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Senate should stop playing games on Monday and pass ‘Hope for Reform Act’

Unjustifiable and undemocratic for unelected senators to change or fail to pass bill

Large majority of voters support empowering MPs and large majority of MPs passed Bill C-586 (which only gives MPs and parties votes on some ways to empower MPs)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, June 22, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the Senate to stop playing games and pass the Reform Act (Bill C-586) this week.  On Friday two Conservative senators – David Wells backed by Denise Batters – proposed an amendment to the Reform Act that will likely be voted on late Monday.  If the change passes it will effectively stop the bill because the House of Commons has adjourned and very likely won’t open again to consider the change before an election call stops all outstanding bills.

Even if the amendment fails to pass, the Senate could still stop the Reform Act simply by failing to pass it before the Senate adjourns (which is expected to happen at the end of the week).

The House of Commons passed the Reform Act by a vote of 260-17 on February 25th.  It only requires MPs to vote behind closed doors after each election on rules that govern some of their rights and powers in relation to their party leader and caucus, and they are allowed to vote to keep the rules the same as they are now.  The only actual change it makes is to remove the power of party leaders to approve election candidates – but it gives parties the right to decide to give that power back to their leader (or to anyone else).

In other words, it is in effect only a ‘Hope for Reform Act’ – it only creates a formal opportunity after each election for discussion and reform of some of the rights and powers of MPs.  A national survey in May 2013 found that 71% of adult Canadians want restrictions on the powers of leaders to choose their party’s election candidates, to choose which MPs sit on committees, and to penalize politicians who don’t vote with their party (only 20% were opposed; 9% did not answer).  Another national survey in November 2014 found that 61% want local riding associations to choose election candidates (only 24% want the leader to do this), and 73% want a majority of MPs to decide whether to expel an MP from the party (only 17% want the leader to decide).

For all these reasons, it is unjustifiable, undemocratic and simply ridiculous that unelected senators have taken so long to review the Reform Act and are even considering changing or stopping it.

“The Hope for Reform Act passed in the House of Commons by a huge majority and it only gives parties the opportunity to democratize the selection of all their election candidates, and MPs the opportunity to decide some of their rights and powers concerning their party leader and caucus,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa. “It is completely unjustifiable, undemocratic and ridiculous that unelected senators have taken so long to review the Reform Act, and they should stop playing games and pass it before the Senate adjourns.”

The initial version of the Reform Act (Bill C-586) took away each federal party leader’s power to approve their party’s election candidates and gave it to a riding-association elected nomination officer in each province (and one for all the territories).  It also took away each leader’s power to: choose the party’s caucus chair; kick an MP out of caucus (and re-admit them), and choose an interim leader if the leader resigns. Instead, the bill required a secret-ballot vote approved of by a majority of MPs in each party to make these decisions, and it also gave 20% of any party’s MPs the power to initiate a secret-ballot vote of all the party’s MPs that, if passed by a majority of the party MPs, would either endorse or fire the party’s leader.

Last December, Conservative MPs introduced amendments in committee that effectively changed it into the “Hope for Reform Act” – changes that meant the bill allows parties to decide (however they want) who will approve candidates (so leaders could end up keeping this power), and changes that meant each party’s MPs would only be required to vote after each election behind closed doors on the rule changes summarized above concerning choosing their caucus chair, expelling or re-admitting an MP, and reviewing their leader.

The November 2014 national survey indicated that voters wanted the Reform Act changed in only one way, with 68% saying they want the members of the party to decide whether to fire the party leader (only 26% want the party’s MPs to decide).  Senator Wells’ proposed amendment removes from the Reform Act the measure that allows MPs to vote in a rule that gives them the power to remove a party leader.

Democracy Watch’s position is the rule should be that a majority of each party’s MPs could initiate a review of the party leader but then all members of the party would vote on whether to remove the party leader.  However, even though Democracy Watch thinks the proposed rules concerning MP rights and powers in the Reform Act should be changed and strengthened and expanded to cover other key rights and powers, it still supports passing the bill as it is a step forward in the movement to free and empower MPs in ways that balance their rights with restrictions on the powers of party leaders.

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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 Muzzling MPs Campaign page

Federal Liberals take lead with promises to make 75 good democracy and government access and accountability changes

But some promises lack details, and many promises missing in key areas of honesty, ethics, lobbying, whistleblower protection, political financing and enforcement overall

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, June 16, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch responded positively to the 75 democracy and government access and accountability promises made by the federal Liberal Party.  While the Liberals touted it as a 32-point plan, Democracy Watch counts 75 specific promised changes in the 5 areas of the plan, which puts them well ahead of the other federal parties in terms of election promises made so far that address these key issues.

The most significant areas of promises are as follows: to change the voting and voter ID system; to strengthen the access to information system by making disclosure the priority and giving the Information Commissioner the power to order disclosure; to ensure merit-based Cabinet appointments including to the Supreme Court and Senate; to free and empower MPs and committees in a few ways; to restrict government advertising and party spending in between elections; to reform Parliament in a few ways, and; to ensure gender-based analysis of the effects of government policies.

However, some promises lack details, and many promises are missing in the key areas of honesty-in-politics, ethics, lobbying, whistleblower protection, political financing and effective enforcement by watchdogs (such as the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner) and citizen group watching of government and big businesses.

“While the federal Liberals’ democracy and government accountability promises put them in the lead compared to the other parties in this key area of voter concern, some of their promises lack details and many promises are missing in key areas of honesty, ethics, lobbying, whistleblower protection, political financing and overall enforcement and penalties,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa. “They, and the other parties, still have time to ensure their election platforms promise all the key changes needed to give Canadians the fully democratic and accountable federal government they deserve, and that many surveys over the past 15 years have shown they want.”

“Voters should be skeptical of politicians’ promises, and even if the Liberals made all the changes they promised everyone in politics and government would still be allowed to lie to voters, politicians would still be allowed to make money from their decisions, secret lobbying would still be legal, wealthy individuals would still be allowed to use money to have unethical influence, whistleblowers would still not be effectively protected, and enforcement and penalties would still be too weak to stop wrongdoing,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch’s count of the number of changes promised in each of the 5 areas of the federal Liberals’ proposed plan, totaling 75 overall, is as follows:

  • Open and Transparent Government – 13 changes promised;
  • Open and Fair Elections – 17 changes promised;
  • Giving Canadians a Voice in Ottawa – 19 changes promised;
  • Better Service for Canadians – 17 changes promised;
  • Evidence-Based Policy – 9 changes promised.

Many surveys over the past 15 years have shown that a large majority of voters do not trust politicians, and want honesty, ethics, lobbying, open government and other reforms to stop politicians from abusing their power.  Hundreds of thousands of messages have been sent to federal party leaders and politicians through Democracy Watch’s campaigns calling for the 100 changes needed to ensure fully democratic and accountable federal government and politics.

Democracy Watch and the coalitions it leads will continue to push for all 100 key changes.

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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 calls on senators and MPs to admit Auditor General has clear legal power to audit their spending at any time, and calls on AG to use his clear power to start random, unannounced audits now

All party leaders should together choose an independent prosecutor to review AG’s and make prosecution decisions

House Board and Senate committee and arbitrator don’t do audits, are conflict-ridden kangaroo courts, and so won’t ever stop fraud spending

NHL hockey teams and players are not allowed to enforce the rules of their game themselves behind closed doors, and politicians shouldn’t be allowed to either

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, June 9, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, as the Auditor General (AG) released his report on senators’ spending, Democracy Watch called on senators and MPs to admit the AG has the legal power to audit their spending at any time, and called on the AG to start random, unannounced audits now.

Democracy Watch also called on all party leaders to choose together a fully independent prosecutor to review the AG’s findings and make prosecution decisions. The RCMP Commissioner and the Director of Public Prosecutions were both chosen by the Conservatives, and many commentators have raised concerns about an email the RCMP Commissioner sent to senior officers in 2013 and what the policy set out in the email reveals about the Commissioner’s relationship with the Conservative Cabinet and how it affects the ability of the RCMP to make independent law enforcement decisions (See criticisms here, and here, and here).

“The RCMP Commissioner and the Director of Public Prosecutions were both chosen by Conservatives, and there are serious questions about the Commissioner’s lack of independence from the Cabinet, and so to ensure fair and just decisions about prosecutions of senators all the federal party leaders should choose together a fully independent, non-partisan independent prosecutor to review the Auditor General’s findings,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa.

“The House Board and Senate committee don’t audit MP or senator spending, and are conflict-ridden kangaroo courts that will never stop fraud spending,” said Conacher. “The only way to stop fraud spending by politicians is to have the Auditor General do random, unannounced audits, and the auditor has the clear legal power to do these audits so he should start doing them right now.”

“NHL hockey teams and players are not allowed to enforce the rules of their game themselves behind closed doors, and politicians shouldn’t be allowed to either,” said Conacher.

More than 90,000 messages have been sent to federal politicians through Democracy Watch’s Stop Fraud Politician Spending Campaign calling on them to agree that the Auditor General has the clear legal power to audit their spending, and to make other key changes

Currently, MPs claim that only the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy, which is made up of MPs, has the power to review MPs’ spending, and senators claim that only their Internal Economy committee has this power (although they have recently established an arbitrator position to resolve disputes between any senator and the committee).

The problem is that neither the House Board nor the Senate committee actually audit spending by MPs or senators, and they are both conflict-ridden kangaroo courts because they are made up of politicians judging each other.

Senators invited the AG in to do the audit that is being reported today, but have said nothing about having the AG do regular audits.  MPs have claimed that the AG also needs their permission to audit them, and unfortunately the AG has been waiting for that permission.

The Auditor General Act states that the Auditor General “shall make such examinations and inquiries” needed “to report as required by this Act” (section 5).  The Act requires the Auditor to audit the “public accounts” (which includes all the money spent by federal government institutions, including the House of Commons and Senate) and issue reports on whether the public’s money is being spent in ways that are proper, efficient and waste-preventing.

The Act also states that the Auditor General has the right “to information that relates to the fulfillment of his or her responsibilities” (subsections 13(1) and (4)) so he clearly has the right to look at MP expenses.

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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 Fraud Politician Spending Campaign

Group calls on Auditor General to audit performance of federal Ethics Commissioner given negligently weak enforcement record that is a sad joke

Likely 1,600 public office holders have violated ethics rules in Conflict of Interest Act or MP Code from 2007 to 2014 but only five have been found guilty of violating Act or Code

From 2007 to 2014, Ethics Commissioner Dawson made 149 secret rulings, issued only 25 public rulings, and let 75 (94%) of people who clearly violated the rules off the hook

Commissioner doesn’t audit financial statements of activities of any politician or official, and hasn’t uncovered any violations, so likely only 5% of violators are caught – law and enforcement must be strengthened

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the Auditor General to audit federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s performance record similar to the review the auditor did in 2010 of the very negligently weak enforcement record of the former federal Integrity Commissioner. Commissioner Dawson is the enforcer of the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons (“MP Code”) and she has an enforcement record for both that is as bad as the former Integrity Commissioner’s record.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson will present a paper on her enforcement record at the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA) conference at 8:45 am tomorrow, Thursday, June 4, 2015. Democracy Watch’s Co-founder Duff Conacher will be there to publicly challenge her weak record.

On May 27, 2015, as she has in the past, Commissioner Dawson testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access, Ethics and Privacy and stated that “Effectively, the way my office operates…[is] if anything comes in [as a complaint] we look into it unless it’s nutty but most of them are not… and “I see my role as if I become aware in any way of the Act appearing not to be followed, or the Code, then I should follow up and see what’s going on.”

Despite testifying that most of the complaints she receives have some validity, Commissioner Dawson has failed to issue a public ruling for 149 (85%) of the 174 complaints she has received since 2007. In other words, she has issued public rulings for only 25 (15%) of the 174 complaints she has received.

Of the 25 cases the Ethics Commissioner has ruled on, she has only found five people (20%) guilty. The Ethics Commissioner did not discover any of the situations she investigated – all of them were uncovered by the media, other watchdog agencies or the public. Commissioner Dawson did not discover any violations because she does not do any audits of the financial statements submitted to her by politicians and officials covered by the ethics rules, nor does she audit any of their activities while they are in office or after they leave office (even though some ethics rules cover them for the rest of their lives).

The Ethics Commissioner should have found 80 people guilty since 2007 through her 25 public rulings (and likely many more given her 149 secret rulings). In other words, the Ethics Commissioner has found only five of 80 people guilty, thereby letting 94% of the people who have violated the Act or MP Code since 2007 off the hook. The following 75 people were let off the hook by the Ethics Commissioner with very questionable rulings that ignored clear rules, facts and common sense (showing just how much federal ethics rules and enforcement are an ongoing bad joke):

  • Prime Minister Harper (1st time re: Brian Mulroney; 2nd time re: Peter Penashue);
  • Nigel Wright (1st time re: communications with companies in which he had a financial interest; 2nd time re: again communicating with organization in which he had a financial interest; 3rd time re: intervening in audit of Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses);
  • Several other PMO staff re: intervening in audit of Senator Duffy’s expenses;
  • Chuck Strahl;
  • David Anderson;
  • Kerry-Lynne Findlay;
  • Colin Carrie;
  • Eve Adams;
  • Jim Flaherty (1st time (PDF of ruling) re: allowing his office handing out contract to a former campaigner for him; 2nd time re: writing letter to CRTC on behalf of supporter (was ordered not to do it again, but was not found in violation of Act for doing it));
  • Tony Clement;
  • Lisa Raitt;
  • Rick Dykstra;
  • 25 Cabinet ministers, ministers of state and parliamentarians who along with 35 Conservative MPs handed out government cheques with Conservative Party logos on them (Click here to see PDF of Commissioner’s Dawson’s very flawed 2009 report).

Given Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s weak enforcement record, and her failure to conduct any audits of the more than 7,000 current or former public office holders covered by federal ethics rules since she began her position in July 2007 (audits that experts in law enforcement agree are necessary for effective law enforcement) it is reasonable to assume that only 5% of people who have violated the Act or MP Code have been caught. As a result, it is reasonable to assume that 1,600 people have violated the Act or Code since 2007 and that Commissioner Dawson has found out about only 80 (5%) of them (and even that is a conservatively low estimate given that Commissioner Dawson has made 149 secret rulings).

“Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has let dozens of politicians who clearly violated ethics rules off the hook with very questionable rulings since 2007, and she may be covering up almost 150 dangerously unethical situations that have happened since 2007, and given that she doesn’t audit the financial statements or activities of any politician or official there are likely 1,600 people who have violated federal ethics rules that she has failed to catch,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the 31-member group, nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition. “Commissioner Dawson has a negligently weak enforcement record as bad as the former Integrity Commissioner’s record, and so Democracy Watch is calling on the Auditor General to do a similar review as the auditor did in 2010 of the former Integrity Commissioner’s performance.”

“There will never be effective ethics enforcement in federal politics as long as Mary Dawson is the Ethics Commissioner and the rules are loophole-filled and allow for her ongoing negligently weak enforcement,” said Conacher. “To end this negligent enforcement of federal ethics rules, the Ethics Commissioner must be replaced with an effective watchdog who is required to issue public rulings on every complaint, and to conduct regular, random audits and to penalize anyone who violates ethics rules with high fines, and anyone must be allowed to challenge the Ethics Commissioner’s often questionable rulings in court.”

The Conflict of Interest Act and the MP and senator ethics codes are so full of loopholes, they should be called the “Almost Impossible to be in a Conflict of Interest Rules” — and even worse the rules don’t even apply to the staff and advisers of MPs and senators. Currently, because of these huge loopholes, the Act and codes do not apply to 99% of the decisions and actions of the people covered by the Act and codes.

The ethics codes that federal politicians have imposed on public servants contain much stronger rules than the rules the politicians have written for themselves, and the penalties are stronger, including the possibility of being fired.

The Conservative majority on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics ignored these loopholes and enforcement problems in its February 2014 report on the Conflict of Interest Act. The NDP issued a dissenting report calling for some specific key changes to the Act, and the Liberals also issued a dissenting report that criticized the Conservatives for ignoring the problems (but did not recommend any changes).

Meanwhile, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs failed to complete the five-year review of the MP Code in 2014 after weakening it with various changes in 2006 and with various changes in 2009 (after unethical behind-closed-door meetings with Commissioner Dawson).

“Unethical decision-making in federal politics is legal, even by Cabinet ministers, and some political staff and appointees are still not covered by any ethics rules, so loopholes must be closed and enforcement strengthened to finally stop dangerously undemocratic and corrupting actions and relations with lobbyists,” said Conacher.

The details of Commissioner Dawson’s record, according to the information in her Annual Reports, are as follows:

  • July 2007 – Mar. 31, 2012
    According Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s annual reports, from 2007 to April 2012 she rejected at least 83 complaints filed with her without issuing a public ruling (it could be more as she did not disclose the total number of complaints she received in 2008-2009 nor in 2010-2011). During that time period, Commissioner Dawson received complaints about, or became aware of, a total of at least 100 questionable situations, but she only issued 17 public rulings, and only found 3 people guilty of violating ethics rules (a few more were found guilty of violating administrative rules, like missing filing deadlines etc.).
  • 2011-2012 — 69 public office holders missed financial statement filing deadline but only one was fined;
  • April 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013
    48 cases worked on; 57 missed filing deadline for financial statements and 17 fined; 32 investigations of violations of ethics rules initiated but only 6 fully examined as violations of Act; closed a total of 33 case files, 24 without a full examination; issued 4 rulings and found 2 office holders guilty of violating ethics rules in Act (Sullivan and Hill);
  • April 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014
    41 cases worked on; 51 missed filing deadline for financial statements but she only fined 16; 41 investigations initiated but only 3 fully examined as violations of Act; closed a total of 35 case files, 32 without a full examination; issued 3 rulings and found no office holders guilty of violating Act (Sullivan and Hill), and;
  • April 1, 2014 – March 31, 2015 – Annual Report 2014-2015 not yet available

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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 Government Ethics Campaign

Group calls on Auditor General to audit performance of federal Commissioner of Lobbying and RCMP given negligently weak enforcement record that is a sad joke

Likely 1,600 lobbyists have violated Lobbying Act or Lobbyists’ Code since 2007 but only one has been found guilty of violating Act (with two others currently charged), and only 13 have been found in violation of the Code (none since 2012)

In past 11 years, the Commissioner, RCMP and Crown prosecutors have decided not to penalize 67 lobbyists who have violated the Act and Code (who they are has been kept secret) – 81% of the lobbyists caught violating the Act and Code have not been penalized or prosecuted

Another 52 people have been caught lobbying without registering but have been let off the hook because loopholes in the Act mean their secret lobbying was legal (who they are remains secret)

Commissioner doesn’t do any audits to find unregistered communications with government institutions and officials, so likely only 5% of violators are caught – law and enforcement must be strengthened

Monday, June 1, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the Auditor General to audit federal Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd’s and the RCMP performance record similar to the review the auditor did in 2010 of the very negligently weak enforcement record of the former federal Integrity Commissioner. Commissioner Shepherd is the front-line enforcer of the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct and the RCMP are supposed to assist in enforcement. Together their enforcement record is as bad as the former Integrity Commissioner’s record.

In the past 11 years, the Commissioner of Lobbying, RCMP and Crown prosecutors have secretly decided not to penalize or prosecute 67 lobbyists who have violated the Act and Code (who they are remains secret). Another 52 people have been caught lobbying without registering but have been let off the hook because loopholes in the Act mean their secret lobbying was legal.

Since 1988, only one person has been found guilty of violating the Act, only two other people have been charged with violating the Act (Bruce Carson and Jamie Carroll), and only 13 have been found guilty of violating the Code. Commissioner Shepherd took until November 2011 to issue the first valid ruling on a violation of the Code, and two of the 13 who have been found guilty after the Commissioner was forced by court order to issue rulings. Commissioner Shepherd has not found anyone guilty of violating the Code since 2012.

So overall, since 1988, the Commissioner of Lobbying and her predecessors, and the RCMP, have only caught 83 people violating the Act and Code (anyone who violates the Act is automatically in violation of the Code) even though there are 5,000 registered federal lobbyists at any one time, and tens of thousands of people who have lobbied the federal government since 2007 when Commissioner Shepherd began her position – and 67 of those 83 people have been let off the hook.

In other words, Commissioner Shepherd, the RCMP and Crown prosecutors have decided not to penalize 81% of the lobbyists who have been caught violating the Act and Code.

On May 27, 2015, as she has in the past, Commissioner Shepherd testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access, Ethics and Privacy and stated that her only enforcement action concerning unregistered communications between lobbyists and government institutions and officials is “monitoring the media”. She doesn’t do any random auditing of communications – which experts in law enforcement agree are necessary for effective law enforcement.

Given the weak enforcement practices, approach, attitude and record of Commissioner Shepherd, it is reasonable to assume that only 5% of violators are likely caught. As a result, it is reasonable to conclude that actually about 1,600 people have violated the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct since 2004, with 95% of them not even caught, and 81% of those who were caught let off the hook.

“Lobbying Commissioner Shepherd has clearly failed to enforce the federal lobbying law and code effectively as she has failed to even name and shame 81 percent of the lobbyists caught violating the law,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa. “Together with the RCMP and Crown prosecutors, she has a negligently weak enforcement record as bad as the former Integrity Commissioner’s record, and so Democracy Watch is calling on the Auditor General to do a similar review as the auditor did in 2010 of the former Integrity Commissioner’s performance.”

As well, the Act needs to be strengthened in all the ways the House Committee recommended in its May 2012 report, and more, to ensure secret, unethical lobbying is finally made effectively illegal and that most violators will be caught and effectively penalized. Conservative Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement has failed to do anything to implemented key changes recommended by the Committee.

The details of Commissioner Shepherd’s, the RCMP’s and Crown prosecutors’ very weak enforcement record are as follows:

  • from April 1, 2004-March 31, 2011, secret rulings let at least 32 lobbyists off the hook because the RCMP and Crown refused to prosecute, and the Commissioner of Lobbying (or past Registrar of Lobbyists) has failed to rule publicly in all 32 cases that the lobbyist violated Lobbyists’ Code; the Commissioner also failed to rule publicly on more than 55 cases, and; at least 17 lobbyists were caught lobbying but let off the hook with secret rulings because of loopholes in the Lobbying Act;
  • from April 1, 2011-March 31, 2012, 18 new reviews were initiated and 30 reviews were completed, while three new investigations were initiated and six completed; of these, 15 new reviews found violations, but the Commissioner let six of the violators off the hook; as well, during this fiscal year, the Commissioner completed six other reviews from past years in which she let the violators off the hook, and closed two other cases from 2004-2005 that the Commissioner/Registrar had negligently failed to rule on for eight years, and let both violators off the hook; five were found guilty of violating the Code, but another six lobbyists were let off the hook because of loopholes in the Act;
  • from April 1, 2012-March 31, 2013, 22 new reviews were initiated and 27 reviews were completed, while 3 new investigations were initiated and six completed; of these, 10 new reviews found violations, but the Commissioner let five of the violators off the hook; as well, during this fiscal year, the Commissioner completed three other reviews from past years in which she let the violators off the hook, and closed five other cases from 2006-2007 that the Commissioner/Registrar had negligently failed to rule on for six years, and let all five violators off the hook; no one was found guilty of violating the Code, and another 10 lobbyists were let off the hook because of loopholes in the Act;
  • from April 1, 2013-March 31, 2014, 17 new reviews were initiated and 21 reviews were completed, while no new investigations were initiated, and none were completed; of these, two new reviews found violations, but the Commissioner let both of the violators off the hook; as well, during this fiscal year, the Commissioner completed five other reviews from past years in which she let the violators off the hook, and closed one other case from 2009 that the Commissioner/Registrar had negligently failed to rule on for four years, and let that violator off the hook; one lobbyist was found guilty of violating the Act (the first ever), and two people were charged, but no one was found guilty of violating the Code; an additional eight lobbyists were let off the hook after reviews because of loopholes in the Act while another 11 were contacted for what seemed like lobbying but claimed they were not required to register because of the loopholes, and;
  • 38 cases still open as of March 31, 2014 –Commissioner Shepherd’s 2014-2015 annual report not yet available.

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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 Government Ethics Campaign

Alberta has a New government – will it be Democratic?

NDP failed to promise to make most of the changes needed ensure democratic politics in Alberta – will they still make the changes?

Voter turnout up to about 58%, but voting system and other reforms needed as NDP won majority with support of only 23.5% of eligible voters

Elections Alberta fails to include declined ballot total in election results

Thursday, May 7, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the Alberta New Democratic Party to live up to its name and make all the changes needed to ensure democratic politics across the province.

While voter turnout increased to about 58%, voting system and other key democracy and accountability reforms are needed as the NDP won a majority and 61 percent of the seats in the legislature even though it was only supported by 40.5 percent of people who voted (and only 23.5 percent of eligible voters).

Democracy Watch also called on Elections Alberta to report the number of declined ballots, and add information to its website, advertising and vote education materials to make it clear that voters in Alberta have the right to vote “none of the above” by declining their ballot under section 107.1 of the Election Act.  Elections Alberta has no information about this key right of voters on its website – it is not even mentioned anywhere in the 131-page Building Future Voters “education” booklet for Grade 12 teachers.

“Voter turnout would very likely have been higher if Elections Alberta had not been negligent in informing voters of their right to decline their ballot,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of its four nation-wide coalitions.  Elections Ontario was similarly negligent last spring during the Ontario provincial election but after Democracy Watch and others informed voters through social media, and the media covered the issue extensively, 31,399 voters declined their ballot (an increase of 1,345 percent compared to 2011).

The NDP received a D in Democracy Watch’s Report Card on the 2015 Democratic Good Government Election Platforms of the six main Alberta political parties.

“The NDP promised some key changes but nowhere near enough changes to ensure everyone in Alberta politics will, finally after 110 years, be effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste.” said Conacher.  As with every jurisdiction in Canada, about 100 specific changes are needed in Alberta to ensure democratic good government and democratic politics.

If the NDP actually wants to be not just a new but also a democratic government, the top 10 most important changes the NDP should make, for everyone (politicians, appointees, political staff, public servants) in the provincial and municipal governments and every government and government-funded institution across the province, are as follows:

  1. Enact an honesty-in-politics law that allows for complaints to the provincial Ethics Commissioner about broken promises, and about dishonest statements made anywhere (including in the legislature) by anyone involved in politics, with mandatory high fines as the penalty.
  2. Require all provincially regulated industry and service sectors (property and auto insurance, financial and investment services, health care institutions, energy and water) 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 and put part of the increase into a fund that citizen watchdog groups jointly oversee and use for jointly decided initiatives.
  3. Establish a Public Appointments Commission 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 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 (including legislature committee hearings) before any government or government institution makes a significant decision;
  5. Ban political donations and gifts from businesses, unions and other organizations, and (as in Quebec) limit individual donations to $100 annually and establish per-vote and donation-matching public funding, and limit election spending by parties and candidates to about $1 per voter, and advertising spending by third parties to $50,000.
  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) and prohibit lobbyists from helping with political campaigns or fundraising.
  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 (and in city councilors elected) 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 and whistleblower protection 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 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.

– 30 –

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

Green Party gets C as best grade of overall bad grades in Report Card on Alberta Parties’ Democratic Good Government Platforms – Wildrose gets a C-, NDP and Liberals a D, Alberta Party an F, and Conservatives an Incomplete

Despite high voter concern about democracy and trust, incredibly all parties still fail to promise to make most of the changes needed to have effective democracy, government ethics and accountability in Alberta

Elections Alberta failing to inform voters they have the right to decline their ballot

Saturday, May 2, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its Report Card on the 2015 Democratic Good Government Election Platforms of the six main Alberta political parties, the only election report card on these issues (See the Report Card set out below and in htm format).

Democracy Watch also called on Elections Alberta to make issue a clear statement before election day informing voters in Alberta that they have the right to vote “none of the above” by declining their ballot under section 107.1 of the Election Act.  Elections Alberta has no information about this key right of voters on its website – it is not even mentioned anywhere in the 131-page Building Future Voters “education” booklet for Grade 12 teachers.

In the Report Card, the Green Party received the “best” grade of C, the Wildrose Party received a C-, the Liberals and NDP a D, the Alberta Party an F, and the Progressive Conservatives made so few promises to clean up politics in Alberta that they received an Incomplete.  Democracy Watch recommends that voters apply a “Dishonesty Downgrade” of one full grade to the Report Card results given that usually only half of all election promises are kept because of the lack of an honesty-in-politics law which is needed to effectively penalize promise-breakers and misleaders.

“Overall, while the Greens, NDP and Wildrose all made some key promises, all the Alberta parties have failed to respond to high voter concern about democracy and trust issues with their generally weak government accountability platforms — but voters focused on these issues should still come to the polls and at least exercise their legal right to decline their ballot and vote none of the above to show their concern,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and chairperson of its four nation-wide coalitions.  “The party leaders should not be surprised by the lack of overall support they will likely receive from voters on election day.  We can only hope that the parties will actually address these concerns when the legislature opens again and work together to make the many changes needed so that everyone in Alberta politics will, finally after 110 years, be effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste.”

“It is not surprising that the Conservatives are doing so poorly because, like the federal Liberals did in 2006 federal election, they are pretending that everything is fine and failed to include any meaningful democratic reform and government accountability promises in their platform,” said Conacher.  “The Conservatives don’t seem to realize that democracy and government accountability promises directly affect which party voters vote for — every party that has made strong promises to clean up politics and government in the past 20 years across Canada has won more votes and seats, and usually won the election.”

The Green Party had the best promises in the areas of Open Government (and its promises in this area was the best overall set of promises of any area for any party).  The Greens tied with the NDP and the Alberta Party for best promises in the area of Honest, Ethical Government, and also tied with Wildrose in the area of Representative, Citizen-Driven Government promises.  Wildrose had the best promises in the area of Efficient, Government because they are comprehensive.  However, other than the Greens’ promises in the area of Open Government, none of the parties’ promises in any area even came close to proposing all the changes needed to ensure democratic good government.

The Report Card grades the six main parties’ platform pledges based upon 16 sets of key changes in five areas that Democracy Watch and its coalitions believe are the changes that will most effectively require everyone in Alberta politics to act honestly, ethically, openly, efficiently, representatively and, if they don’t act in these democratic ways, to be easily and thoroughly held accountable.  In total, the 16 sets of changes add up to 100 key changes needed to the Alberta government’s democracy, ethics and accountability system.

The measures are a compilation of the proposals of the four nation-wide coalitions Democracy Watch coordinates (Government Ethics Coalition, Money in Politics Coalition, Open Government Coalition, and Corporate Responsibility Coalition).  A combined total of more than 140 citizen groups with a total membership of more than 3 million Canadians belong to the coalitions, groups that work on anti-poverty, bank accountability, community economic development, consumer, corporate responsibility, environment, labour, social justice, women and youth issues.

Many national surveys over the past several years have shown that a large majority of Canadians support the 100 democracy, ethics and government accountability reforms set out in the Report Card, as do many commentators on democratic reform.  The federal government, and every province and territory and municipality across Canada, all have a similar list of 100 loopholes and flaws in their government systems (each with a slightly differect set of loopholes flaws, depending on which have been closed or corrected in the past).

The 16 sets of changes, divided into five areas, all reflect the following five key elements for ensuring that large, powerful government institutions act responsibly and follow rules: 1. strong laws with no loopholes; 2. requirement to disclose details of operations and violations; 3. fully independent, fully empowered watchdog agencies to enforce laws; 4. penalties that are high enough to encourage compliance; and 5. empowerment of citizens to hold governments and watchdog agencies accountable.

The parties were given a grade ranging from A (Platform makes clear promise to implement proposal) to I (Platform does not mention proposal), with grades B for a vague or partial promise to implement the proposal, C and D for clear to vague promises to explore the proposal, E for mentioning proposal and F for mentioning the theme of the proposal.  Grades were averaged for each of the five sections, and the averages of section grades were used to calculate the overall grade for each party.

“Given the lack of a provincial honesty-in-politics law, and the lack of a clear pledge by any of the parties to pass such a law, voters should be wary of trusting any political promises,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  “However, if they want their concerns addressed, voters should always turn up and at least exercise their legal right to decline their ballot to send a message to the parties.”

The 2015 Alberta Report Card is the first that Democracy Watch has issued concerning an Alberta provincial election.  In the past 20 years, Democracy Watch has issued report cards for federal, Ontario, B.C. and Quebec elections.

Democracy Watch graded the parties’ election platforms by reviewing the platforms.  Statements by party leaders or representatives were not taken into account as they are not fully accessible to all voters, nor are they binding in any way on the party (as admitted by many party leaders) and as a result are even less reliable than promises made in the parties’ platforms.

– 30 –

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


Report Card on the 2015 Democratic Good Government
Election Platforms of the Alberta Political Parties
(Set out below are quotations from the Ontario parties’ platform documents upon which the Report Card grades were based for each of the 16 sub-categories graded in the 5 issue areas categories)

GRADING SYSTEM
A – Platform makes clear promise to implement proposal
B – Platform makes vague or partial promise to implement proposal
C – Platform makes clear promise to explore proposal
D – Platform makes vague or partial promise to explore proposal
E – Platform mentions proposal
F – Platform mentions theme of proposal
I – Platform does not mention proposal



II. Open Government Measures
5. Strengthening access-to-information system
6. Exposing behind-closed-door communications
7. Strengthening lobbying disclosure and ethics, and the enforcement systemIII. Efficient Government Measures
8. Increasing powers of Auditor General
9. Restricting government and campaign advertising

IV. Representative, Citizen-Driven Government Measures
10. Increasing meaningful public consultation
11. Restricting power of Cabinet to make appointments
12. Making the legislature democratic
13. Ensuring free, fair and representative elections

V. General Government Accountability Measures
14. Facilitating citizen watchdog groups over government
15. Ensuring effective whistleblower protection
16. Ensuring loophole free laws and strong penalties for wrongdoers


I. Honest, Ethical Government Measures

1. Requiring honesty-in-politics – Pass a law that requires all Cabinet ministers, MLAs, 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. (Go to Honesty in Politics Campaignfor details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)- No promises in any of the parties’ platforms

2. Strengthening ethics standards for politicians, political staff, Cabinet appointees and government employees, and ethics enforcement – Close the loopholes in the existing ethics rules (including closing the loophole that allows Cabinet ministers, MLAs, their staff and Cabinet appointees to be involved in decisions in which they have a financial interest, and including requiring resignation and a by-election if an MLA switches parties between elections) and apply them to all government institutions (including all Crown corporations), and as proposed by the federal Department of Finance 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, and; strengthen the independence and effectiveness of all the politician and government employee ethics watchdog positions by giving opposition party leaders a veto over appointees, having the legislature (as opposed to Cabinet) approve their annual budgets, prohibiting the watchdogs from giving secret advice, requiring them to investigate and rule publicly on all complaints (including anonymous complaints), fully empowering and requiring them to penalize rule-breakers, changing all the codes they enforce into laws, and ensuring that all their decisions can be reviewed by the courts.  (Go to Government Ethics Campaignfor details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)Alberta Party – “Prohibit cabinet ministers from using their office for political gain.”

Green Party – “Greens would create the office of Integrity Commissioner for the provincial government. An all-party committee would appoint a commissioner for one non-renewable term.”  “Alberta Greens support amending the Conflicts of Interest Act to prohibit cabinet ministers from making spending promises during election campaigns, as was recently done in the 2014 Calgary-Elbow by-election.”

NDP – “(2.3) We will strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from using their position to benefit their own financial interests or that of political friends, and to strengthen cooling-off periods for former political staff. We will also expand the application of the Act to apply to all senior staff of all of our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.” “(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.”

Wildrose Party – “Pass legislation banning MLAs elected under one party from crossing to another without a byelection.”  “Strengthen the independent Offices of the Legislature such as the Auditor General, Ethics Commissioner, Chief Electoral Officer.”

3. Making the political donations and election spending system democratic – Prohibit secret, unlimited donations or gifts of money, property or services by anyone for any reason to nomination, election and party leadership candidates; limit donations to $200 annually from individuals, and bank donations from corporations, unions and other organizations; also limit loans, including from financial institutions, to parties and all types of candidates to the same level as donations are limited; establish $1 per vote public funding of political parties (50 cents per vote for parties that elect a higher percentage of MLAs than the percentage of voter support they receive, and; ensure riding associations receive a fair share of this per-vote funding (so that party headquarters don’t have undue control over riding associations); require disclosure of all donations, gifts and loans of money, property or services (including the identity of the donor’s employer (as in the U.S.) and major affiliations) quarterly and before any election day; limit spending on campaigns for the leadership of political parties; limit advertising spending by the government and opposition parties and third parties in the six-month period leading up to an election, and limit advertising spending by third parties during the election campaign period (as spending by parties and candidates is limited); strengthen the independence of the elections agency by requiring approval of the opposition parties to approve the person appointed to head the agency  (Go to the Money in Politics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Alberta Party – “Prohibit public spending announcements during an election, such as Education Minister Gordon Dirks’ announcement of new school portables for his constituency during the 2014 by-election.”  “Toughen Alberta’s campaign finance laws.”

Green Party – “Greens would put strict election-finance rules in place.”  “The Green Party of Alberta supports the public funding of political parties by means of an annual payment of $2 to each registered party for each vote cast for that party in the most recent general election.”  “The Green Party of Alberta would ban contributions from corporations, unions, and any other organizations.  Individual contributions would be limited by a Green Party government to a maximum amount to be determined on the basis of further research.”  “A Green Party government would make all charges, findings and penalties imposed under the Election Act, as well as any subsequent, related legal proceedings (for example, appeals) publicly available immediately on the web site of the Chief Electoral Officer.”  “The Green Party of Alberta recommends adoption of the federal government’s donation framework with a 75% credit available for donations up to and including $400, 50% for the next $350, and 33.3% for the following $525 to a total credit limit of $650 for donations up to and including $1275.”

Liberal Party – “Make municipal political contributions tax receiptable in the same manner as provincial and federal political contributions.”

NDP – “(2.1) We will ban both corporate and union donations to political parties.”  “(2.4) We will amend the Elections Act to prohibit MLAs from using government resources during elections and we will ensure the Chief Electoral officer can effectively investigate breaches of the Act.” “(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.”

Wildrose Party – “Get big money out of politics by phasing out large corporate and union donations.”  “Strengthen the independent Offices of the Legislature such as the Auditor General, Ethics Commissioner, Chief Electoral Officer.”

4. Closing down the revolving door – 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, and close the loopholes so that the actual cooling-off period for former Cabinet ministers, ministerial staff and senior public officials is five years (and three years for MLAs, their staff, and government employees) during which they are prohibited from becoming a lobbyist or working with people, corporations or organizations with which they had direct dealings while in government.  Make the ethics watchdogs more independent and effective by giving opposition party leaders a veto over their appointment, by having the legislature (as opposed to Cabinet) approve their annual budget, by prohibiting the commissioners from giving secret advice, by requiring the commissioners to investigate and rule publicly on all complaints (including anonymous complaints), and by fully empowering and requiring the commissioners to penalize rule-breakers, by ensuring all decisions of the commissioners can be reviewed by the courts. (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

NDP – “(2.3) We will strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from using their position to benefit their own financial interests or that of political friends, and to strengthen cooling-off periods for former political staff. We will also expand the application of the Act to apply to all senior staff of all of our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.”   “(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.”

Wildrose Party – “Strengthen the independent Offices of the Legislature such as the Auditor General, Ethics Commissioner, Chief Electoral Officer.”


II. Open Government Measures

5. Strengthening access-to-information system – Strengthen the access-to-information law and government information management system by applying the law to all government/publicly funded institutions, requiring all institutions and officials to create records of all decisions and actions and disclose them proactively and regularly, creating a public interest override of all access exemptions, giving opposition party leaders a veto over the appointment of the information commissioner, having the legislature (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the information commissioner’s annual budgets, and giving the information commissioner the power and mandate to order changes to government institutions’ information systems, and to penalize violators of access laws, regulations, policies and rules.  (Go to Open Government Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Alberta Party – “Conduct government business in the legislature – not behind closed doors.”

Green Party – “Greens would end the secrecy and negligence that breeds a culture of entitlement in the provincial government. There would be a radical overhaul of rules around transparency and accountability. The current piecemeal reforms (such as those recently introduced around international travel) are not sufficient.”  “A Green Party government would review and amend the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to maximize the availability of government-held information to Albertans and remove all unjustifiable exemptions.”  “With the objective of enhancing the free flow of information to the public about what government is doing A Green government would disband the Public Affairs Bureau.”

Liberal Party – “End political interference in Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) requests by establishing an open, independent process.”

NDP – “(2.2) We will make infrastructure decisions and priorities transparent with a public “infrastructure sunshine list,” so that funding goes to build the most important projects rather than to promote the political fortunes of the PCs.”  “(2.5) We will extend the sunshine list to include our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.” “(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.”

Wildrose Party – “Provide easier, fairer, and more affordable public access to Freedom of Information requests by reducing the grounds on which the government can withhold information and ensuring the Information and Privacy Commissioner has the tools she needs.” “Mandate that all travel expenses of elected officials and senior staff be fully and publicly disclosed in a detailed online report.”  “Pass legislation to limit severance packages for all political staff and senior government and agency officials and make all severance agreements transparent.”  “Strengthen the independent Offices of the Legislature such as the Auditor General, Ethics Commissioner, Chief Electoral Officer.”

6. Exposing behind-closed-door communications – Require in a new law that Ministers and public officials and MLAs and their staff disclose their contacts with all lobbyists, whether paid or volunteer lobbyists.  (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Green Party – “A Green Party government would also amend the Conflicts of Interest Act so that the responsibility for reporting meetings between government officials and others would fall on the shoulders of those government officials. (With this change made there would be no need for a Registrar of Lobbyists.) Government officials would be required to display all such meetings in their daily agendas which would be posted in real time on their web sites. Monthly summaries of these meetings with participants and topics discussed included would also be posted.”

7. Strengthening lobbying disclosure and ethics, and the enforcement system – Strengthen the lobbying disclosure law and also enact a lobbying code of conduct, and by closing the loophole that currently allows corporations to hide the number of people involved in lobbying activities, and by requiring lobbyists to disclose their past work with any Canadian or foreign government, political party or candidate, 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), and; strengthen the ethics and enforcement system by extending the limitation period for prosecutions of violations of the law to 10 years, and; by giving opposition party leaders a veto over the appointment of the commissioner for lobbyists, by having the legislature (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the commissioner’s annual budget, by prohibiting the commissioner from giving secret advice, by requiring the commissioner to investigate and rule publicly on all complaints (including anonymous complaints), by fully empowering and requiring the commissioner to penalize rule-breakers, by ensuring all commissioner decisions can be reviewed by the courts.  (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Green Party – “A Green Party government would also amend the Conflicts of Interest Act so that the responsibility for reporting meetings between government officials and others would fall on the shoulders of those government officials. (With this change made there would be no need for a Registrar of Lobbyists.) Government officials would be required to display all such meetings in their daily agendas which would be posted in real time on their web sites. Monthly summaries of these meetings with participants and topics discussed included would also be posted.”

NDP – “(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.”

Wildrose Party – “Strengthen the independent Offices of the Legislature such as the Auditor General, Ethics Commissioner, Chief Electoral Officer.”


III. Efficient Government Measures

8. Increasing powers of Auditor General – Increase the independence of the Auditor General by requiring approval of appointment from opposition party leaders; increase auditing resources of the Auditor General by having the legislature (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the Auditor General’s annual budget, and; empower the Auditor General to audit all government institutions and also audit projected spending (like the federal Parliamentary Budget Officer does, or create a PBO-like position to do this)), and also empower the Auditor General/PBO to make orders for changes to government institutions’ spending systems, and to penalize violators of spending rules or Auditor General/PBO orders or requests for information.  (Go to the Stop Fraud Politician Spending Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Green Party – “A Green Party government would establish an independent, non-ad hoc process for setting MLA and Cabinet Ministers salaries, benefits, and compensable expenses. Before making a choice of process, it would review how these issues are handled by other Canadian jurisdictions which use such processes, such as Manitoba, Ontario and PEI.”

Liberal Party – “Co-locate Alberta Trade Offices in Canadian embassies and consulates.”  “Require open competition for senior government representatives or trade envoys.”  “Disband the Public Affairs Bureau.”

NDP – “(2.2) We will make infrastructure decisions and priorities transparent with a public “infrastructure sunshine list,” so that funding goes to build the most important projects rather than to promote the political fortunes of the PCs.”  “(2.5) We will extend the sunshine list to include our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.” “(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.”

Progressive Conservative Party – “Report on Alberta’s finances on a fully consolidated basis in a format supported by the Auditor General of Alberta, starting in 2015/16.”  “Issue a report card on Alberta’s savings every six months.”  “Provide public reporting in advance of any international travel for government staff.”

Wildrose Party – “End sole-sourced contracting and improve conflict of interest legislation to ensure contracts are awarde appropriately.”  “Mandate that all travel expenses of elected officials and senior staff be fully and publicly disclosed in a detailed online report.”  “Pass legislation to limit severance packages for all political staff and senior government and agency officials and make all severance agreements transparent.” “Use more teleconferencing to reduce executive travel by 50%.”  “Implement full disclosure of all financial expenditures of public funds by all ministries and arms-length boards and agencies.”  “Guarantee an open tendering and bidding process on all major government sanctioned and approved procurement and contracts to eliminate sole-source contract cronyism.”  “Strengthen the independent Offices of the Legislature such as the Auditor General, Ethics Commissioner, Chief Electoral Officer.”

9. Restricting government and campaign advertising – Empower a government watchdog agency to preview and prohibit government advertising contracting out if there is no reason to have the advertising developed by a contractor, and to reject any government advertising that is essentially a partisan ad for the ruling party, and strictly limit all advertising spending by the government in the six-month period leading up to an election.  (Go to the Stop Fraud Politician Spending Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

– No promises in any of the parties’ platforms


IV. Representative, Citizen-Driven Government Measures

10. Increasing meaningful public consultation – 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 Ontarians.  (Go to the Democratic Voting Systems Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Green Party – “The Green Party of Alberta would strike a Citizens’ Assembly to advise and consult on how all dimensions of provincial government operations can be made more genuinely participatory and transparent to Albertans.”

Progressive Conservative Party – “Focus on regional decision-making in health care. Establish 8-10 operational districts. Each district will be aligned with a local advisory council to give the community a say on how their health care is delivered.”

11. Restricting power of Cabinet to make appointments – Require approval by opposition party leaders for all judicial, agency, board, commission and tribunal appointments currently made by the Premier, especially for appointees to senior and law enforcement positions, after a merit-based nomination and screening process.   (Go to the Democratic Voting Systems Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

– No promises in any of the parties’ platforms

12. Making the legislature more democratic – Change the law to restrict the Premier’s power to shut down (prorogue) the legislature to only for a very short time, and only for an election (dissolution) or if the national situation has changed significantly or if the Premier can show that the government has completed all their pledged actions from the last Speech from the Throne (or attempted to do so, as the opposition parties may stop or delay completion of some actions).  Give all party caucuses the power to choose which MLAs in their party sits on legislature committees, and allow any MLA to introduce a private member bill at any time, and define what a “vote of confidence” is in the law in a restrictive way so most votes in the legislature are free votes. (Go to the Democratic Voting Systems Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Alberta Party – “Strengthen our democracy by redefining the role of MLAs to better serve constituents and reforming how the Legislature operates.”

Liberal Party – “Allow MLAs to have free votes in the Legislature on all non-budgetary or platform issues.”

Wildrose Party – “Restore representative democracy by mandating all final votes in the Legislature be free and reported to the public.”  “Improve democracy in the Legislature by implementing reforms to the legislative process like opposition days and having all-party committees review and amend Legislation.” “Legislate true fixed dates for provincial elections, the opening of legislative sessions, and the presentation of the budget and quarterly updates.”

13. Ensuring free, fair and representative elections – Change the current voting law and system (the Election Act) to specifically restrict the Premier’s power to call an unfair snap election, so that election dates are fixed as much as possible under the parliamentary system.  Change the Act also so that nomination and party leadership races are regulated by Elections Alberta (including limiting spending on campaigns for party leadership), so that Elections Alberta determines which parties can participate in election debates based upon merit criteria, so that party leaders cannot appoint candidates except when a riding does not have a riding association, so that voters can give a reason if they decline their ballot (ie. vote for “none of the above”) and so Elections Alberta is required to educate voters about their legal right to decline their ballot, and to provide a more equal number of voters in every riding, and a more accurate representation in the legislature of the actual voter support for each political party (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with low-level, narrow-base support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in the legislature).  (Go to the Democratic Voting Systems Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Green Party – “Greens would hold a referendum on whether to adopt proportional representation (PR) and would create a Citizens’ Assembly to advise on adoption of PR; the experience in BC with its citizens’ assembly would be studied and improved upon.” “A Green Party government would make all charges, findings and penalties imposed under the Election Act, as well as any subsequent, related legal proceedings (for example, appeals) publicly available immediately on the web site of the Chief Electoral Officer.”

Liberal Party – “Establish a single fixed election date.”  “Change Alberta’s electoral system to instant-runoff (preferential) voting.”

NDP – “(2.4) We will amend the Elections Act to prohibit MLAs from using government resources during elections and we will ensure the Chief Electoral officer can effectively investigate breaches of the Act.” “(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.”

Wildrose Party – “Legislate true fixed dates for provincial elections, the opening of legislative sessions, and the presentation of the budget and quarterly updates.” “Implement MLA recall legislation.”  “Strengthen the independent Offices of the Legislature such as the Auditor General, Ethics Commissioner, Chief Electoral Officer.”


V. General Government Accountability Measures

14. Facilitating citizen watchdog groups over government – Require provincial 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 legislature of Commons Committee, and a Senate Committee.  (Go to the Citizen Association Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

– No promises in any of the parties’ platforms

15. Ensuring effective whistleblower protection – Require everyone to report any violation of any law, regulation, policy, code, guideline or rule, and require all watchdog agencies over government to investigate and rule publicly on allegations of violations, to penalize violators, to protect anyone (not just employees) 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 the Open Government Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Wildrose Party –  “Strengthen whistleblower legislation to protect all direct and indirect government employees or contractors who report unethical, wasteful, or other wrongful behavior.”  “Strengthen the independent Offices of the Legislature such as the Auditor General, Ethics Commissioner, Chief Electoral Officer.”

16. Ensuring loophole free laws and strong penalties for wrongdoers – 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 the Campaigns page for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Liberal Party – “Designate all surface and groundwater as a public good, to be managed in the public interest, and regulated accordingly.”  “Enhance independent monitoring measures and impose tougher penalties for polluters.”  “Establish the Office of the Environmental Commissioner as an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.”  “Amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination.”  “Amend the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) to allow monetary penalties for companies that lose customers’ personal information.”  “Streamline death review process for children who die in government care.”

NDP – “(5.12) We will strengthen environmental standards, inspection, monitoring and enforcement to protect Alberta’s water, land and air. We will build standards based on independent science and international best practices, designed transparently in careful consultation with Albertans.”


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Group launches letter-writing campaign calling on Auditor General to audit Conservative government advertising

Conservatives are again running TV ads about government tax measures that don’t exist – campaign also calls on Prime Minister Harper to stop them, and to empower Auditor General to stop future partisan ads

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, April 26, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch launched a letter-writing campaign calling on the federal Auditor General to conduct a quick audit of the Conservative government’s advertising last fall and recently about non-existent tax measures, and calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to stop the ads and also change the law to empower the Auditor General to stop future dishonest, partisan, wasteful ads (as the Ontario AG can). The campaign website is at: http://ComeClean.ca/HarperAds/.

The letter also calls on the Auditor General to conduct a second comprehensive audit on Conservative government advertising since 2006, given that there have been several questionable past advertising campaigns by the government.

“The website gives all Canadians an easy way to call on the Auditor General to audit the Conservative government’s spending of the public’s money on recent ads about tax measures that don’t yet exist, and past ads that have been similarly questionable or dishonest,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.  “The Auditor General’s role is to determine whether the public’s money has been wasted, and it seems clear that ads about tax measures that don’t exist are a waste of money.”

In addition to the very questionable current ads, past Conservative government advertising since 2006 that has also been very questionable includes:

  • the ads in 2014 by the Department of Veterans Affairs claiming that the department treats veterans well;
  • the ads in 2012 about the Economic Action Plan (after the Plan’s spending was completed), and;
  • the ads in 2013 about the Canada Job Grants program that did not exist.

In Ontario, the Auditor General has been empowered by the Government Advertising Act since 2004 to prohibit government advertising that is partisan or misleading.

Democracy Watch expects thousands of Canadians will send letters through the website to the Auditor General, and hopes that the Auditor General will act in the public interest by undertaking both of these audits very soon.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: 613-241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443


Democracy Watch’s Stop Fraud Spending Campaign