Federal Conservatives’ accountability and democratic reform record gets an F for breaking many promises and practising politics as usual

Six years after Federal Accountability Act became law, dishonesty, conflicts of interest, excessive secrecy, unlimited donations and patronage all still legal

Another, stronger Accountability Act needed to close 100 remaining loopholes and flaws

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch marked the sixth anniversary of the passage of the federal Conservatives’ so-called “Federal Accountability Act” (FAA), and the recent annual International Anti-Corruption Day, by issuing its Sixth Good Government Report Card on the FAA and the Conservatives’ overall accountability and democratic reform record.

The Report Card gives the Conservatives an overall “F” grade because they have only partially increased accountability in the federal government while taking many key steps backwards.  If the Conservatives had kept all of their 2006 election promises, they would have received an overall “B-” grade (as their promises covered about two-thirds of the loopholes and undemocratic flaws in the government’s accountability and decision-making system).

“The many federal Conservative dishonesty, secret unethical lobbying, excessive secrecy, conflict of interest, and donations scandals in 2012, and the broken promises and inaction detailed in the Report Card, make it clear that another Accountability Act is needed to close dozens of loopholes and clean up the federal government,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.

“The corruption, ethics and spending scandals that have occurred in the federal government and almost every province and territory in the past year are likely the tip of a large iceberg of wrongdoing in government in Canada, and yet Canadian politicians continue to refuse to close loopholes in rules and to strengthen enforcement and penalties,” said Sommers

“Overall, the federal government’s democracy and accountability enforcement system is the scandal because, among many other highly questionable activities, it is still effectively legal for a lobbyist to do what Karlheinz Schreiber did — to fundraise for and make secret donations to nomination race and party leadership candidates, to lobby in secret, to make secret, fixed deals with Cabinet ministers, their staff, handpicked Cabinet patronage appointees and government employees, and for everyone involved to be dishonest about their secret, unethical relationships,” said Sommers. (To see details about how lobbyists are effectively allowed to work for, and to fundraise for, federal politicians and parties, click here)

“Incredibly, it is much more likely Canadians will be caught and punished for parking illegally than a politician will be caught and punished taking money from a lobbyist,” said Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch.  “Hopefully, all federal political parties will soon make the changes needed to closing dozens of the loopholes that allow for unethical, secretive and undemocratic federal political activities.”

The federal Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act and Conflict of Interest Act are past their legally required review periods, and related MP and Senate ethics rules are also being reviewed (archive website link), and Democracy Watch and its coalitions have been pushing for key changes for years to prohibit conflicts of interest and to make whistleblower protection effective.  Opposition MPs and the Information Commissioner and Democracy Watch’s Open Government Coalition have been pushing to strengthen the Access to Information Act for several years.  The Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (archive website link) must also be strengthened to comply with the 2004 United Nations Convention Against Corruption.  The Canada Elections Act must be strengthened to close loopholes that allow for secret, unlimited donations and loans, to restore the per-vote public financing (archive website) of parties which is being phased out over the next four years, and to require Elections Canada to publicly report on how it handles every complaint it receives.  The Financial Administration Act must be strengthened to tighten up rules on sole-source contracting.  And related Treasury Board codes, policies and rules in all of the above areas must also be strengthened (To see more details, click here (archive website link)).

The federal Conservatives have also not responded to the May 2010 Oliphant Commission report (archive website link) which made four recommendations to close ethics rule loopholes, and 14 recommendations to increase federal government ethics enforcement.  Dozens of other loopholes and weak enforcement practices undermine the federal good government system.

The question is, will the Conservatives finally keep the 38 election promises from 2006 that they broke, and also make more than 60 other changes needed to clean up and democratize the federal government and prevent corruption?

Highly questionable activities that are still effectively legal include the following (To see a summary of many of the highly questionable activities in Canadian federal politics in the past 15 years, click here (archive website)):

  • dishonesty in politics is still legal;
  • excessive secrecy is still legal;
  • governments are still not required to consult with the public in a meaningful way even when making important, society-changing decisions;
  • there are still no effective checks on the power of Cabinet ministers to appoint party supporters to law enforcement positions such as judges and the heads of watchdog agencies, boards, commissions and tribunals;
  • Cabinet ministers, their staff, and senior government employees are still allowed to be involved in policy-making processes that affect their own personal financial interests;
  • large gifts worth up to $10,000 to politicians are still effectively legal because of lack of auditing of politicians’ financial statements (and scientific studies have shown that even small gifts have influence (For more details about gifts and the science of influence, click here (archive website));
  • many politicians, their staff, and senior government employees are still allowed to become lobbyists too soon after they leave their government positions;
  • many people who blow-the-whistle on government wrongdoing are still not effectively protected from retaliation;
  • MPs can switch parties between elections in return for a promotion;
  • the voting system does not ensure that each candidate has the overall support of a majority of voters in their riding to be elected, and;
  • the federal Senate is still unaccountable in every way.

Among many other highly questionable activities by the Conservatives in 2012 are the following: failing to adopt strong rules to prevent secret lobbying; failing to require Elections Canada to publish details to prove it is enforcing the Canada Elections Act properly and effectively; failing to uphold their own resolution to introduce legislation to prevent election fraud robocalls; failing to ensure big bank profits are not based on gouging and ignoring job-creating businesses through comprehensive audits; failing to penalize Conservative minister Christian Paradis for violating the federal Conflict of Interest Act (archive website link); failing to fulfill its Open Government Partnership membership requirements; failing to empower watchdogs; failing to initiate review of the federal whistleblower protection law and ethics law by the legal deadlines; Prime Minister Harper’s Chief of Staff Nigel Wright being lobbied by companies where he has a financial or personal interest; Prime Minister Harper ignoring his own ethics rules in the spending scandal involving Conservative MP Paul Calandra; Cabinet ministers Jim Flaherty and Peter MacKay violating federal budget rules by hiding the actual cost of the F-35 fighter jets; introducing abusive omnibus bills, and; Conservative Cabinet minister Peter Penashue’s donation and conflict of interest scandal.

As well, the federal Conservatives have failed to respond to the recommendations in the May 2010 Oliphant Commission report (archive website link) on the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, and have failed to empower MPs as promised.

Background on the Report Card

Overall, the Conservatives’ FAA and other decisions have increased government accountability or attempted to increase accountability in 29 ways since 2006 (with the possibility that Cabinet could implement one final FAA measure by establishing the Public Appointments Commission to help ensure an end to patronage and cronyism in Cabinet appointments — NOTE: the Conservatives promised for the fourth time in spring 2011 to establish the Commission) — To see a summary of the measures in the FAA, click here.

However, the Conservatives have also weakened government accountability in eight ways, and failed to keep 29 promises (To see an October 2007 summary of 24 of the 29 broken promises, click here (archive website) — the five other broken promises are the fixed-election-date promise (archive website), the failure to hold free votes on most issues as promised, the appointment by Prime Minister Harper of Conservative election candidates, and the appointment of Senators through 2008 to 2010, and a Supreme Court Justice in 2008 (To see details, click here (archive website)).

In 2006, when the FAA was being reviewed by Parliament, the Conservatives rejected 25 changes that would have strengthened the laws covered by the FAA that were proposed by the House committee (archive website) and by the Liberal-controlled Senate (archive website).

As well, the Conservatives have ignored in total 100 loopholes and flaws in the federal government’s accountability system (To see a summary of the 100 loopholes, click hereTo see an op-ed about how these loopholes would allow Karlheinz Schreiber and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to do today all the wrongdoing they are alleged to have done in the past, click here (archive website)To see a news release listing the key ethics loopholes, click here (archive website)).

The Report Card grades the Conservatives’ FAA and related decisions and actions in 14 areas divided into five categories, as follows (with grades for each category):

  1. Honest, Ethical Government MeasuresE- (because the Conservatives removed the rule requiring Cabinet ministers, their staff and senior government officials to “act with honesty” and have used dishonest “spin” in many of their communications, and because the FAA did not close huge loopholes that allow the same people to take part in decisions in which they have a private interest, and did not significantly strengthen enforcement or penalties for unethical activities);
  2. Open Government MeasuresE- (because the Conservatives broke almost all of their promises to strengthen the Access to Information Act,  have used the Privacy Act to hide the identity of public servants who have done wrong, only partially implemented their promised changes to federal lobbying disclosure rules, and have ignored other secret lobbying loopholes);
  3. Efficient Government MeasuresB (because the Conservatives have kept most of their spending accountability promises, but have still left some key loopholes open (include failing to ensure the independence and full budget of the Parliamentary Budget Officer and Procurement Ombudsman));
  4. Representative, Citizen-Driven Government MeasuresE- (because the Conservatives have not consulted meaningfully or held free votes on many issues, have broken their promise to establish a Public Appointments Commission to ensure merit-based Cabinet appointments, broke (archive website) their own fix-election-date law by calling a snap election in September 2008, have introduced Senate reform measures but resisted reasonable changes proposed by premiers and opposition parties, appointed dozens of Senators, appointed a Supreme Court Justice before the promised parliamentary review, and have not kept all of their promises to ensure fair nomination races and elections);
  5. General Government Accountability MeasuresE (because the Conservatives have cut funding to citizen advocacy groups, broke some of their whistleblower protection promises, have attacked several officers of Parliament and government agencies without justification, and while they have created the more independent Director of Public Prosecutions, they have launched only some long-overdue inquiries into past wrongdoing)

“By making only half their promised government accountability changes, failing to enforce their own rules, cutting key ethics rules, increasing government secrecy, and ignoring dozens of huge loopholes, the federal Conservatives have failed to live up to their pledge to clean up the federal government,” said Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch. “All federal parties must work together to pass another, stronger Accountability Act as soon as possible to give Canadians the honest, ethical, open, representative and waste-preventing government they deserve.”

Democracy Watch and its Government Ethics Coalition, Money in Politics Coalition and Open Government Coalition, which involve more than 50 citizen groups from across Canada with a total membership of 3.5 million Canadians, will continue pushing for these key, democratizing changes.

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For more information, contact:
Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition and the Money in Politics Coalition
Tel: 613-241-5179

 December 4, 2007 article about Federal Accountability Act (archive website)

Democracy Watch’s Clean Up the System webpage

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Sixth Good Government Report Card on the Loophole-Filled “Federal Accountability Act”

On December 12, 2006, the federal Conservatives’ so-called “Federal Accountability Act” (FAA) became law containing 30 of the Conservatives’ 52 promised measures.  At the time, 15 of the 30 measures in the FAA still needed Cabinet approval before they would be in force and, as of December 16, 2009, one of the 30 measures has still not been implemented (the establishment of the Public Appointments Commission to help end patronage and cronyism in Cabinet appointments).

In addition, the Conservatives made 5 other democratic reform promises, for a total of 57 government accountability and democratic reform promises.

To see Democracy Watch’s First Report Card, issued in December 2007, click here (archive website).  To see Democracy Watch’s Second Report Card, issued December 2008, click here (archive website).  To see the Third Report Card, click here (archive website).  To see the Fourth Report Card, click here.  To see the Fifth Report Card, click here.

Set out below are the details about: what the Conservatives promised to included in the FAA and other promised measures; what they included or failed to include; what FAA measures have been implemented; what FAA measures are still not in force, and; what loopholes and flaws still exist in the federal government’s accountability system.  Grades are given in each area, based on the following grading scale:

GRADING SYSTEM
A – Implemented promised measure(s) fully closing loophole(s)
B – Implemented most of promised measure(s) closing most of loophole(s)
C – Implemented half of promised measure(s) closing half of loophole(s)
D – Implemented part of promised measure(s) closing part of loophole(s)
E – Has taken steps toward implementing promised measure(s) but broken many promises
F – Failed to include promised measure in FAA
I – Failed to include measure in FAA


Summary of Categories and Areas Graded and Grades

  1. I. Honest, Ethical Government Measures  E
    1. Requiring honesty-in-politics  F
    2. Strengthening ethics standards . . . and ethics enforcement  E
    3. Making the political donations system democratic  D-
    4. Closing down the revolving door  D-
  2. II. Open Government Measures  E-
    5. Strengthening access-to-information system  E-
    6. Exposing behind-closed-door communications  E-
    7. Strengthening lobbying disclosure and ethics, and the enforcement system  E-
  3. III. Efficient Government Measures  B
    8. Strengthening spending rules, and powers of Auditor General/other enforcement bodies  B
IV. Representative, Citizen-Driven Government Measures  E
9. Increasing meaningful public consultation  E-
10. Restricting power of Cabinet to make appointments  E-
11. Making the Senate democratic or abolish it  D
12. Ensuring free, fair and representative elections  D

  • V. General Government Accountability Measures

E
13. Facilitating citizen watchdog groups over government  I
14. Ensuring effective whistleblower protection  D
15. Ensuring loophole free laws and strong penalties for wrongdoers  C


Overall Conservatives’ rhetoric:
“People who work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules want accountability from their political leaders. We don’t expect politicians to be perfect. But we do want to know that our tax dollars — money we’ve worked for — are being spent properly and wisely. Above all, we want and expect our dollars to be spent legally.  We’ve been let down.  The Liberal Party’s 12 years in power have featured one scandal after another.  And despite Paul Martin’s promises to clean up Ottawa, the scandals just keep happening.  Justice Gomery was right when he talked about the “culture of entitlement” within the Liberal Party.  This culture of waste, mismanagement, and corruption cannot reform itself.  The first piece of legislation to be introduced by a Conservative government will be the Federal Accountability Act, a sweeping plan to clean up government.”
(p. 8 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document)

“the results are clear . . . the government is clean . . .”
Conservative government’s Speech from the Throne (October 16, 2007)
NOTE: In his November 4, 2005 speech, then-Opposition Party Leader Stephen Harper stated that an “Federal Accountability Act” (FAA) containing the 52 measures he listed that day was needed to “begin the process of fixing the system . . . to clean up government.”  However, the FAA introduced by the Conservatives in April 2006 only contained 30 measures (six of which have still not yet been implemented) and weakened ethics rules for Cabinet ministers, their staff, Cabinet appointees and senior government officials (see below for details).  As a result, by the Conservatives’ own standard, it is impossible for the government to be clean.


I. Honest, Ethical Government Measures

SECTION I OVERALL GRADE
E-


1. Requiring honesty-in-politics – F

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: “Enshrine the Conflict of Interest Code into law.” (p. 12 of 2006 Conservative election platform document)
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: The FAA enshrined Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s February 2006 version of the Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders into a new law called the Conflict of Interest Act (which became law July 9, 2007)
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: The Conflict of Interest Act  does not include the former Code’s subsection 3(1) rule that requires the Cabinet ministers, their staff, Cabinet appointees and senior government officials to “act with honesty” ••• and the Conservatives have used dishonest “spin” in their party communications several times
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Still need to pass a law that requires all federal Cabinet ministers, MPs, Senators, political staff, Cabinet appointees and government employees (including at Crown corporations, agencies, boards, commissions, courts and tribunals) nomination race and election candidates to tell the truth, with an easily accessible complaint process to a fully independent watchdog agency that is fully empowered to investigate and penalize anyone who lies ••• and require resignation and a by-election in most cases of an MP switching parties between elections. (Go to Honesty in Politics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)


2. Strengthening ethics standards for politicians, political staff, Cabinet appointees and government employees, and ethics enforcement – E

Conservatives’ rhetoric: “In 1993, Paul Martin and the Liberals promised the appointment of an independent Ethics Commissioner. For over ten years, Paul Martin and the Liberals failed to fulfill that promise, and Martin voted against his own Red Book words in the House of Commons.  Finally, under the pressure of the sponsorship scandal, the Liberals partially fulfilled their promise. But many problems remain with the role of the Ethics Commissioner, including the special exemptions Paul Martin created for his own business dealings.”
Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promise kept to “Ensure that all Officers of Parliament are appointed through consultation with all parties in the House of Commons” ••• Promise partially kept to “Give the Ethics Commissioner the power to fine violators” (maximum fine is a ridiculously low $500, and only applies to some violations) ••• Promise partially kept to “Enshrine the Conflict of Interest Code into law” (the FAA enshrined Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s February 2006 version of the Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders into a new law called the Conflict of Interest Act (which became law July 9, 2007)) but the Act does not contain the key Code rules that require upholding “the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of government are conserved and enhanced” (subsection 3(1) of the Code); avoiding “apparent conflicts of interest” (subsection 3(1) of the Code); including avoiding “being placed or the appearance of being placed under an obligation to any person or organization that might profit from special consideration on the part of the public office holder” (subsection 22(1) of the Code) ••• Promise partially kept to “End ‘venetian blind’ trusts that allow ministers to remain informed about their business interests, and require all ministerial assets to be placed in truly blind trusts” (under the FAA, some ministerial assets are not required to be placed in truly blind trusts)

  • Promised measures not included in FAA: Promise broken to “Close the loopholes that allow ministers to vote on matters connected with their business interests” not included in FAA (ministers are still allowed to vote on any matter that is of general application or that affects a broad class of people), even if they have a private interest in it (including a financial or business interest), because of the definitions of “private interest” and “conflict of interest” in the Conflict of Interest Act (which became law July 9, 2007)) ••• Promise broken to “Allow members of the public – not just politicians – to make complaints to the Ethics Commissioner” (the FAA requires the Ethics Commissioner to investigate complaints filed by politicians, but still gives the Commissioner the right to refuse to investigate complaints filed by the public) ••• Promise broken to “Make part-time or non-remunerated ministerial advisers subject to the Ethics Code” (the FAA increases the number of part-timers and unpaid advisers not covered by most of the ethics rules)
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Close the loopholes in the existing ethics rules set out in the above two sections (and apply them and the following measures to all government institutions (including all Crown corporations) ••• selling major assets that are in any way likely to cause conflicts of interest (a process known as “divestment”) must be required by all public officials when they enter office ••• Cabinet ministers, their staff, senior public servants and MPs can easily hide large gifts they receive from lobbyists or others trying to influence them because they only have to disclose assets worth $10,000 or more every 4 months to the Ethics Commissioner (disclosure should be required for assets worth $1,000 or more, with updates on changes required within 30 days) ••• gifts of any kind worth more than $200 combined total annually to anyone in the federal government from anyone except relatives must be banned (and gifts of any kind worth more than $200 combined total annually from relatives must be disclosed to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner — NOTE: the proposed new Conflict of Interest Act allows unlimited gifts from “friends”) ••• as proposed by the federal Department of Finance (For details, click here (archive website)), and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, place anyone with decision-making power on the anti-corruption watch list of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (Fintrac) so deposits to their bank accounts can be tracked ••• strengthen the independence and effectiveness of all the newly created politician and government employee ethics watchdog positions (the Ethics Commissioner for Cabinet and MPs, the Senate Ethics Officer for senators, the Public Service Integrity Officer for government employees, the Registrar of Lobbyists for lobbyists) by giving opposition party leaders a veto over appointees, and having Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve their annual budgets (as is currently the process for the Ethics Commissioner) ••• prohibit the watchdogs from giving secret advice ••• require them to investigate all complaints (including anonymous complaints) ••• fully empower them to penalize rule-breakers with high financial penalties ••• change all the codes they enforce into laws ••• ensure that all their decisions can be reviewed by the courts.  (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)


3. Making the political donations system democratic – D-

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: “Under the Liberals, money and influence have played far too large a role in Canadian politics.  During the sponsorship inquiry, Canadians learned of envelopes full of cash being used to fund Liberal Party campaigns, and of money from government contracts being funnelled back to the Liberals. The “pay to play” years in Liberal Ottawa must come to an end.” (p. 8 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document)
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promises partially kept to “Limit individual donations to parties or candidates to a maximum of $1,000″ and to “Ban cash donations to political parties or candidates of more than $20″ (the FAA requires donations of money, property or services worth more than $200 to parties (more than $500 to election candidates) to be disclosed, and limits donations to parties or candidates to $1,100 annually, but secret, unlimited donations to nomination race and party leadership race candidates are still legal (as long as the donations are not used for their campaign)) ••• Promise mostly kept to “Prohibit all corporate, union, and organization donations to political parties, ridings, and candidates” (donations of hours of services by volunteers on leave from working at corporations, unions and other organizations are not limited, and are not required to be tracked and disclosed, making it very easy to give employees paid time off to “volunteer” for parties or candidates ••• Promise fully kept kept to “Extend to ten years the period for which Elections Act violations can be investigated and prosecuted.”
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: n/a
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Require disclosure of all donations as noted in the above section (including the identity of the donor’s employer (as in the U.S.) and/ or major affiliations) and loans quarterly and before any election day (to close the loophole that currently allows secret, unlimited donations of money, property and services to nomination race and election candidates) ••• limit loans to the same levels as donations ••• limit spending on campaigns for the leadership of political parties ••• lower the public funding of political parties from $1.75 per vote received to $0.75 per vote received (to ensure that in order to prosper parties need to have active, ongoing support of a broad base of individuals) ••• and ensure riding associations receive a fair share of this funding ••• give the Commissioner of Elections and the Chief Electoral Officer more investigative powers, especially the power to audit the finances and assets of political parties, riding associations, and candidates in nomination races and elections, and require them to conduct annual audits  (Go to Money in Politics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)


4. Closing down the revolving door – D-

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: “If there are MPs in this room who want to use public office for their own benefit, or if there are Hill staffers who dream of making it rich by trying to lobby a future Conservative government — if that’s true of any of you, then you better make other plans or leave.” Stephen Harper, introducing the “Federal Accountability Act” pledge (November 4, 2005)
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: – Promise partially kept to “Extend to five years the period during which former ministers, ministerial staffers, and senior public servants cannot lobby government” (p.8) — NOTE: the measures in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s February 2006 version of the Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders (which are still in effect) allowed Ministers to exempt any of their staff from the five-year ban until July 2, 2008, when the new Lobbying Act was finally implemented — under the new Act, ministerial staff are allowed to apply to the proposed new Commissioner of Lobbying for an exemption from the five-year ban
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: n/a
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Prohibit lobbyists from working for government departments or serving in senior positions for political parties or candidates for public office (as in New Mexico and Maryland), and from having business connections with anyone who does ••• ban MPs, their staff, and government employees for one to three years (depending on their decision-making power in government) from becoming a lobbyist or working with corporations or organizations with which they had direct dealings while in government ••• anyone participating in the “employment exchange program” (who are mainly people from large corporations) is exempt under the FAA from the 5-year ban on senior public office holders becoming lobbyists — this huge loophole in the ban must be eliminated ••• lobbyists must be banned from becoming members of Cabinet for at least four years after they are elected as a federal politician  (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

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Top of Report Card


II. Open Government Measures

SECTION II OVERALL GRADE
E-


5. Strengthening access-to-information system - E-

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: “The Liberal government has consistently rejected attempts to provide Canadians with better access to government information. The present Information Commissioner has gone to court several times to force the government to open its windows.” (p. 12 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document)
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promise fully kept to “Ensure that all Officers of Parliament [including the Information Commissioner] are appointed through consultation with all parties in the House of Commons and confirmed through a secret ballot of all Members of Parliament, not just named by the Prime Minister” ••• Promise fully kept to “Ensure that all government public opinion research is automatically published within six months of the completion of the project, and prohibit verbal-only reports” ••• Promise partially kept to “Expand the coverage of the [Access to Information Act] to all Crown corporations, Officers of Parliament, foundations, and organizations that spend taxpayers’ money or perform public functions” (the FAA added only 50 new federal government institutions to the list of institutions covered by  the Act, and also changed the Act to allow draft reports to be kept secret until finalized (delaying access significantly)
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: Promises broken to: “Implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act.” ••• to “Give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of information.” ••• to “Subject the exclusion of Cabinet confidences to review by the Information Commissioner.” •••  to “Oblige public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions.” ••• to “Provide a general public interest override for all exemptions, so that the public interest is put before the secrecy of the government. ••• to “Ensure that all exemptions from the disclosure of government information are justified only on the basis of the harm or injury that would result from disclosure, not blanket exemption rules.” ••• and to “Ensure that the disclosure requirements of the Access to Information Act cannot be circumvented by secrecy provisions in other federal acts, while respecting the confidentiality of national security and the privacy of personal information.”
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Strengthen the federal Access to Information Act and government information management system in the ways set out in the above section and by: applying the law to all government/publicly funded institutions ••• creating a public interest override of all access exemptions ••• having Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the Information Commissioner’s annual budgets (as is currently the process for the federal Ethics Commissioner) ••• giving the federal Information Commissioner the power to order the release of documents (as in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.), to order changes to government institutions’ information systems, and to penalize violators of access laws, regulations, policies and rules ••• eliminating the $5 fee for filing a request for a record (given that it is an unnecessary and unjustifiable barrier to access to information, and that processing the payment of the fee results in administrative costs for the federal government that exceed the fee) ••• increasing the current five-hour free records search time to 10 hours (given the lack of efficient, accessible information management systems in many government institutions) ••• and; setting one fee for copying records for all government institutions at a level no higher than the actual copying costs, and to require institutions to waive the copying costs if they will cause financial hardship to the requester ••• change the Privacy Act to require disclosure of the identity of public servants who have done wrong (Go to Open Government Campaign and Stop Muzzling Scientists Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)


6. Exposing all behind-closed-door communications – E-

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: n/a
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promise partially kept to require disclosure of communications between lobbyists and ministers or senior government officials (NOTE: the new Lobbying Act requires only those people who are required to register as lobbyists to disclose some of their communications with ministers and senior government officials (as defined by regulations)
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: “Require ministers and senior government officials to record their contacts with lobbyists.” (p.8)
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Require that Ministers and senior public officials to disclose their contacts with all lobbyists, whether paid or volunteer lobbyists.  (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)


7. Strengthening lobbying disclosure and ethics, and the enforcement system – E-

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: “Under the Liberals, lobbying government — often by friends and associates of Paul Martin and other Liberal ministers — has become a multi-million dollar industry.  Senior Liberals move freely back and forth between elected and non-elected government posts and the world of lobbying.  Liberal lobbyists have accepted success or contingency fee arrangements where they don’t get paid unless they deliver the policy change their clients want.” (p. 8 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document)
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promises kept (finally in July 2008 with proclamation of new Lobbying Act) to “Ban success or contingency fee arrangements” ••• “Make the Registrar of Lobbyists an independent Officer of Parliament” ••• to “Give the Registrar of Lobbyists the mandate and resources to investigate violations” ••• and to “Extend to ten years the period during which violations can be investigated and prosecuted.”
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: n/a
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Strengthen the Lobbyists Registration Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct disclosure and regulation system by: closing the loophole that currently allows corporations to hide the number of people involved in lobbying activities ••• by requiring lobbyists to disclose their past work with any Canadian or foreign government, political party or candidate ••• and to disclose all their government relations activities (whether paid or volunteer) involving gathering inside information or trying to influence policy-makers (as in the U.S.) ••• and to disclose the amount they spend on lobbying campaigns (as in 33 U.S. states) ••• strengthen the ethics and enforcement system by adding specific rules and closing loopholes in the Lobbyists’ Code and making it part of the Act ••• giving opposition party leaders a veto over the appointment of the Commissioner of Lobbying ••• by having Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the Commissioner’s annual budget (as is currently the process for the Ethics Commissioner) ••• by prohibiting the Commissioner from giving secret advice ••• by ensuring that the Commissioner must investigate all complaints (including anonymous complaints) ••• by fully empowering the Commissioner to penalize rule-breakers ••• and by ensuring all Commissioner decisions can be reviewed by the courts.  (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

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Top of Report Card


III. Efficient Government Measures

SECTION III OVERALL GRADE
B


8. Strengthening spending rules, and powers of Auditor General/other enforcement bodies – B

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: “The Liberal government commissions some $25 million per year in polling and public opinion research. Much of this polling is conducted by Liberal-connected polling firms. The Auditor General revealed that Paul Martin’s Finance department commissioned polling for which there were “only verbal reports” ? nothing was written down so there was no paper trail. Yet the Martin government prevented the Gomery Commission from investigating this part of the Auditor General’s report.” ••• “Under the Liberal government, abuse of the government contracting process has become commonplace. Former Liberal cabinet minister Art Eggleton, for example, awarded an untendered contract to a former girlfriend. He was later appointed to the Senate by Paul Martin.” ••• “In the spring of 2004, the Liberal government told Canadians that the 2003-04 surplus would only be $1.9 billion. In fact, it was $9.1 billion.  In 2004-05, the Liberals spent about $9 billion at the end of the year to reduce their surplus to only $1.6 billion.  Just this year, the 2005 Budget estimated the 2005-06 surplus at $4 billion, a number no reputable economic forecaster accepted.  In the economic update only nine months later, this estimate had ballooned to $13.4 billion.  Governments cannot be held to account if Parliament does not know the accurate state of public finances.” ••• “Over the past decade, the Auditor General has repeatedly blown the whistle on Liberal corruption. From the $250 million sponsorship program, to the scandalous waste and mismanagement of the $1 billion HRDC grants boondoggle, to the ineffective $2 billion gun registry, nearly every audit turns up more examples of Liberal mismanagement.” (all from pages 10-11 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document) ••• “The sponsorship scandal first came to light in an internal audit — an audit which the Liberals initially tried to cover up. Under the Liberals, the lines between ministers and non-partisan civil servants have been blurred, and clear lines of accountability need to be re-established.” (p. 9 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document)
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promise fully kept to “Ensure that all Officers of Parliament are appointed through consultation with all parties in the House of Commons” ••• Promise half-way kept to “Ensure that an independent review is conducted of government public opinion research practices discussed in Chapter 5 of the Auditor General’s November 2003 report to determine whether further action, such as a judicial inquiry, is required” (the review was completed by a handpicked person who did not have full independence, and it recommended that no inquiry be held) ••• Promises mostly kept to: “Open up the bidding process for government advertising and public opinion contracts to prevent insider firms from monopolizing government business” ••• to “Review and amend all contracting rules to make the government’s procurement process free from political interference” (a new Code of Conduct for Procurement came into force September 19, 2007) ••• to “Appoint a Procurement Auditor to ensure that all procurements are fair and transparent, and to address complaints from vendors” (the new Procurement Ombudsman was established September 19, 2007 to review complaints about violations of the Code of Conduct for Procurement) ••• and to “Permit smaller vendors and vendors outside of the National Capital Region to receive due consideration for government contracts” ••• Promises mostly kept to: “Create an independent Parliamentary Budget Authority to provide objective analysis directly to Parliament about the state of the nation’s finances and trends in the national economy” (the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) is a staff person of the Library of Parliament, and can be fired at any time for any reason, and the PBO has not received its promised full budget) ••• to “Require government departments and agencies to provide accurate, timely information to the Parliamentary Budget Authority to ensure it has the information it needs to provide accurate analyses to Parliament” ••• and to “Ensure that government fiscal forecasts are updated quarterly and that they provide complete data for both revenue and spending forecasts” ••• Promises mostly kept to: “Ask the Auditor General to conduct, on an expedited basis, an audit of all federal grant, contribution, and contracting policies, and will commit to following her recommendations ••• to “Increase funding for the Office of the Auditor General to ensure she has the necessary resources to conduct a complete audit of grant and contribution programs and of any such departments, agencies, and Crown corporations as she deems necessary” ••• to “Allow the Auditor General to “follow the money” to end recipients by providing her with the statutory authority to conduct audits of the records, documents, and accounts of any individual, institution, or company that receives grants, contributions, or transfers under an agreement with the Government of Canada” ••• to “Ensure that all granting programs are reviewed every five years” ••• Promises mostly kept to: “Strengthen enforcement of government financial guidelines, and introduce new Criminal Code penalties for fraud involving the misuse of taxpayers’ money” ••• Promises kept to: “Give the Comptroller General the overall authority for the internal audit function in each government department” to “Designate the deputy minister of each government department or agency as the Accounting Officer for that department. The deputy will be responsible to Parliament for the departmental spending and administrative practices of his or her department ••• and to “Require that, in the event of a disagreement between a minister and deputy minister on a matter of administration, the minister must provide written instruction to the deputy minister and notify the Auditor General and Comptroller General of the disagreement” ••• Promise partially kept to “”Protect the integrity of the CPP investment fund to stop politicians from raiding it to balance the budget or pay for other political projects.” ••• Promise partially kept to “Increase the power of Parliament and parliamentary committees to review the spending estimates of departments and hold ministers to account.” ••• the federal Conservatives have also handed out billions in sole-source contracts for military hardware (which the Auditor General is currently auditing)
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: n/a
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: as Justice Gomery recommended, any “special reserve” funds must be required to be under the control of Treasury Board and covered by an annual, public report ••• The exemptions in the the Financial Administration Act and its regulations that essentially allow for sole-source contracts whenever the government wants must be closed ••• Everyone in the government must be required to submit the actual, detailed receipt (showing the number of people at the event, what was purchased, by whom, and at what price) for all expenses claimed to help prevent unjustified expense claims ••• Increase the independence of the Auditor General by: requiring approval of appointment from opposition party leaders ••• increase auditing resources of the Auditor General and having Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the Auditor General’s annual budget (as is currently the process for the federal Ethics Commissioner) ••• and; empower the Auditor General to audit all government institutions ••• to preview and prohibit government advertising that promotes the ruling party, especially leading up to an election (similar to the restrictions in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan) ••• to audit the expense reports of everyone in the government to help prevent dishonest expense claims ••• to make orders for changes to government institutions’ spending systems ••• and to penalize violators of federal Treasury Board spending rules or Auditor General orders ••• Crown corporations must be required in the Financial Administration Act to apply to court to have the court void any contract signed with a director of the corporation or an entity in which a director has an interest if it is discovered that the director did not disclose their interest to the corporation’s board of directors (NOTE: currently, section 118 only allows the corporation to apply to court, but does not require the corporation to apply to court)  (Go to Stop Fraud Politician Spending Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

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IV. Representative, Citizen-Driven Government Measures

SECTION IV OVERALL GRADE
E+


9. Increasing meaningful public consultation - E-

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: According to all reports, the federal Conservatives have completely ignored the Canadian Federal Government’s Accord with Citizen Groups (the so-called “Voluntary Sector”) and Codes of Good Practice in Policy Dialogue and Funding.  Also, the Conservatives launched a highly questionable public consultation on democratic reforms in March 2007 — To see a Democracy Watch news release analyzing the consultation, click here (archive website) — To see an article about the consultation results, click here
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promise kept to “Appoint a Seniors Council comprised of seniors and representatives of seniors’ organizations to advise the minister responsible for seniors on issues of national importance” ••• Promise not kept to “Hold a truly free vote on the definition of marriage in the next session of Parliament.  If the resolution is passed, the government will introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage while respecting existing same-sex marriages” ••• Promise partially kept to “Make all votes in Parliament, except the budget and main estimates, “free votes” for ordinary Members of Parliament” ••• Promise partially kept to “Increase the power of Parliament and parliamentary committees to review the spending estimates of departments and hold ministers to account.” ••• Promise not kept to “Place international treaties before Parliament for ratification.”
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: n/a
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Pass a law requiring all government departments and institutions to use consultation processes that provide meaningful opportunities for citizen participation, especially concerning decisions that affect the lives of all Canadians.  (Go to Stop Fraud Politician Spending for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)


10. Restricting power of Cabinet to make appointments - E-

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: “The Liberals have repeatedly appointed insiders, in some cases completely unqualified, to important public offices. Liberal candidates and MPs have received appointments as heads of Crown corporations, board members, and ambassadors.  Liberal staffers, including some of those responsible for the sponsorship program, have worked their way into key positions in thepublic service.” (p. 9 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document)
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promise fully kept to “Ensure that all Officers of Parliament are appointed through consultation with all parties in the House of Commons” ••• Promise mostly kept to “Prevent ministerial aides and other political appointees receiving favoured treatment when applying for public service positions” ••• Promise broken so far to “Establish a Public Appointments Commission to set merit-based requirements for appointments to government boards, commissions, and agencies, to ensure that competitions for posts are widely publicized and fairly conducted” (the FAA states that the federal Cabinet “may” establish the Commission, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken no steps to establish the Commission since a parliamentary committee rejected his handpicked patronage nominee for Chair of the Commission in April 2006, and the federal Cabinet has appointed many Conservatives to key positions — NOTE: in its October 2008 election platform, the Conservatives again promised to establish the Commission) ••• Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made key decisions, and continues to be involved, in setting the terms of reference for a public inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, and in choosing the inquiry commissioner
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: n/a
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Require approval by opposition party leaders for the approximately 3,000 judicial, agency, board, commission and tribunal appointments currently made by the Prime Minister (including the board and President of the CBC), especially for appointees to senior and law enforcement positions, after a merit-based nomination process ••• and Change the federal Inquiries Act to allow a majority of party leaders to launch an inquiry and to require approval by a majority of party leaders for setting the terms of reference for an inquiry, and for the selection of an inquiry commissioner or commission, and also to allow citizens to initiate an inquiry through a petition containing signatures from at least 10% of Canadians  (Go to Democratic Voting Systems Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)


11. Making the Senate democratic or abolishing it - D

Conservatives’ rhetoric: “Canada is a democracy, yet our democratic system has not kept pace with the needs of a changing society. Paul Martin used to talk about a democratic deficit, but his actions as Prime Minister have deepened it. A new Conservative government will be committed to significant democratic reform of our Parliamentary and electoral institutions.” (p. 44 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document)

  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promises kept half-way to “Begin reform of the Senate by creating a national process for choosing elected Senators from each province and territory” ••• and to “Propose further reforms to make the Senate an effective, independent, and democratically elected body that equitably represents all regions.” (the Conservatives have introduced bills, which have not passed, to set term limits for senators and to elect senators, and continue their efforts (which continue to face legitimate barriers (ie. questions about the constitutionality of the bills) and illegitimate bariers (ie. undue delays in responses by provincial governments and senators)) ••• appointed senators in violation of promise not to do so until reforms were implemented ••• appointed Supreme Court Justice before promised parliamentary review was completed
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: n/a
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Attempt to reach an agreement with provincial governments (as required by the Constitution) to either abolish the Senate or reform the Senate (with a safeguard that Senate powers will not be increased unless senators are elected and their overall accountability increased).  (Go to Democratic Voting Systems Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)


12. Ensuring free, fair and representative elections - D

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: “Canada is a democracy, yet our democratic system has not kept pace with the needs of a changing society. Paul Martin used to talk about a democratic deficit, but his actions as Prime Minister have deepened it. A new Conservative government will be committed to significant democratic reform of our Parliamentary and electoral institutions.” (p. 44 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document)
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promise fully kept to give Electoral Officer the power to select returning officers for elections ••• Promise partially kept (because the Prime Minister called an election in September 2008 before a non-confidence vote had occurred in the House of Commons) to “Introduce legislation modeled on the BC and Ontario laws requiring fixed election dates every four years, except when a government loses the confidence of the House (in which case an election would be held immediately, and the subsequent election would follow four years later)” ••• Promise partially kept to “Restore representation by population for Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta in the House of Commons while protecting the seat counts of smaller provinces” (the bill introduced by the Conservatives restores representation by population for B.C. and Alberta, but not Ontario)
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: Promises broken to “Ensure that party nomination and leadership races are conducted in a fair, transparent, and democratic manner” ••• and to “Prevent party leaders from appointing candidates without the democratic consent of local electoral district associations.”
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Change the current voting law and system in the ways promised by the Conservatives set out in the above section, and also as follows: so that nomination and party leadership races are regulated by Elections Canada (including limiting spending on campaigns for party leadership) ••• so that Elections Canada determines which parties can participate in election debates based upon merit criteria ••• so that voters are allowed to refuse their ballot (ie. vote for “none of the above”, as in Ontario) ••• to provide a more equal number of voters in every riding ••• and to provide a more accurate representation in Parliament of the actual voter support for each political party while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, a majority of voters in a specific constituency (and with a safeguard to ensure that a party with low-level, narrow-base support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in Parliament) ••• require the media to give equal prominence to all numbers in survey result reports, to end the misleading hype of polls seen in the past few federal elections  (Go to Democratic Voting Systems Campaign and Stop Muzzling MPs Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

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V. General Government Accountability Measures

SECTION V OVERALL GRADE
E+


13. Facilitating citizen watchdog groups over government - I

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: n/a
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: n/a
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: n/a
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Require federal government institutions to enclose one-page pamphlets periodically in their mailings to citizens inviting citizens to join citizen-funded and directed groups to represent citizen interests in policy-making and enforcement processes of key government departments (for example, on ethics, spending, and health care) as has been proposed in the U.S. and recommended for Canadian banks and other financial institutions in 1998 by a federal task force, a House of Commons Committee, and a Senate Committee.  (Go to Stop Fraud Robocalls Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)


14. Ensuring effective whistleblower protection - D

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: “There have been many examples over the years of reprisals against government whistleblowers, including public servants who helped reveal the sponsorship scandal, and others who exposed waste and abuse in the Department of Foreign Affairs.  After pressure from the opposition and whistleblowers themselves, the Liberals brought forward weak legislation to deal with the issue.  Much more still needs to be done.” (p. 10 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document)
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promise mostly kept to “Give the Public Service Integrity Commissioner the power to enforce compliance with the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act” (in fact, the FAA gives a new Tribunal the power to enforce the Act) ••• Promise partially kept to “Ensure that all Canadians who report government wrongdoing are protected, not just public servants” (in fact, not even all public servants are protected) ••• Promise partially kept to “Remove the government’s ability to exempt Crown corporations and other bodies from the Act” (in fact, the government has chosen not to have some bodies (e.g. CSIS) covered by the Act) ••• Promise partially kept to “Require the prompt public disclosure of information revealed by whistleblowers, except where national security or the security of individuals is affected” (in fact, some information will likely never be disclosed) ••• Promise partially kept to “Ensure that whistleblowers have access to the courts and that they are provided with adequate legal counsel” (in fact, whistleblowers have to first go to a new Tribunal, and in most cases will only be provided with $1,500 maximum for legal counsel costs)
  • Promised measures not included in FAA:  Promise broken to “Establish monetary rewards for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing or save taxpayers dollars”
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Require everyone to report any violation of any law, regulation, policy, code, guideline or rule ••• and give all watchdog agencies over government (for example: Auditor General, Information Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner, Public Service Commission, the four ethics watchdogs, Security and Intelligence Review Committee, the National Health Council) full powers to investigate allegations of violations, to penalize violators, to protect anyone who reports a violation (so-called “whistleblowers”) from retaliation, to reward whistleblowers whose allegations are proven to be true, and to ensure a right to appeal to the courts.  (Go to Open Government Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)


15. Ensuring loophole free laws and strong penalties for wrongdoers - C

  • Conservatives’ rhetoric: “To ensure prosecutorial independence, a Conservative government will follow the path of several provinces, including Nova Scotia and British Columbia, and other parliamentary democracies such as the United Kingdom and Australia and establish an independent Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.” (p. 13 of the Conservatives’ 2006 election platform document)
  • Promised measures implemented fully or partially: Promises mostly kept to “Create the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, with the responsibility to conduct prosecutions under federal jurisdiction” ••• to “Give the Director of Public Prosecutions the power to make binding and final decisions to prosecute or not unless the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General instructs the Director to do otherwise by means of public written notice” ••• to “Appoint the Director of Public Prosecutions from among qualified candidates recommended by a committee which will include representatives of the opposition parties in Parliament” ••• “Give the Director of Public Prosecutions the mandate to review recent decisions on prosecutions in the sponsorship scandal and other matters which have been the subject of investigation by the Auditor General and the Ethics Counsellor or Commissioner” ••• and to “Structure the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in accordance with best practices in other jurisdictions such as British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Australia, and the United Kingdom” ••• Promise kept to “Establish, at the earliest possible time, a comprehensive, independent judicial inquiry into the investigation of the Air India bombing of June 23, 1985.”
  • Promised measures not included in FAA: Promise broken to “”Ensure that regional development agencies are depoliticized and fully accountable to Parliament and Canadians.”
  • Loopholes/flaws still in federal government’s accountability system: Close any technical and other loopholes that have been identified in laws, regulations, policies, codes, guidelines and rules (especially those regulating government institutions and large corporations) to help ensure strong enforcement, and increase financial penalties for violations to a level that significantly effects the annual revenues/budget of the institution or corporation.  (Go to Open Government Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

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