MPs and Senators' spouses should report their assets under the government's proposed code of conduct, says the Prime Minister's ethics counsellor. Howard Wilson appeared before the Procedure and House Affairs Committee last week to testify on the Prime Minister's proposed ethics package. The government's proposed ethics package includes a draft bill establishing an ethics commissioner who will report to Parliament, draft rules for a code of conduct for MPs, and amendments to the Lobbyists' Registration Act The proposed code of conduct is based on a 1997 joint committee report on a code of conduct. That report recommended having spouse declare his or her assets but that was struck-out after Liberal MPs opposed the move. However, Mr. Wilson said ministers' spouses have to declare assets and that should be extended to MPs' spouses as well. Mr. Wilson said that spouses may have their own business interests which may affect an MP or minister. "Spouses, especially ones who have developed a career, may have an interest where their actions may caucus an issue which a minister must take steps to avoid," said Mr. Wilson. He added that there have been cases where a minister has had to withdraw from a Cabinet discussion because of a possible conflict-of-interest due to a spouse's business interests. Some Liberal MPs have expressed concern about spousal disclosures becoming public. Others argue that since MPs do not have the power of Cabinet ministers, their spouses should not have to disclose their assets. Under the proposed legislation, there would be one ethics commissioner who would be appointed by the Prime Minister. Deputy Prime Minister John Manley (Ottawa South, Ont.), who is responsible for the ethics package, told the House that the ethics commissioner would be appointed after consultations with the Parliament. However, Mr. Wilson recommended to the committee that there be two ethics commissioners: one appointed and answerable to the Prime Minister and another approved by and responsible to Parliament. He argued that the Prime Minister must be accountable for the executive branch of government. Under the proposed ethics package, ministers would have to follow a separate set of ethical guidelines established for Cabinet rather than just the code of conduct for MPs and Senators. Under the guidelines, the ethics commissioner would still offer confidential advice to the Prime Minister. And the Prime Minister would not be restricted to the proposed code of conduct when laying down rules for his own ministers. Mr. Wilson said the ethics commissioner could not carry out the job of overseeing the MPs' code of conduct if there was not all-party support. However, the Prime Minister needs to have confidence in whoever will be overseeing the ethical guidelines for the ministers and that means having two separate offices, he said. While he maintains that he supports a code of conduct for MPs and Senators, Mr. Wilson cautioned the committee against adopting too many rules on conduct. He told the committee that he prefers to have the code offer guidance from which limited procedural rules could be developed.