It’s legal to be a professional positive thinker in Canada

According to the Office of the Federal Ethics Commissioner, you can legally be a professional positive thinker AND work for the Government of Canada. Thank goodness! Canada has been very good to me, my family and my business. 

30 years in business!
Last summer when I was arranging financing for my wonderful dream home on the shores of Lake Ontario, the loans officer asked me my employment status.
“Self employed,” I stated dutifully, knowing full well these are the very last two words any bank wants to hear, ever, from anyone.
“For how long?” she sighed.
“In 2015, thirty years.”
“Three years?” she repeated as confirmation.
“Thirty. THIRTY. Three-zero. Three times ten, three decades, THIRTY. Since 1985,” I clarified patiently. Actually, by the time I finished making myself clear, it wasn’t so much patience as pride that fuelled my declaration.
I count my years in business from the first moment I was paid to write – the first article I ever sold, to the Toronto Star for $200 which ran on August 14th 1985. For the first year or so, I called myself a “freelance writer.” It wasn’t very many months, though, before I trundled down to the Government of Ontario office at Bay and Wellesley with two toddlers in tow, and registered as a Sole Proprietorship.
A few years after that, I incorporated. I have modified the form of my incorporation twice: once, when my lawyer advised me to create a corporation which would legally allow me to split my income with my kids. THAT was the best advice I ever got! It was like Christmas every income tax season, until my kids went off and started earning too much money to allow me to issue dividends to them. The “mom” half of me was very proud of them for all getting out there and earning money. The “taxpayer” half of me grieved the loss of the giant write-downs I used to get. Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Twice, I had to make my incorporation inactive when I took full time jobs inside of government, once provincial for three years, and once federal for two. In both cases, I viewed the jobs not as long-term career potential but just aberrations, periods when I had to have only one client instead of several, as is usually the case.
Evidently, both levels of government had concerns that my entrepreneurial spirit would become a threat to public sector agencies. In my first six months at the Ontario government, the Attorney General’s office called me three times to remind me I that I was allowed to work for NO ONE ELSE while I worked for the Government of Ontario.
“I GET IT,” I exclaimed on the third call. I was somewhat miffed that my Chief of Staff was still allowed to teach classes in Public Administration at Ryerson, but I was resigned to the fact that my gig with OntGov was completely exclusive.
When I went to Ottawa to be Director of Communications in the Minister’s Office at Health Canada, I was smarter. “I will give up all of my clients,” I promised the Chief of Staff interviewing me, “but I must be allowed to continue teaching Dale Carnegie classes. I will not give up Carnegie. If I have to, I can’t take this job.”
As is the law under the Federal Accountability Act, I made a request in writing to the Ethics Commissioner to get a ruling on whether or not it would be legal for me to work for Health Canada in the daytime, and teach Dale Carnegie classes one night per week.
Surprisingly, it took almost 6 months to get a decision. I was in regular contact with the Ethics Commissioner’s office, where staff informed me my case was still being reviewed. I received several information requests on what Carnegie training is, how it is delivered, who attends classes, and so on.
Finally, I received a telephone call informing me that the Office of the Ethics Commissioner had decided it would be acceptable for me to teach Carnegie classes at night, so long as my involvement was limited to the classroom and that I was not calling on any businesses at their premises as a consultant.
“THANK YOU!” I replied passionately. “And I would just like to take this opportunity to say, I am tremendously relieved to see that there is no perceived conflict of interest between being a professional positive thinker, and working for the Canadian federal government.”
“I beg your pardon?” the woman asked, mystified.
“Never mind. Thanks for your call. I look forward to receiving the confirmation email,” I said, before we hung up.
I’m excited to see the start of 2015. This year, I plan to use this blog to reflect on 30 years in business; how business has changed since I started; lessons I’ve learned; what an honour it’s been to work with some of the smartest people in Canada; and what lies ahead.
Thanks for helping me celebrate 30 years in business!

–Rita Smith

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