follow-up on this meeting was needed with the Office before Mr. Barton’s acceptance of the offer of employment,” Dion’s office said, clearing the way for Barton to accept his new post.

Before becoming Canada’s top diplomat in China, Barton led and was a managing partner of McKinsey and Co. While in the role, the company provided advice to Chinese state-owned businesses and companies investing in China.

Barton also served as chair of the finance minister’s advisory council on economic growth.

He was appointed ambassador to China in September 2019 and tasked with securing the release of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Kovrig, a diplomat, and Spavor — an entrepreneur who worked in North Korea and China — were first detained in December 2018, just after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on behalf of U.S. authorities. Their detention was widely seen as an act of retaliation in response to the Huawei executive’s arrest.

After the two men were released in September of 2021, Barton said that helping to free them was “the honour of a lifetime.”

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