Re: "Fletcher wants Senate's guidelines to match House's," (The Hill Times, Nov. 24, pp. 3, 21). The Hill Times readers are left with the impression that only the Senate ethics officer "carries out his duties under the general direction of a committee established under the act for the purposes of the code." This is incorrect. Under the Parliament of Canada Act, both the Senate ethics officer (subsection 20.5(3)) and the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner (subsection 86(3)) function under the "general direction" of a committee designated or established for that purpose. Moreover, the Senate code is more helpful than the House code in that it states that any "general directives" given to the Senate ethics officer be "after consultation with the Senate ethics officer" (subsection 37 (2)). In any event, I consider my independence and that of my colleague who has responsibility for members of the House and public office-holders, to be essential in order to ensure that we are both free to form opinions and provide considered advice as we see fit in a fully impartial and transparent manner, without outside influence or coercion, or perhaps more importantly, without the appearance of outside influence or coercion. This independence is vital if ethics commissioners are to have the credibility of both the public and Parliamentarians in the way they discharge their mandate. Reflecting the views of Canada's 13 provincial and territorial ethics commissioners, the honourable H.A.D. Oliver, British Columbia's long-serving conflict of interest commissioner, explained his role in this way: "I regard that absolute independence as vitally necessary to the proper functioning of conflict, ethics or integrity commissioners, if uncomplimentary canine comparisons in the media are to be avoided." Jean T. Fournier Senate Ethics Officer Ottawa, Ontario • Senate Ethics Officer Jean T. Fournier and Quebec Liberal Senator Serge Joyal may both claim that the Senate ethics officer's independence is guaranteed by the Parliament of Canada Act, and therefore that the officer's legal independence matches the independence of the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner's role in relation to MPs, specifically with regard to investigations. However, their claim is clearly not right. Yes, the act sets out that both the officer (Sec. 20.1 to 20.7) and the commissioner (Sec. 81 to 90) are appointed in similar ways, and both have fixed terms and can only be dismissed for cause, and both have some control over their budget levels and full control over staffing of their offices, and both are under the general direction of a committee of the Senate or the House. However, the act says nothing about the officer's and commissioner's powers to investigate allegations of violations of the House and Senate ethics codes. The ethics commissioner, under Sec. 26 of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, is empowered to issue binding opinions to members concerning compliance with the code, and to publish a summary of each opinion. Under Sec. 27 of the code, the commissioner is required to undertake an inquiry into allegations of a violation if a member or the House, as a whole, requests it, and is empowered to launch an inquiry if the commissioner believes it is warranted. Under Sec. 28, the commissioner is required to make the inquiry report public, and is empowered to recommend penalties if a member has violated the code. It would be better if the commissioner had the power to penalize violators, instead of leaving it to MPs. In contrast, under Sec. 32 of the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators, a committee of Senators decides what assets and liabilities have to be disclosed if a Senator disagrees with the Senate ethics officer's opinion about the disclosure. While the officer can issue binding opinions to Senators under Sec. 26, the officer cannot publish a summary of an opinion without the approval of the committee of Senators. Under subsection 44(8), the officer cannot launch an inquiry into allegations that a Senator has violated the code unless the committee approves it. Under subsection 44(13), the officer cannot obtain testimony or evidence without the approval of the committee. Under Sec. 45, the officer's inquiry report is submitted only to the committee, with the committee making it public after meeting in secret with the Senator. The committee of Senators, not the officer, recommends penalties (if any) to the Senate. These are not small differences, and all Canadians should be concerned. Given these and other key loopholes in the fundamental good governance rules contained in the Senate's code, Senators should not wonder at all why many Canadians raise serious questions about the Senate. Duff Conacher, Coordinator Democracy Watch Ottawa, Ont.