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Canadians have achieved more than 400 firsts and foremosts in the world – but as Canada’s federal government turns 150, it’s far from a world-leading democracy

Many key changes needed to have democratic good government – all can be made before federal government turns 151

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, June 29, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch pointed to the more than 400 firsts and foremosts in the world achieved by Canadians, as documented in the best-selling books Canada Firsts and More Canada Firsts (co-authored and authored respectively by Democracy Watch Co-founder Duff Conacher). Democracy Watch called on federal political parties to work together during the Government of Canada’s 150th year to make all the changes needed to ensure Canada also becomes the world’s leading democracy. Many key changes are needed to ensure everyone in federal politics is effectively required to act honesty, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste.

“Both the Liberals and NDP promised 75 democratic good government reforms in the last election, but the Liberals have already broken some key promises, and many more key changes are needed to ensure everyone in federal politics is finally effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste,” said Conacher.

The top 10 most important changes that need to be made for everyone in federal politics (politicians, appointees, political staff, public servants and lobbyists), are as follows:

  1. Enact an honesty-in-politics law that allows for complaints to the federal Ethics Commissioner about broken promises, and about dishonest statements made anywhere (including in Parliament) by anyone involved in politics, with mandatory high fines as the penalty.
  2. Require all federally regulated industry and service sector (banks, and life and health insurance, airline, phone, cable TV, food) to include a notice in their mailings and emails to customers inviting them to join and fund citizen watchdog groups for each industry and sector, and increase royalties for all resource development sectors (mining, forestry, fisheries) and put part of the increase into a fund that citizen watchdog groups jointly oversee and use for jointly decided initiatives.
  3. Establish an independent Public Appointments Commission (as Britain has) whose members are approved of by the leaders of parties that receive more than 5 percent of the popular vote in the election, and require the Commission to conduct public, merit-based searches and choose a short list of a maximum of 3 candidates for all Cabinet appointments, with the Cabinet required to choose from the short list.
  4. Enact a meaningful public consultation law that requires broad, in-depth public consultation with voters (including legislature committee hearings) before any government or government institution makes a significant decision, and free and empower MLAs to represent voters and hold the government accountable by restricting the powers of the Prime Minister and party leaders.
  5. In addition, to the ban on political donations and gifts from businesses, unions and other organizations, actually stop the unethical influence of big money by, as in Quebec, limiting individual donations to $100 annually and establishing per-vote and donation-matching public funding.
  6. Prohibit everyone in politics from participating in any way in any decision-making process if they have even the appearance of a conflict of interest (even if the decision applies generally), including banning anyone who leaves politics from communicating with anyone involved in politics about their decisions for 3-5 years.
  7. Require everyone in politics to disclose through an online registry any communication they have with anyone with regard to decisions they are making (to close the secret lobbying loopholes that now exist).
  8. Change the voting system to ensure a more accurate representation of the popular vote results of each election in the seats held by each party in the legislature while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, voters in each riding/constituency (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with a low-level, narrow-base of support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in the legislature) – and actually fix election dates (as Britain has).
  9. Strengthen the access-to-information law by reducing loopholes, applying it to all government and government-funded institutions, requiring that records of all decisions and actions be disclosed regularly, and giving the Information Commissioner the power and mandate to order disclosure (as in B.C., Ontario and Quebec) and changes to government institutions’ information systems (as in Britain), and to penalize violators, and ensure whistleblower protection by strengthening the rules and empowering the Public Interest Commissioner to protect all whistleblowers in the public and private sectors.
  10. Reduce waste by prohibiting omnibus budget bills, and empowering the Auditor General to: audit all government and government-funded institutions; audit projected spending to ensure truth-in-budgetting; prohibit government advertising if it is misleading or partisan; order changes to clean up the financial management of any institution, and; penalize violators of spending or procurement rules. And shutting down the Senate would also save money.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Campaigns page

Group files court case against federal Ethics Commissioner for biased rulings and illegal 6-month term appointment

Ethics Commissioner handed 6-month, $100,000 contract in December by Trudeau Cabinet but refused to recuse herself from investigating complaints about Trudeau

Ethics Commissioner’s current second 6-month term illegal, and so is her recent reappointment for another 6 months

Ethics Commissioner also biased against Democracy Watch – has failed to investigate five of its ethics complaints while responding to complaint by others

Despite their false claims, Liberals’ appointment process still Cabinet-controlled not merit-based – 10,000+ call on Liberals to make changes to match Ontario’s and Britain’s world-leading appointment processes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, June 26, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced its court case challenging decisions by federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson made in a letter dated March 29th sent to Democracy Watch, including her refusal to recuse herself from investigating and ruling on complaints about Prime Minister Trudeau’s actions because of her conflict of interest created when Trudeau Cabinet gave her the gift of a $100,000, six-month contract in mid-December, a contract that has just been renewed for another six months (See page 1 of her letter). David Yazbeck of RavenLaw in Ottawa is providing pro bono counsel to Democracy Watch for the case.

The case, filed in the Federal Court of Appeal, is also based on the claim that the Ethics Commissioner’s current second six-month interim appointment is illegal. The appointment was made under the Parliament of Canada Act subsection 82(2) which says that a person can only be appointed for a term of no longer than six months.

The case also challenges the Ethics Commissioner’s specific bias against Democracy Watch, as Commissioner Dawson has failed or refused to investigate and rule on five complaints filed by Democracy Watch. In contrast, the Ethics Commissioner has ruled on complaints filed by MPs and other people, and in much shorter time periods.

Democracy Watch won a case in 2004 against then-Ethics Counsellor Howard Wilson in part because of his similar pattern of delay and refusal to rule on its complaints. As with Ethics Commissioner Dawson, Democracy Watch was Ethics Counsellor Wilson’s most vocal critic, and challenged several of his rulings in public and in court.

Since 2010, Democracy Watch has repeatedly called on MPs to fire Ethics Commissioner Dawson because of her weak enforcement record. Democracy Watch also challenged one of the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling in court in 2009, and has an ongoing court case challenging the Ethics Commissioner’s use of conflict of interest “smokescreens” that cover up the fact that Cabinet ministers and senior government officials take part in decisions even when they have a clear conflict of interest.

“As it has before, Democracy Watch is again going to court to try to stop Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s ongoing unethical reign of error,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The court case directly challenges the Ethics Commissioner’s conflict of interest caused by the fact that while she was investigating Prime Minister Trudeau she was given a second six-month contract by the Trudeau Cabinet, a contract that the Cabinet was prohibited from giving her. We hope the court will agree that the Ethics Commissioner’s bias and illegal second-term contract prohibited her from ruling on complaints about the actions of Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet ministers and MPs.”

“Prime Minister Trudeau finally acknowledged in May that the Ethics Commissioner investigating him causes a conflict of interest that prohibits him from taking part in decisions about the Ethics Commissioner position but the Ethics Commissioner continues to refuse to acknowledge that the situation also causes a conflict of interest for her,” said Conacher.

In the past week, more than 10,000 Canadians have signed Democracy Watch’s Stop Political Lapdog Appointments petition on Change.org which calls on the federal Liberal government to make the Cabinet appointment process actually independent and merit-based (as Britain has) for Cabinet appointments of all judges, officers of parliament, and members of agencies, boards, commissions and tribunals. The petition was launched as part of Democracy Watch’s ongoing Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign.

The five Democracy Watch complaints Commissioner Dawson has failed or refused to investigate and rule on are:

  1. Democracy Watch’s December 10, 2013 complaint about Prime Minister Harper staff Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin who all assisted Nigel Wright as he violated the Conflict of Interest Act by paying off Senator Mike Duffy;
  2. Democracy Watch’s December 6, 2016 complaint about Trudeau Cabinet fundraising events that involved lobbyists (the complaint raised legal issues not raised by the complaints filed in early December by then-Conservative MP Rona Ambrose and NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice which the Commissioner responded to much earlier in mid-February (See page 3 of the Commissioner’s March 29th letter);
  3. Democracy Watch’s December 14, 2016 complaint that the Trudeau Cabinet is in a conflict of interest when making appointment decisions about the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner at the same time both commissioner offices were investigating complaints that the Prime Minister and/or ministers violated the Conflict of Interest Act or had a relationship with a lobbyist that violates the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. Despite the Ethics Commissioner mischaracterizing Democracy Watch’s complaint in order to dismiss it (see page 2 of her letter), Trudeau finally recused himself in mid-May from all matters relating to the appointment of the next Ethics Commissioner.
  4. Democracy Watch’s December 16, 2016 complaint complaint about a new and different situation that had not been considered by the Ethics Commissioner before – Prime Minister Trudeau giving preferential treatment to the companies and/or organizations or other individuals represented by several Liberal Party donors when he invited those donors to a gala dinner in honour of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on September, as reported in the Globe and Mail (See page 3 of the Commissioner’s March 29th letter).
  5. Democracy Watch’s January 31, 2017 complaint about the Aga Khan’s trip gifts to then-MP Trudeau in 2014, and to Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan in December 2016, and lobbyist Murray Edwards’ trip gift to then-Conservative Interim Party Leader Rona Ambrose in December 2016 (See page 2 of the Commissioner’s March 29th letter – the Commissioner is investigating a complaint filed by Conservative MP Blaine Calkin and a complaint filed by Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer about the Aga Khan’s December 2016 trip gift to Trudeau).

The Liberals haven’t changed the federal Cabinet appointment process at all from what the Conservatives used (other than adding the goal of diversity). In the answer to the third question in the “Frequently Asked Questions” document describing the Liberals’ Cabinet appointment process (which was updated on April 28th), it says Cabinet ministers “manage” all appointment processes.

That means Cabinet appointments are still partisan, political processes, not merit-based as the Liberals claim (as the recent appointment of former Ontario Liberal Cabinet minister Madeleine Meilleur as the federal Languages Commissioner has revealed so clearly) and the government’s website listing openings and qualifications for Cabinet appointments that the Liberals claim makes the appointment process more open and transparent has existed for several years.

Two weeks ago, Democracy Watch called on the federal Liberals to suspend the appointment of the next Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying, and all other judicial and watchdog appointments, until they make the appointment process actually independent and merit-based.

In addition to their false claims about changing the Cabinet appointment process, the Trudeau Liberals have made false claims about the appointment processes for several officers of parliament. According to the June 9th Canadian Press article, an unnamed senior government source claims that “specific qualifications for each watchdog are spelled out in legislation.” In fact, statutory qualifications are set out only in the Parliament of Canada Act and only for the Ethics Commissioner. There are no statutory requirements for the Lobbying Commissioner or Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) — the three other officers whose positions are open – nor for the Information Commissioner (whose position is open soon).

As well, the Liberals have made the very questionable claim that they can’t find anyone qualified to be the CEO, Lobbying Commissioner or Ethics Commissioner. To give one of likely many examples of qualified applicants, Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch, applied for, and is fully qualified for, the Lobbying Commissioner position (and was short listed for that position in 2007 by the Conservatives’ candidate search process).

“The Liberals’ false claims smell very fishy and are clearly an attempt to cover up the fact that they haven’t changed the appointment process for government and law enforcement watchdogs, and that it’s still political and partisan, not merit-based, as Trudeau Cabinet ministers can still choose whomever they want,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Liberals’ Cabinet appointment system is essentially the same as the Harper Conservatives used, and it allows Trudeau Cabinet ministers to choose their own Liberal Party cronies as government and law enforcement lapdogs.”

“The Trudeau Cabinet is in a conflict of interest when choosing any government or law enforcement watchdog because those watchdogs enforce laws that apply to Cabinet ministers or their departments,” said Conacher. “The only way to stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for judges and watchdogs, a fully independent public appointment commission must be created, as Ontario and Britain have, to conduct public, merit-based searches for nominees and send a short list to Cabinet, with Cabinet required to choose from the list.”

Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign proposes that the way to ensure the appointment of fully independent, merit-based judges and watchdogs is to have a fully independent commission whose members are approved by all federal party leaders (and entities such as the Canadian Judicial Council) do a public, non-partisan merit-based search for candidates, and to require the Trudeau Cabinet to choose from a short-list of one to three candidates that the commission nominates.

Ontario uses this kind of independent appointment system to appoint provincial judges (the advisory committee provides a shortlist of three candidates to the Cabinet). Britain uses it to appoint judges and judicial tribunal members (like the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner are) – its advisory committee provides only one candidate to the Cabinet, and the Cabinet has to accept the candidate or reject the candidate and provide written reasons. Both of their systems are considered to be world leading.

Democracy Watch also called on the Liberals, and all governments, to change the law to ensure all Cabinet appointees who watch over the government or oversee key democracy laws and processes (especially every Officer of Parliament) be only allowed to serve one term.

The new appointment process, and prohibition on being reappointed, should apply to the judicial advisory committees and appointments of all 1,123 federal and provincial superior court judicial appointments listed here, and to the new public appointments commission that must be established to ensure a merit-based selection process for a short list of candidates for appointment to the 32 federal administrative tribunals and 108 agencies/boards listed here.

“Like judges, all government and democracy watchdogs must only serve one term, with no possibility that the government can reappoint them, to ensure watchdogs don’t try to please the government in order to keep their job,” said Conacher. “To safeguard our democracy the ruling party must not be allowed to reappoint any government watchdog.”

The past 10 years cannot be repeated if Canada wants to claim it is a democracy, as the federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s very weak enforcement record and Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd’s very weak enforcement record have done as much to undermine democracy in Canada as the dishonest, unethical and secretive actions of various politicians (See Part 1 of the Backgrounder below for details).

Democracy Watch and the nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition continue to call for key changes to strengthen federal political ethics and lobbying rules and the enforcement systems (See Part 2 of the Backgrounder below for details).

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign


Backgrounder

1. Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s weak enforcement record

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has had a very weak enforcement record since 2007, including (as of June 2015) making 149 secret rulings, issuing only 25 public rulings, and letting 75 (94%) of people who clearly violated ethics rules off the hook.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson has greatly undermined various sections of the Conflict of Interest Act (COIA) in past rulings by creating loopholes in the COIA that do not exist – such as:

  1. her April 29, 2010 “Cheques Report” ruling claiming that political parties are not “persons” under the COIA and therefore it was fine for Conservative MPs and Cabinet ministers to hand out government cheques with the Conservative Party logo on them;
  2. her May 13, 2010 “Raitt Report” ruling that it was fine for two lobbyists who were lobbying Minister Lisa Raitt to help raise thousands of dollars for her riding association because, you claimed, that only helped the association not her;
  3. her December 2016 ruling that it was fine for Health Minister Jane Philpott to use the driving service company of one of her former campaign volunteers because it was the only such company Minister Philpott claimed she knew about (a ruling that creates a loophole allowing any Minister or other senior government officlal to use the same invalid excuse Minister Philpott used to give contracts to their friends or other party loyalists).
  4. her baseless decision that the COIA only applies to financial interests despite the fact that the COIA’s section 2 definition of “private interest” does not in any way even suggest that the definition of “private interest” is restricted to only financial interests, and;
  5. her baseless decision that the COIA only applies to close personal friends (there is no such definition of “friends” in the COIA).

Because of section 66 added to the then-new Conflict of Interest Act by the Conservatives in 2006, the Ethics Commissioner’s rulings cannot be challenged in court if she has factual or legal errors in her rulings. If this section had not been added to the Act, Democracy Watch would have challenged several of Commissioner Dawson’s rulings since 2007 in court.

Democracy Watch is currently challenging Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s use of conflict-of-interest screens in court on the basis that the screens are unlawful.

2. Federal ethics law and codes missing key rules and accountability measures

The Conservatives broke a 2006 election promise (one of their many broken accountability promises) to include key ethics rules in the new Conflict of Interest Act prohibiting dishonesty and being in even an appearance of a conflict of interest. Prime Minister Harper instead put those rules in his Accountable Government code for ministers and other senior officials so he could ignore the rules (as he did until the Conservatives were defeated in the 2015 election – see especially rules in Annex A, Part 1 of the code).

The Liberals made no promises in their 2015 election platform to close the huge loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Act (and they also made no promises to close the huge loopholes in the Lobbying Act or the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act). Instead, Prime Minister Trudeau re-named and re-issued the Accountability Government code as his Open and Accountable Government code. He has ignored the rules in his code just like Prime Minister Harper did.

Attorney General in court Monday arguing Premier didn’t approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline

Lawsuit alleges Premier Clark, and ministers Coleman and Polak, were biased by $645,000 in donations by pipeline companies to B.C. Liberal Party

PIPE UP and Democracy Watch in BC Supreme Court on June 26, 2017 asking for production of process for concluding that $1 Billion Kinder Morgan Revenue Sharing Agreement with Province satisfied “Five Conditions for Pipeline Approval”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, June 23, 2017

VANCOUVER – This Monday, June 26, 2017, Democracy Watch and PIPE UP Network will be in the B.C. Supreme Court for the next step in their lawsuit that alleges the decision to approve the Kinder Morgan Pipeline was tainted by $645,000 paid by Kinder Morgan pipeline-connected companies to the B.C. Liberal Party in the past five years. The $645,000, plus the Premier’s salary paid by the BC Liberal Party, caused a reasonable apprehension that Premier Clark’s participation in the decision-making process was biased.

“Incredibly, Premier Clark is pretending she didn’t participate in any way in her government’s approval of Kinder Morgan pipeline in an attempt to dodge the issue that the approval was biased by $645,000 in donations from pipeline-connected companies to the B.C. Liberal Party, part of which she received in her $50,000 annual salary from the party,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Is Premier Clark actually trying to deny that she stood in front of the cameras in 2012 and announced her five conditions for pipeline approval, and that she announced last November the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal had not yet met her five conditions, and that she announced in January that her government had approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline because her five conditions had been met?”

“The Premier’s role in imposing the five conditions on the Kinder Morgan approval and deciding that the five conditions were satisfied is part of the administrative process and forms a critical aspect of the decision-making context that must be assessed in determining whether the Kinder Morgan approval was tainted by bias,” said Jason Gratl, counsel for PIPE UP and Democracy Watch.

Premier Clark gave two press conferences in which she took personal responsibility for the Kinder Morgan pipeline approval and the five conditions, one on November 30, 2016 and the other on January 11, 2017.

On November 30, 2016, the Province’s press release quoted Premier Clark as saying “any heavy oil project must meet the five conditions.” In her press conference held the same day, the Premier stated that the fifth condition had not been met and repeatedly took personal responsibility for ensuring that the five conditions are met, saying: “I haven’t changed my position on this project one iota from the very beginning… I have said from the very beginning that the Five Conditions are the path to getting to yes… What British Columbians expect is that their Premier is going to stand up, fight to protect our Province, find the balance between economy and jobs… I’ve been fighting to make sure we get there for British Columbians.” Premier Clark closed the press conference by saying, “My job is to make sure it’s met the five conditions.”

At the press conference held on January 11, 2017, Premier Clark was asked by Justine Hunter of the Globe and Mail how a deal could be reached in the space of an hour-and-a-half if negotiations on the agreement did not form part of the environmental assessment process (presumably between the government’s press releases issued that day at 1:30 p.m. (about the environmental assessment) and 3:00 p.m. (about the five conditions)). In response, Premier Clark stated, “Well, we have been working over the past four-and-a-half-years, talking to Kinder Morgan about how this could potentially be structured. The money part of it is the least hard, I guess. The ocean spills protection side of it was the hardest to nail down. All of these things though have been under discussion at some level between governments and the proponents for some years now.”

“The real question,” observed Lynn Perrin, a PIPE UP director, “is what a reasonable person would think when asked, ‘Did the Premier get the best deal for British Columbia? Would the Premier have negotiated a better deal or no deal at all if she and the Liberal Party had not received $645,000 from Kinder Morgan and related companies?’”

To see a summary of the arguments PIPE UP and Democracy Watch will make on Monday, click here (PDF), and to see the full arguments click here (PDF).

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Jason Gratl, Gratl and Company, Tel: 604-317-1919

Lynn Perrin, PIPE UP, Tel: 604-309-9369
Email: lperrinf@gmail.com

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Money in Politics Campaign

Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s politicians and public know rules for its minority government because they are written – B.C.’s Lieutenant Governor, politicians and public don’t because rules are unwritten

B.C. Party leaders should agree to written rules – as British MPs did in 2010 – making it clear when the legislature can be closed, what a vote of non-confidence is, when and how opposition parties will get a chance to govern, what will trigger next election etc.

As showdown over Speaker of the B.C. legislature continues, DWatch’s proposal to change to non-partisan, non-MLA Speaker is still the best solution (would be similar to B.C.’s non-MLA ethics and information commissioners, and AG and CEO)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, June 20, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, with B.C.’s legislature finally opening in two days, Democracy Watch called on the B.C. party leaders and the Lieutenant Governor to agree on public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want and as Britain’s Parliament did seven years ago with its 110-page Cabinet manual. Agreeing on and writing down the rules now (and making them law as soon as possible) will help ensure the legislature runs fairly and democratically through to the next election.

The rules should make clear: when the legislature can be closed; what a vote of non-confidence is; when and how the opposition parties may get a chance to govern, and; when and how the next election can be called before the fixed election date (See Backgrounder below for the rules).

“Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s politicians and public know the rules for its minority government because its rules are written but B.C.’s Lieutenant Governor, politicians and public don’t because its rules are unwritten,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “If B.C.’s politicians don’t agree to written rules for the minority government, several constitutional crises will very likely happen with politicians, lawyers and academics having ridiculous arguments, and the unelected, unaccountable Lieutenant Governor forced to make decisions, based on conflicting opinions about unwritten rules. Meanwhile, in Britain everyone will be following clear, written rules.”

“Nobody knows for sure what an unwritten rule says, and that’s why Britain, Australia, New Zealand and most other countries have written down their key constitutional rules,” said Conacher. “It’s clearly in the public interest that the rules be written down to stop unfair abuses of power by the ruling parties that will violate the rights of the legislature and the democratic will of the majority of voters right through to the next election.”

For example, Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s politicians and public all know that the only way an election can occur before the next fixed election date under Britain’s Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is if at least two-thirds of MPs vote in favour of a motion to call an early election or if a resolution is passed that states the legislature has no confidence in the government and that resolution is not reversed within 14 days. Many commentators claimed Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May called a “snap” election – she didn’t she proposed an early election and more than two-thirds of MPs approved her proposal.

In contrast, B.C.’s Lieutenant Governor, politicians and public do not know how the next election could happen – which gives the unelected Lieutenant Governor enormous, unaccounable power. The current rules in B.C., are unclear because they are unwritten constitutional conventions – even constitutional scholars disagree what lines they draw (and, as a result, a large majority of scholars agree they should be written down). The vagueness in the rules effectively allows the elected Premier and ruling party to abuse their powers and violate the rules, as the only way to stop violations is for the unelected, unaccountable Lieutenant Governor to decide that a violation has occurred and to try to stop the elected Premier from doing what they want.

Lieutenant governors in B.C. other provinces have almost never stopped a premier from doing whatever they want, and have allowed premiers to abuse their powers by not opening the legislature after an election, shutting it down arbitrarily for months, and calling snap elections in violation of fixed-election-date laws. The Governor General allowed Prime Minister Harper to call a snap election in 2008 in violation of the (too vague) fixed-election-date law, to prorogue Parliament in a very questionable minority government situation, and to declare many votes in Parliament as confidence votes even though they were clearly not confidence votes.

In Britain, Australia and New Zealand, political party leaders and MPs agreed years ago to clear, public constitutional rules to ensure the legislature runs fairly (especially during a minority government) for all the parties, and for voters. Most countries in the world also have clear, public rules written down in laws or their constitution concerning how the legislature runs and how elections happen.

As well, a survey of more than 2,000 Canadians by Harris-Decima in November-December 2012 showed that 84% of adult Canadians want enforceable rules to restrict key powers of the Prime Minister and provincial premiers.

The Governor General also said last August in an an interview with the Hill Times that he thought these unwritten constitutional conventions should be written down.

After initial rules are enacted into law, the B.C. legislature should, as the legislatures in Britain, Australia and New Zealand have, examine and enact other fairness rules to ensure the legislature and MLAs can hold the government accountable. The rules should cover the following key areas: when the legislature is required to open after an election; which party has the right to attempt to govern first after an election; what can be included in omnibus bills; the freedom and powers of individual politicians to vote how they want on resolutions and bills; how members of legislature committees are chosen; what a Cabinet can do during an election campaign period until the next Cabinet is chosen.

As the showdown over the Speaker of the B.C. legislature continues, Democracy Watch again called on B.C. party leaders to change the province’s Constitution Act (section 37) so that the legislature has a non-partisan, non-MLA as Speaker. The change would take at most a month, as the Standing Orders of the Legislature (PDF) state in section 81: “On urgent or extraordinary occasions, a Bill may be read twice or thrice, or advanced two or more stages in one day.”

Establishing a non-MLA Speaker would be similar to the non-MLA B.C.’s legislature has already established for its other Officers of the Legislature – the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, Information Commissioner, Auditor General and Chief Electoral Officer.

In the interim any MLA could serve as Speaker, even an MLA from the likely NDP-Green partnership government, as they could vote to break any ties in favour of the government without violating any constitutional convention given that conventions are vague, unwritten standards (which is why they should be written down as clear rules – see details above).

Some commentators have claimed that the legislature must also have a Deputy Speaker – in fact, section 37(3) of the Constitution Act says that the legislature “may” choose a Deputy Speaker so there is no requirement.

“Politicians shouldn’t ever be in a position like the speaker of a legislature where they judge other politicians because they are in a conflict of interest when doing so, and can easily make decisions for partisan, political reasons,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “To prevent bad political decisions by the speaker of the B.C. legislature, and because of the current seat-split, it is a great time to change to a non-partisan, non-MLA speaker for the legislature.”

At the federal level, former Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer was a great example in 2014 of why you don’t want a partisan politician as Speaker when he let fellow Conservative MP Paul Calandra off the hook for clearly violating the rules concerning answering questions during Question Period.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Democracy Watch’s Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign


BACKGROUNDER

8 Key Rules for Minority Government

  1. Even if the leaders of parties that represent a majority of members of the legislature do not indicate lack of support for the party that wins the most seats before that party’s Speech from the Throne, if they subsequently indicate lack of support for the Speech, the Lieutenant Governor will not allow the Premier-designate to prorogue the legislature before the Speech from the Throne is voted on by members of the legislature;
  2. If a majority of members in the legislature vote against the Speech from the Throne, the Lieutenant Governor will give the opposition parties an opportunity to govern (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement) before calling an election;
  3. After the vote on the Speech from the Throne, the only vote in the legislature that shall be a vote of non-confidence is a vote on a motion that states: “The legislature does not have confidence in the government.”
  4. If opposition parties introduce a motion of non-confidence in the governing party at any time after election day, the Lieutenant Governor will not allow the Premier to prorogue the legislature before the motion is voted on by the legislature;
  5. If a majority in the legislature votes to approve a motion of non-confidence in the governing party before the next fixed-election date, the Lieutenant Governor will give the opposition parties an opportunity to govern (through either a formal coalition or legislative agenda agreement) before agreeing to any request by the Premier that the Lieutenant Governor call an election;
  6. After the next election, until the Lieutenant Governor has communicated directly with all the party leaders, the Lieutenant Governor will not make a decision about which party or parties (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement) will be given the opportunity to govern first (i.e. to appoint a Cabinet and introduce a Speech from the Throne in the legislature);
  7. The party that wins the most seats in the next election will be given the first opportunity to govern, including in partnership or coalition with another party, unless the leaders of other parties representing a majority of members of the legislature indicate clearly to the Lieutenant Governor that they will not support that party and that they have agreed to form a coalition government or have agreed on a common legislative agenda, and;
  8. Within 30 days after the Lieutenant Governor decides which party or parties will be given the first opportunity to govern, the Lieutenant Governor and the governing party/parties will open the legislature with a Speech from the Throne.

House Committee recommends key changes to strengthen federal government whistleblower protection – will the Liberals finally make the changes?

21,000+ and many citizen groups unanimously call for changes – Committee unfortunately fails to recommend changes to protect whistleblowers who work in federal businesses

Governments across Canada need to make all the changes needed to ensure government and business whistleblowers are fully protected, as banking and airline scandals show

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, June 16, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch applauded the report released by the House of Commons Government Operations Committee that calls for many key changes to strengthen protection for whistleblowers who report wrongdoing by people in the federal government. Democracy Watch Watch appeared before the Committee twice, and its submission included the Change.org petition that more than 21,000 voters signed calling for 17 key changes by the federal government to protect people who blow the whistle on government and big business abuse, waste and law-breaking. As the current banking service scandal and airline service scandals show, such protection is much needed.

“The committee has recommended many key changes to strengthen protection for people who blow the whistle on wrongdoing in the federal government, and the question now is whether the Liberals will make those changes or continue to let people in federal politics who do wrong threaten and attack people who try to disclose their wrongdoing,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The committee, public sector unions and citizen watchdog groups are unanimously calling for key changes to strengthen whistleblower protection, as are tens of thousands of voters who have signed a national petition, so there is no reason for the Liberals to delay making these changes.”

“The federal Liberals claimed in their 2015 election platform that greater openness and transparency are fundamental to restoring trust in Canada’s democracy but if they don’t strengthen whistleblower protection they will break their open government promise,” said Conacher.

“Unfortunately, the committee did not recommend any changes to strengthen protection for whistleblowers who work with businesses that are regulated by the federal government, and the Liberals also need to make those changes to help stop the widespread, serious wrongdoing and abuse caused by people in Canada’s big banks and other financial institutions, and in airlines, phone, cable TV, food, mining and forestry companies,” said Conacher.

The key changes the Committee recommended include: ensuring everyone involved in federal government operations is covered by the protection law and system (including anyone who helps a whistleblower or is a witness); allowing everyone to file their complaint about retaliation directly with the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal (instead of having to go to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner first) up to 12 months after the retaliation (the current deadline is 60 days); requiring the employer to prove that they didn’t retaliate against a whistleblower (currently the whistleblower has to prove retaliation has occurred); ensuring the Integrity Commissioner is fully independently appointed and empowered to impose penalties; requiring the Integrity Commissioner rule on all complaints publicly in a timely manner, and to report more details about complaint handling; requiring the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer to conduct regular audits of the whole protection system and; empowering the Integrity Commissioner and Tribunal to compensate whistleblowers for legal advice, and rewarding them adequately if their claims are proven.

“The committee should have also recommended requiring disclosure of the identity of all wrongdoers because the public has a right to know when one of their government’s employees does wrong,” said Conacher.

People have tried to protect Canadians by blowing the whistle on governments wasting billions of dollars, approving dangerous drugs, and covering up scandals, and on big businesses gouging them, selling them hazardous products, and covering up pollution and oil spills.

These whistleblowers have been harassed, fired from their jobs, sued, silenced and hurt by governments and big businesses – all because Canadian whistleblower protection laws are weak and enforcement is negligently bad.

The federal Liberals failed to include any promises to strengthen whistleblower protection in their 2015 election platform. The federal Conservatives did little to strengthen whistleblower protection from 2006 to 2015, and actually covered up scandals involving the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (who enforces the federal law). Other federal parties have done little to push for key changes.

Provincial governments across Canada have also failed to protect government and business whistleblowers fully and effectively, although the Ontario Securities Commission took a big step forward in protecting securities law whistleblowers with a new program launched in July 2016 which offers up to $5 million as a reward for whistleblowers whose claims are proven (which has led to calls to reward securities law whistleblowers in other provinces and to reward Competition Act whistleblowers).

Democracy Watch will continue its ProtectWhistleblowers.ca letter-writing campaign and petition until these changes are made across Canada.

– 30 –

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Protect Whistleblowers Who Protect You Campaign

25,000+ petition House Finance Committee to recommend key changes to stop gouging and abuse of big bank consumers

Finance Minister reviewing Bank Act right now – petition calls for creation of financial consumer group, turning FCAC and Ombudsman from lapdogs into watchdogs, audits of profits and lending, and increasing penalties

Big Six bank profits up to $20.6 billion already this year – were $37.35 billion in 2016 ($2 billion higher than in 2015, and more than double their 2010 profits) – higher than comparable banks in all other countries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, as the House of Commons Finance Committee has just finished its much too short three days of hearings in response to CBC’s reports of employees at all of Canada’s big five banks breaking the law, and as Finance Minister Bill Morneau reviews the Bank Act and other financial sector laws, Democracy Watch called on the Finance Committee to strongly recommend the changes called for by its Bank Accountability Campaign and Change.org petition that more than 25,000 people have signed.

Democracy Watch’s submission and the petition call for the following key changes to stop bank gouging and abuse:

  1. Require banks, trust and insurance companies to promote in their mailings and emails to customers that they can join a national Financial Consumer Organization (FCO – as recommended in 1998 by the MacKay Task Force, and the House Finance and Senate Banking committees);
  2. Strengthen key consumer protection rules, and require the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) to do unannounced, mystery-shopper audits to find violations, and to identify violators and fine them (the FCAC hasn’t done unannounced audits since 2005, and tipped off the banks in March about their current audit);
  3. Require all banks to be covered by the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (the Conservatives let TD and Royal leave OBSI and choose their own complaint judges);
  4. Require the FCAC or Competition Bureau to conduct regular independent audits of the profits in each banking division, and savings from withdrawal of services, and require banks to lower prices and interest rates wherever excessive profits are found (i.e. profits higher than 15% annually in any division);
  5. Require the banks to disclose detailed information annually about their service and lending records (as the U.S. has required banks to do for 30 years), and require corrective action whenever banks discriminate against customers, and;
  6. Given the big banks each make billions in profit annually, increase the meaningless maximum fine of $500,000 for violations to $50 million.

According to Finance Canada, despite the lowering of barriers to competition 15 years ago under a World Trade Organization agreement, Canada’s big banks control 93 per cent of all banking assets, and are more profitable than comparable banks in other countries, and than small banks in Canada, and Canada’s corporate sector overall. The big banks control of the market essentially allows them to gouge and abuse customers with excessive fees, high interest rates (especially on credit cards). As a result, government regulation is needed to stop them.

In 2016, Canada’s Big Six banks continued to gouge out excessively high profits of more than $37 billion (6% higher than in 2015, and more than double their profits in 2010) – in part by firing thousands of people, cutting services, and hiking fees and credit card interest rates. And their profits in 2017 are headed even higher — the Big Six banks (including National Bank) have already made $20.6 billion in the first six months (a double-digit percentage increase compared to 2016). Canada’s big banks also paid their CEOs about $10 million each in 2015, and gave them bonuses that totalled more than $10 million (51% higher than in 2008).

“Will the federal Liberals continue to protect big bank executives and their multi-million salaries or will they make real changes to protect 30 million bank customers from gouging and abuse, especially by requiring banks and insurance companies to promote a national financial consumer group in their mailings and emails to their customers,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “At little or no cost to the federal government or the financial services industry, financial consumers across Canada can be given a very easy way to band together to help and protect themselves through joining a national financial consumer organization they fund and run – all the federal government has to do is require the banks and insurance companies to inform their customers about the group.”

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has a very weak enforcement record since it was created in 2003. It has made only 125 compliance rulings, is prohibited from naming a law-violating bank unless it prosecutes the bank, and it has only prosecuted 2 banks (neither of them a Big Six bank). The FCAC not only lacks resources by comparison to the similar watchdog agencies in Britain and the U.S., it is also clearly a lapdog compared to these two other agencies. According to a recent article by Reuters, the FCAC has issued fines totaling just $1.7 million since 2001 (the maximum fine allowed under the Bank Act is $500,000, which is meaningless to the big banks who each make more than $10 billion in revenue annually). Since 2013 when it was created, Britain’s FCA has already issued penalties totalling more than US$3 billion, and since 2011 when it was created, the U.S. CFPB has already imposed fines of more than US$5 billion.

“The fact that the media revealed the latest wrongdoing by the banks instead of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada shows that the agency is a lapdog not an effective watchdog, and the banks are not even required to be covered by the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments,” said Conacher. “The FCAC must be required to conduct unannounced mystery-shopper audits regularly, and all banks must be covered by the OBSI, and both agencies must be required to identify and penalize banks that violate the law with multi-million dollar fines”.

Incredibly, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) announced in March that it was going to inspect the banks’ selling practices in April. “The FCAC made a big mistake announcing an inspection a month in advance as they tipped off the banks and gave them time to cover up and clean up their wrongdoing,” said Conacher. “It’s as bad as the police giving advance notice that they are setting up a speed trap on a highway — you don’t catch anyone violating the law that way.”

According to the Bank of Canada, the banks currently have about $1.3 trillion in business loans. That makes the recently announced, so-called Canadian Business Growth Fund of (eventually) $1 billion a sad joke as it will amount to only 0.1% of total bank lending. Given that the fund is a joint initiative of Finance Minister Morneau and the big banks, it is clear that the federal Liberals are trying to fool Canadians into applauding the banks for this largely meaningless initiative.

“Instead of helping the banks promote a very small loan fund to help grow entrepreneurial businesses, the federal government should do what the U.S. government did 30 years ago and pass a community reinvestment law requiring the banks to disclose detailed information that will allow the public to judge whether they are discriminating against borrowers such as women entrepreneurs, and requiring the banks to take corrective action whenever discrimination is found,” said Conacher.

“Every dollar of excessive profit for the banks, and every person and business the banks unjustifiably cut off from credit, costs the Canadian economy because it means that the banks are overcharging for their essential services and loans, and choking off spending and job creation,” said Conacher.

The federal government bailed out the banks with $114 billion in mortgage purchases during the financial industry fraud crisis in 2009. It hasn’t required the banks to do anything in return for that bailout, or for the protections from foreign competition that the government gave the banks in 1967, and continues to maintain.

– 30 –

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

See more details about the federal government’s negligence in ensuring banks serve everyone fairly
and well at fair prices and interest rates in this 2012 news release.

Democracy Watch’s Bank Accountability Campaign

Group launches petition calling on federal Liberals to Stop Political Lapdog Appointments

Despite their false claims, Liberals haven’t changed appointment process – still partisan (not merit-based) as Cabinet ministers still control every step of process

Liberals also make false claims that there are legal qualifications for all officers of parliament, and that they can’t find qualified candidates

Ontario and United Kingdom judicial appointment processes are world-leading models, and Liberals could easily make changes to match them

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, June 12, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, as part of its Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign, Democracy Watch formally launched its Stop Political Lapdog Appointments petition on Change.org that calls on the federal Liberal government to make the process actually independent and merit-based (as Britain has) for Cabinet appointments of all judges, officers of parliament, and members of agencies, boards, commissions and tribunals. More than 3,000 people have already signed the petition.

The Liberals haven’t changed the federal Cabinet appointment process at all from what the Conservatives used (other than adding the goal of diversity). In the answer to the third question in the “Frequently Asked Questions” document describing the Liberals’ Cabinet appointment process (which was updated on April 28th), it says Cabinet ministers “manage” all appointment processes.

That means Cabinet appointments are still partisan, political processes, not merit-based as the Liberals claim (as the recent appointment of former Ontario Liberal Cabinet minister Madeleine Meilleur as the federal Languages Commissioner has revealed so clearly) And the government’s website listing openings and qualifications for Cabinet appointments that the Liberals claim makes the appointment process more open and transparent has existed for several years.

Two weeks ago, Democracy Watch called on the federal Liberals to suspend the appointment of the next Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying, and all other judicial and watchdog appointments, until they make the appointment process actually independent and merit-based.

In addition to their false claims about changing the Cabinet appointment process, the Trudeau Liberals have made false claims about the appointment processes for several officers of parliament. According to the June 9th Canadian Press article, an unnamed senior government source claims that “specific qualifications for each watchdog are spelled out in legislation.” In fact, statutory qualifications are set out only in the Parliament of Canada Act and only for the Ethics Commissioner. There are no statutory requirements for the Lobbying Commissioner or Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) — the three other officers whose positions are open – nor for the Information Commissioner (whose position is open soon).

As well, the Liberals have made the very questionable claim that they can’t find anyone qualified to be the CEO, Lobbying Commissioner or Ethics Commissioner. To give one of likely many examples of qualified applicants, Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch, applied for, and is fully qualified for, the Lobbying Commissioner position (and was short listed for that position in 2007 by the Conservatives’ candidate search process).

“The Liberals’ false claims smell very fishy and are clearly an attempt to cover up the fact that they haven’t changed the appointment process for government and law enforcement watchdogs, and that it’s still political and partisan, not merit-based, as Trudeau Cabinet ministers can still choose whomever they want,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Liberals’ Cabinet appointment system is essentially the same as the Harper Conservatives used, and it allows Trudeau Cabinet ministers to choose their own Liberal Party cronies as government and law enforcement lapdogs.”

Another reason to suspend the appointment process is that the Trudeau Cabinet can’t appoint the new Ethics Commissioner because the commissioner is currently investigating the Aga Khan’s trip gift to the Prime Minister (and in any case the Cabinet is in a conflict of interest as the Ethics Commissioner enforces rules that apply to every minister). Nor can the Trudeau Cabinet choose the new Commissioner of Lobbying because it is in a conflict of interest, and the commissioner is currently investigating two complaints concerning people tied to companies that lobby the PMO who hosted fundraising events attended by Trudeau, as well as a complaint about a lobbyist who helped organize a fundraising event attended by Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Democracy Watch filed complaints with the Ethics Commissioner in mid-December and at the end of January asking for a ruling that it is violation of the Conflict of Interest Act for the Trudeau Cabinet to appoint or reappoint those and other watchdogs, especially when the watchdogs are investigating the Prime Minister (as the Ethics Commissioner was in December and is now, and as the Lobbying Commissioner is now). The Ethics Commissioner essentially refused to rule on the complaints in a ruling she finally sent to Democracy Watch at the end of March.

“The Trudeau Cabinet is in a conflict of interest when choosing any government or law enforcement watchdog because those watchdogs enforce laws that apply to Cabinet ministers or their departments,” said Conacher. “The only way to stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for judges and watchdogs, a fully independent public appointment commission must be created, as Ontario and Britain have, to conduct public, merit-based searches for nominees and send a short list to Cabinet, with Cabinet required to choose from the list.”

Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign proposes that the way to ensure the appointment of fully independent, merit-based judges and watchdogs is to have a fully independent commission whose members are approved by all federal party leaders (and entities such as the Canadian Judicial Council) do a public, non-partisan merit-based search for candidates, and to require the Trudeau Cabinet to choose from a short-list of one to three candidates that the commission nominates.

Ontario uses this kind of independent appointment system to appoint provincial judges (the advisory committee provides a shortlist of three candidates to the Cabinet). Britain uses it to appoint judges and judicial tribunal members (like the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner are) – its advisory committee provides only one candidate to the Cabinet, and the Cabinet has to accept the candidate or reject the candidate and provide written reasons. Both of their systems are considered to be world leading.

Democracy Watch also called on the Liberals, and all governments, to change the law to ensure all Cabinet appointees who watch over the government or oversee key democracy laws and processes (especially every Officer of Parliament) be only allowed to serve one term.

The new appointment process, and prohibition on being reappointed, should apply to the judicial advisory committees and appointments of all 1,123 federal and provincial superior court judicial appointments listed here, and to the new public appointments commission that must be established to ensure a merit-based selection process for a short list of candidates for appointment to the 32 federal administrative tribunals and 108 agencies/boards listed here.

“Like judges, all government and democracy watchdogs must only serve one term, with no possibility that the government can reappoint them, to ensure watchdogs don’t try to please the government in order to keep their job,” said Conacher. “To safeguard our democracy the ruling party must not be allowed to reappoint any government watchdog.”

The past 10 years cannot be repeated if Canada wants to claim it is a democracy, as the federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s very weak enforcement record and Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd’s very weak enforcement record have done as much to undermine democracy in Canada as the dishonest, unethical and secretive actions of various politicians (See Part 1 of the Backgrounder below for details).

Democracy Watch and the nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition continue to call for key changes to strengthen federal political ethics and lobbying rules and the enforcement systems (See Part 2 of the Backgrounder below for details).

– 30 –

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign


Backgrounder

1. Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s weak enforcement record

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has had a very weak enforcement record since 2007, including (as of June 2015) making 149 secret rulings, issuing only 25 public rulings, and letting 75 (94%) of people who clearly violated ethics rules off the hook.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson has greatly undermined various sections of the Conflict of Interest Act (COIA) in past rulings by creating loopholes in the COIA that do not exist – such as:

  1. her April 29, 2010 “Cheques Report” ruling claiming that political parties are not “persons” under the COIA and therefore it was fine for Conservative MPs and Cabinet ministers to hand out government cheques with the Conservative Party logo on them;
  2. her May 13, 2010 “Raitt Report” ruling that it was fine for two lobbyists who were lobbying Minister Lisa Raitt to help raise thousands of dollars for her riding association because, you claimed, that only helped the association not her;
  3. her December 2016 ruling that it was fine for Health Minister Jane Philpott to use the driving service company of one of her former campaign volunteers because it was the only such company Minister Philpott claimed she knew about (a ruling that creates a loophole allowing any Minister or other senior government officlal to use the same invalid excuse Minister Philpott used to give contracts to their friends or other party loyalists);
  4. her baseless decision that the COIA only applies to financial interests despite the fact that the COIA’s section 2 definition of “private interest” does not in any way even suggest that the definition of “private interest” is restricted to only financial interests, and;
  5. her baseless decision that the COIA only applies to close personal friends (there is no such definition of “friends” in the COIA).

Because of section 66 added to the then-new Conflict of Interest Act by the Conservatives in 2006, the Ethics Commissioner’s rulings cannot be challenged in court if she has factual or legal errors in her rulings. If this section had not been added to the Act, Democracy Watch would have challenged several of Commissioner Dawson’s rulings since 2007 in court.

Democracy Watch is currently challenging Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s use of conflict-of-interest screens in court on the basis that the screens are unlawful.

2. Federal ethics law and codes missing key rules and accountability measures

The Conservatives broke a 2006 election promise (one of their many broken accountability promises) to include key ethics rules in the new Conflict of Interest Act prohibiting dishonesty and being in even an appearance of a conflict of interest. Prime Minister Harper instead put those rules in his Accountable Government code for ministers and other senior officials so he could ignore the rules (as he did until the Conservatives were defeated in the 2015 election – see especially rules in Annex A, Part 1 of the code).

The Liberals made no promises in their 2015 election platform to close the huge loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Act (and they also made no promises to close the huge loopholes in the Lobbying Act or the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act). Instead, Prime Minister Trudeau re-named and re-issued the Accountability Government code as his Open and Accountable Government code. He has ignored the rules in his code just like Prime Minister Harper did.

To test Liberal government Cabinet appointments process, Democracy Watch Co-founder applied for Lobbying Commissioner position last November

Was shortlisted for position in 2007 – 10 years more experience now but not even contacted for an interview by Liberals

Liberals haven’t changed appointment process at all – still partisan and political (not merit-based) as Cabinet ministers still control every step of the process

Trudeau Cabinet can’t appoint new Lobbying Commissioner because he is being investigated by Commissioner right now – would be a charade even if he recuses himself 5 weeks before new Commissioner is due to be appointed

Ontario and United Kingdom judicial appointment processes are world-leading models, and Liberals could easily make changes to match them by the end of June

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, June 6, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch’s Co-founder Duff Conacher revealed that he has tested the Trudeau Liberal’s Cabinet appointment process by applying last November (before the deadline) for the federal Commissioner of Lobbying position. Conacher also applied in 2007 for the position, and was shortlisted by the consultant whom the Conservatives hired to search for candidates.

Ten years later, with much more legal experience with the Lobbying Act, the Lobbyists’ Code, and with investigations, and more functionally bilingual, and more fully qualified in every way listed in the posting for the position (including demonstrating strict non-partisanship through a more than 20-year record of both praise and criticism of every federal political party), Conacher has not even been contacted for more information under the Liberals’ supposedly “merit-based” appointment process.

In fact, as detailed further below, the Liberals haven’t changed the federal Cabinet appointment process at all from what the Conservatives used other than adding the goal of diversity). Ministers still control every step of the process – which means it is a partisan and political, not merit-based, process (as the recent appointment of former Ontario Liberal Cabinet minister Madeleine Meilleur as the federal Languages Commissioner has revealed so clearly).

Also, the Trudeau Cabinet can’t appoint the new Commissioner of Lobbying because the office is currently investigating two complaints concerning people tied to companies that lobby the PMO who hosted fundraising events attended by Trudeau, as well as a complaint about a lobbyist who helped organize a fundraising event attended by Finance Minister Bill Morneau. The Commissioner’s office: 1. is investigating Democracy Watch’s complaint about about an August 26, 2015 fundraising event attended by Justin Trudeau and hosted by Apotex Inc. chairman Barry Sherman (Apotex lobbies the PMO); 2. is investigating Democracy Watch’s complaint about an August 25, 2014 fundraising event attended by Justin Trudeau hosted by a Clearwater Seafoods co-founder and board member (Clearwater lobbies the PMO), and; 3. is investigating Democracy Watch’s complaint about the situation revealed in an October 25th Globe and Mail article involving Apotex Inc. chairman Barry Sherman who assisted with selling tickets for a fundraising event that Finance Minister Bill Morneau attended (Apotex lobbies Finance Canada).

“Is the Trudeau Liberals’s Cabinet appointment process really merit-based, and are they really looking to appoint a qualified, fair watchdog to enforce the federal lobbying law and code, if they don’t even contact an applicant who has spent as much time as anyone in Canada over the past 20 years focused on strong, non-partisan enforcement of the law and code?” asked Conacher. “The Trudeau Cabinet is also in a conflict of interest that prohibits it from choosing the next Lobbying Commissioner as the Commissioner is currently investigating Trudeau’s relationship with two companies that lobby the PMO, as well as a lobbyist who helped organize a fundraising event for Finance Minister Morneau, which is yet another reason to change the appointment process now.”

Two weeks ago, Democracy Watch called on the federal Liberals to suspend the appointment of the next Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying, and all other judicial and watchdog appointments, until they make the appointment process actually independent and merit-based.

Democracy Watch filed complaints with the Ethics Commissioner in mid-December and at the end of January asking for a ruling that it is violation of the Conflict of Interest Act for the Trudeau Cabinet to appoint or reappoint those and other watchdogs, especially when the watchdogs are investigating the Prime Minister (as the Ethics Commissioner was in December and is now, and as the Lobbying Commissioner is now). The Ethics Commissioner essentially refused to rule on the complaints in a ruling she finally sent to Democracy Watch at the end of March.

Democracy Watch also filed a complaint at the end of April about former Conservative Minister of Justice Peter MacKay appointing some of his friends as judges, including his former Cabinet colleague Vic Toews (Toews was finally found guilty in April by the Ethics Commissioner of violating the federal ethics law (two years after the complaint was filed).

Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign proposes that the way to ensure the appointment of fully independent, merit-based judges and watchdogs is to have a fully independent commission whose members are approved by all federal party leaders (along with entities such as the Canadian Judicial Council) do a public, non-partisan merit-based search for candidates, and to require the Trudeau Cabinet to choose from a short-list of 1-3 candidates that the commission nominates.

Ontario uses this kind of independent appointment system to appoint provincial judges (the advisory committee provides a shortlist of three candidates to the Cabinet). The United Kingdom uses it to appoint judges and judicial tribunal members (like the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner are) – its advisory committee provides only one candidate to the Cabinet, and the Cabinet has to accept the candidate or reject the candidate and provide written reasons. Both of their systems are considered to be world leading.

The Liberals haven’t changed the appointment process at all from what the Conservatives used for 10 years (after they broke their 2006 election promise to establish an independent Public Appointments Commission). Liberal Cabinet ministers still choose all advisory committee members, and are given long lists of candidates for all appointments (which allows them to choose essentially whomever they want) – even for the appointment of federal and provincial superior court judges.

The Liberals claim there is a “new” general Cabinet appointments process – but it is essentially the same process the Conservatives used to appoint whomever they wanted (the only change is that “diversity” is now a goal). In the answers in the “Frequently Asked Questions” document describing the Liberals’ Cabinet appointment process (which was just updated on April 28th), it is clear that Cabinet ministers control everything about all appointment processes. The answer to one of the questions says that even if an appointment advisory committee is used for any appointment process, the members of the committee “will be chosen by a Cabinet minister — and any committee is only advisory — the minister’s power to appoint whomever they want is not restricted in any way.” That is a recipe for patronage and crony appointments, and the appointment of lapdogs.

Democracy Watch also called on the Liberals, and all governments, to change the law to ensure all Cabinet appointees who watch over the government or oversee key democracy laws and processes (especially every Officer of Parliament) be only allowed to serve one term.

The new appointment process, and prohibition on being reappointed, should apply to the judicial advisory committees and appointments of all 1,123 federal and provincial superior court judicial appointments listed here, and to the new public appointments commission that must be established to ensure a merit-based selection process for a short list of candidates for appointment to the 32 federal administrative tribunals and 108 agencies/boards listed here.

“The Trudeau Liberals’ Cabinet appointment system is essentially the same as the Harper Conservatives used, and it allows Cabinet ministers to choose their own Liberal party cronies as judges and lapdogs as supposed watchdogs,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “To stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for judges and watchdogs, as in the UK and Ontario a fully independent public appointment commission must be created to conduct public, merit-based searches for nominees and send a short list to Cabinet, with Cabinet required to choose from the list.”

“Like judges, all government and law-enforcement watchdogs must only serve one term, with no possibility that the government can reappoint them, to ensure watchdogs don’t try to please the government in order to keep their job,” said Conacher. “To safeguard our democracy the ruling party must not be allowed to reappoint any government and law-enforcement watchdogs.”

The past 10 years cannot be repeated if Canada wants to claim it is a democracy, as the federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s very weak enforcement record and Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd’s very weak enforcement record have done as much to undermine democracy in Canada as the dishonest, unethical and secretive actions of various politicians (See Part 1 of the Backgrounder below for details).

Democracy Watch and the nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition continue to call for key changes to strengthen federal political ethics rules and the enforcement system (See Part 2 of the Backgrounder below for details).

– 30 –

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign


Backgrounder

1. Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s weak enforcement record

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has had a very weak enforcement record since 2007, including (as of June 2015) making 149 secret rulings, issuing only 25 public rulings, and letting 75 (94%) of people who clearly violated ethics rules off the hook.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson has greatly undermined various sections of the Conflict of Interest Act (COIA) in past rulings by creating loopholes in the COIA that do not exist – such as:

  1. her April 29, 2010 “Cheques Report” ruling claiming that political parties are not “persons” under the COIA and therefore it was fine for Conservative MPs and Cabinet ministers to hand out government cheques with the Conservative Party logo on them;
  2. her May 13, 2010 “Raitt Report” ruling that it was fine for two lobbyists who were lobbying Minister Lisa Raitt to help raise thousands of dollars for her riding association because, you claimed, that only helped the association not her;
  3. her December 2016 ruling that it was fine for Health Minister Jane Philpott to use the driving service company of one of her former campaign volunteers because it was the only such company Minister Philpott claimed she knew about (a ruling that creates a loophole allowing any Minister or other senior government officlal to use the same invalid excuse Minister Philpott used to give contracts to their friends or other party loyalists);
  4. her baseless decision that the COIA only applies to financial interests despite the fact that the COIA’s section 2 definition of “private interest” does not in any way even suggest that the definition of “private interest” is restricted to only financial interests, and;
  5. her baseless decision that the COIA only applies to close personal friends (there is no such definition of “friends” in the COIA).

Because of section 66 added to the then-new Conflict of Interest Act by the Conservatives in 2006, the Ethics Commissioner’s rulings cannot be challenged in court if she has factual or legal errors in her rulings. If this section had not been added to the Act, Democracy Watch would have challenged several of Commissioner Dawson’s rulings since 2007 in court.

Democracy Watch is currently challenging Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s use of conflict-of-interest screens in court on the basis that the screens are unlawful.

2. Federal ethics law and codes missing key rules and accountability measures

The Conservatives broke a 2006 election promise (one of their many broken accountability promises) to include key ethics rules in the new Conflict of Interest Act prohibiting dishonesty and being in even an appearance of a conflict of interest. Prime Minister Harper instead put those rules in his Accountable Government code for ministers and other senior officials so he could ignore the rules (as he did until the Conservatives were defeated in the 2015 election – see especially rules in Annex A, Part 1 of the code).

The Liberals made no promises in their 2015 election platform to close the huge loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Act (and they also made no promises to close the huge loopholes in the Lobbying Act or the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act). Instead, Prime Minister Trudeau re-named and re-issued the Accountability Government code as his Open and Accountable Government code. He has ignored the rules in his code just like Prime Minister Harper did.

B.C. legislature should change to non-partisan, non-MLA Speaker – B.C.’s Constitution Act allows any MLA to preside over legislature until Act is changed

Party leaders should also agree to written rules making it clear when legislature will open, what a vote of non-confidence is, what will trigger next election etc., and should pass bill making the rules law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, June 5, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on B.C. party leaders to change the province’s Constitution Act (section 37) so that the legislature has a non-partisan, non-MLA as Speaker. The change would take at most a month, as the Standing Orders of the Legislature (PDF) state in section 81: “On urgent or extraordinary occasions, a Bill may be read twice or thrice, or advanced two or more stages in one day.”

In the interim any MLA could serve as Speaker, even an MLA from the likely NDP-Green partnership government, as they could vote to break any ties in favour of the government without violating any constitutional convention given that conventions are vague, unwritten standards (which is why they should be written down as clear rules – see details below).

Some commentators have claimed that the legislature must also have a Deputy Speaker – in fact, section 37(3) of the Constitution Act says that the legislature “may” choose a Deputy Speaker so there is no requirement.

“Politicians shouldn’t ever be in a position like the speaker of a legislature where they judge other politicians because they are in a conflict of interest when doing so, and can easily make decisions for partisan, political reasons,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “To prevent bad political decisions by the speaker of the B.C. legislature, and because of the current seat-split, it is a great time to change to a non-partisan, non-MLA speaker for the legislature.”

At the federal level, former Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer was a great example in 2014 of why you don’t want a partisan politician as Speaker when he let fellow Conservative MP Paul Calandra off the hook for clearly violating the rules concerning answering questions during Question Period.

Democracy Watch also called on the B.C. party leaders and the Lieutenant Governor to agree on eight public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want. Agreeing on the rules now will help ensure the legislature runs fairly and democratically through to the next election.

The rules should make clear: when the legislature will open; when it can be closed; what a vote of non-confidence is; when and how the opposition parties may get a chance to govern and; when and how the next election can be called before the fixed election date. (See Backgrounder below for the eight rules)

The current rules are unclear because they are unwritten constitutional conventions – even constitutional scholars disagree what lines they draw (and, as a result, a large majority of scholars agree they should be written down). The vagueness in the rules effectively allows the elected Premier and ruling party to abuse their powers and violate the rules, as the only way to stop violations is for the unelected, unaccountable Lieutenant Governor to decide that a violation has occurred and to try to stop the elected Premier from doing what they want.

Lieutenant governors in B.C. other provinces have almost never stopped a premier from doing whatever they want, and have allowed premiers to abuse their powers by not opening the legislature after an election, shutting it down arbitrarily for months, and calling snap elections in violation of fixed-election-date laws. The Governor General allowed Prime Minister Harper to call a snap election in 2008 in violation of the (too vague) fixed-election-date law, to prorogue Parliament in a very questionable minority government situation, and to declare many votes in Parliament as confidence votes even though they were clearly not confidence votes.

In England, Australia and New Zealand, political party leaders and MPs agreed years ago to clear, public rules so what happens after an election is fair for all the parties, and for voters. Most countries in the world also have clear, public post-election rules.

As well, a survey of more than 2,000 Canadians by Harris-Decima in November-December 2012 showed that 84% of adult Canadians want enforceable rules to restrict key powers of the Prime Minister and provincial premiers.

The Governor General also said last August in an an interview with the Hill Times that he thought these unwritten constitutional conventions should be written down.

“There are no legal or other justifiable reasons for B.C.’s political party leaders and Lieutenant Governor to fail to approve eight key rules for a minority government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “It is clearly in the public interest that the rules be approved to stop unfair abuses of power by the ruling party that violate the rights of the legislature and the democratic will of the majority of voters.”

After the eight rules are enacted into law, the B.C. legislature should, as the legislatures in England, Australia and New Zealand have, examine and enact other fairness rules to ensure the legislature and MLAs can hold the government accountable. The rules should cover the following key areas: what can be included in omnibus bills; the freedom and powers of individual politicians to vote how they want on resolutions and bills; how members of legislature committees are chosen, and; what a Cabinet can do during an election campaign period until the next Cabinet is chosen.

“As long as the rules for the legislature are unwritten and unclear in B.C., the premier and ruling party will be able to abuse their powers and the legislature’s ability to hold the government accountable will be undemocratically restricted,” said Conacher.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign


BACKGROUNDER

8 Key Rules for Minority Government

  1. Until the Lieutenant Governor has communicated directly with all the party leaders, the Lieutenant Governor will not make a decision about which party or parties (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement) will be given the opportunity to govern first (i.e. to appoint a Cabinet and introduce a Speech from the Throne in the legislature);
  2. The party that wins the most seats in the election will be given the first opportunity to govern, including in partnership or coalition with another party, unless the leaders of other parties representing a majority of members of the legislature indicate clearly to the Lieutenant Governor that they will not support that party and that they have agreed to form a coalition government or have agreed on a common legislative agenda;
  3. Within 30 days after the Lieutenant Governor decides which party or parties will be given the first opportunity to govern, the Lieutenant Governor and the governing party/parties will open the legislature with a Speech from the Throne;
  4. Even if the leaders of parties that represent a majority of members of the legislature do not indicate lack of support for the party that wins the most seats before that party’s Speech from the Throne, if they subsequently indicate lack of support for the Speech, the Lieutenant Governor will not allow the Premier-designate to prorogue the legislature before the Speech from the Throne is voted on by members of the legislature;
  5. If a majority of members in the legislature vote against the Speech from the Throne, the Lieutenant Governor will give the opposition parties an opportunity to govern (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement) before calling an election;
  6. After the vote on the Speech from the Throne, the only vote in the legislature that shall be a vote of non-confidence is a vote on a motion that states: “The legislature does not have confidence in the government.”
  7. If opposition parties introduce a motion of non-confidence in the governing party at any time after election day, the Lieutenant Governor will not allow the Premier to prorogue the legislature before the motion is voted on by the legislature, and;
  8. If a majority in the legislature votes to approve a motion of non-confidence in the governing party before the next fixed-election date, the Lieutenant Governor will give the opposition parties an opportunity to govern (through either a formal coalition or legislative agenda agreement) before agreeing to any request by the Premier that the Lieutenant Governor call an election.