CRTC Chair’s Beer with Bell Exec Cleared of Wrongdoing, Says Ethics Commissioner

The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner (CIEC) has cleared Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) chair Ian Scott’s controversial 2019 pub meeting with Mirko Bibic, then-COO, now-CEO of Bell, of any wrongdoing or conflict — reports The Star.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion launched a probe into the issue after the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner referred TekSavvy’s complaint of misconduct and a potential violation of the Conflict of Interest Act to him.

Scott’s meeting with Bibic has become a point of contention because it took place just one week after the CRTC opened an active file to hear Bell’s application to reverse the Commission’s 2019 decision to lower wholesale internet rates paid to Bell and other national operators by smaller ISPs.

The CRTC ultimately reversed its previous ruling in 2021. TekSavvy, in response, asked the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn that decision and is also petitioning the federal government to remove Scott. Scott’s tenure as CRTC chair is set to end next month.

Commissioner Dion questioned Scott about the 2019 meeting as part of the review. According to Scott’s written response, the arrangement was “a courtesy to congratulate Mr. Bibic on being named CEO of BCE Inc.” Scott added that it was marked as “social” in his corporate calendar.

“Mr. Scott may have had an opportunity to further the private interests of a friend or to improperly further those of a corporation, whose CEO was a friend,” the Ethics Commissioner said of the CRTC chair’s involvement in the 2021 ruling on wholesale internet rates.

That would have amounted to a breach of the Conflict of Interest Act, but Dion concluded that the two are not actually friends. The Commissioner noted in his report that their relationship “has remained exclusively professional despite (Scott and Bibic) having worked in the same industry for over two decades.”

Back in February, Scott asserted the pub meeting was just “beer with someone I have known for many years.”

As evidence of his “professional” relationship with Bibic, Scott argued that his interactions with the Bell CEO have been “extremely limited” since he became CRTC chair in 2017. Scott said he has met with Bibic just twice outside of public CRTC hearings, the pub meeting included.

The office of the Ethics Commissioner concluded there was no conflict of interest and will therefore not launch a full investigation. “The report speaks for itself,” a CRTC spokesperson said.

TekSavvy, the original complainant, was far from satisfied with the inquiry. “This decision does not exonerate Ian Scott’s conduct in the least,” a spokesperson for the independent internet service provider said in a statement to The Star.

“It focused on the narrow definition of the word ‘friends’ and it’s unfortunate that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner merely took Mr. Scott at his word about the nature of his relationship with Bell’s CEO.”

The spokesperson added that TekSavvy “remains focused” on the Federal Court of Appeal case but also plans to ask the Integrity Commissioner to take another look at the matter.