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Democracy Watch sues Integrity Commissioner for failing to penalize 6 of 7 lobbyists who violated the law in serious ways last year

Did Commissioner not penalize the 6 lobbyists because he was up for reappointment by party leaders and MPPs last fall?

Cases challenge 6 of rare public rulings – since 2018 Commissioner has made 763 secret rulings, and failed to penalize 23 of 27 lobbyists who violated law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, March 4, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has filed six applications in Ontario’s Divisional Court challenging rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake that failed to penalize six lobbyists who violated Ontario’s lobbying law in serious ways, mainly by failing to register and disclose their lobbying for a year or more. The Commissioner has failed to penalize 23 of 27 lobbyists (85%) who have violated the law since 2018.

During the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Commissioner Wake only penalized one lobbyist, Lawrence Gold, for violating Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) by failing to register and disclose his lobbying for a long period of time. The Commissioner only imposed the minimum penalty of naming Mr. Gold publicly.

Four of the other six lobbyists who were not penalized by the Commissioner, not even by naming them publicly, did exactly the same thing as Mr. Gold – they didn’t register and disclose their lobbying for a long period of time. The other two lobbyists violated the law by lobbying politicians after campaigning for them or giving them gifts, in violation of section 3.4 of the LR Act that prohibits lobbying any politician or other public office holder if it will create a real or potential conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients.

When the Integrity Commissioner lets a lobbyist off for a violation of the law, the lobbyist’s identity is kept secret, as are the details of their lobbying. The Commissioner can penalize a lobbyist for a violation of the LR Act by only naming them publicly or naming them and banning them from lobbying for up to two years (section 17.9).

Democracy Watch’s six cases, which will be heard by the Divisional Court in Toronto all together, challenge rulings #s 5, 14, 17 and 23 (the four lobbyists who also failed to register) and rulings #s 13 and 20 (the two lobbyists who violated the lobbying ethics rule) in the Commissioner’s 2019-2020 Annual Report. The six cases are Division Court file numbers 644/20, 645/20, 646/20, 647/20, 648/20 and 669/20. Nick Papageorge of Ross McBride LLP is representing Democracy Watch for the initial steps of the cases. Click here to see the Notice of Application challenging ruling #5 (the other five applications are very similar).

Democracy Watch also recently filed three applications in Ontario’s Divisional Court challenging three other rulings by Integrity Commissioner Wake that allowed lobbyists who worked on campaigns for Ontario politicians, or gave them gifts, to lobby the politicians soon afterwards. Nick Papageorge is also representing DWatch for those cases.

All nine cases also ask the courts to rule that Commissioner Wake was biased when he issued the six rulings, given he knew that he would need the unanimous approval of Ford’s Cabinet and all MPPs to be re-appointed for a second five-year term, which happened on December 1st (although many MPPs were not present for that snap vote).

“Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner has failed to penalize almost all the lobbyists he has found in violation of the lobbying law since 2018, and so Democracy Watch is taking the commissioner to court to challenge the worst of his many bad rulings,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully the courts will issue rulings that require the Commissioner to start enforcing the lobbying rules strictly and strongly by penalizing all lobbyists who violate the law.”

“Democracy Watch will continue challenging the Integrity Commissioner’s rulings in court, and his excessive secrecy including 763 secret decisions since 2018, as long as the Commissioner continues letting off lobbyists who violate the law by failing to disclose their lobbying or lobbying politicians unethically,” said Conacher.

763 secret rulings since 2018, all of which should be made public

Since April 2018, Commissioner Wake has issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions, closed 135 secret compliance reviews at the initial stage, and resolved 436 cases informally in secret (Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2020). Because those 763 decisions were made in secret, it is unclear exactly how many other lobbyists Commissioner Wake has let off even though they violated the law.

Integrity Commissioner Wake has also taken the negligent position (in response to a letter sent by DWatch in January 2020) that he will only issue public summaries of his rulings in his annual report which is made public in June of each year, and covers the fiscal-year period which runs from April 1 to March 31 of the previous year.

This means if Commissioner Wake completes an investigation of a lobbyist after April 1st any year, he will not issue any information or a public ruling on that investigation until his annual report in June of the following year (14 months later), unless he decides to penalize the lobbyist (which he rarely decides to do).

Commissioner Wake also claimed in his 2018-2019 Annual Report (p. 47) that the advisory opinions he gives lobbyists under section 15 of the LR Act are confidential, but there is nothing in that section or anywhere in the LR Act that requires them to be kept secret. They are rulings, and the public has a right to know how the Commissioner has ruled every time. The Commissioner should at least issue a summary of every ruling.

There is nothing in the lobbying law that prohibits Integrity Commissioner Wake from issuing a public ruling on a lobbyist’s alleged violations of the law after he completes his investigation and the lobbyist has been given an opportunity to respond, and it is absurdly negligent for him to claim that the law allows him to wait a year or more to issue a public ruling, and to keep almost all his rulings secret,” said Conacher.

Huge loopholes in lobbying law make it legal to lobby secretly and unethically

As well, huge loopholes in the LR Act allow countless other lobbyists to lobby in secret and unethically. None of the following lobbying activities are required to be disclosed: unpaid lobbying, business lobbying or non-profit organization lobbying of less than 50 hours a year, lobbying about the enforcement of a law, or in response to a request for feedback from a Minister, official or MPP. As a result, anyone lobbying in these ways is also allowed to give gifts to and campaign, fundraise and do favours for Ontario Ministers, MPPs, political staff and government officials they are lobbying.

“Until huge loopholes are closed in the lobbying law, public officials are banned from lobbying for years after they leave their position, and the Integrity Commissioner enforces the law more strictly and strongly, secret, unethical lobbying will continue to corrupt Ontario government policy-making,” 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
Email: info@democracywatch.ca

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

International whistleblower protection report ranks Canada tied for last out of 62 countries with protections

Trudeau Cabinet rejected unanimous July 2017 House Committee report – all parties must work together to implement its recommendations now

Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday should be fired as he has been found guilty three times by Federal Court of violating whistleblowers rights

Governments across Canada need to make all the changes needed to ensure government and business whistleblowers are fully protected

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 3, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, in response to an international report that ranked Canada tied for last out of 62 countries with whistleblower protections (See pp. 10 and 75 of PDF of report), Democracy Watch called on the federal Liberals to strengthen whistleblower protection for everyone in federal politics, including political staff, and in all federally-regulated businesses.

The unanimous June 2017 report by the House of Commons Government Operations Committee called for many key changes to change the law and enforcement system to strengthen protection for whistleblowers who report wrongdoing by people in the federal government.

However, then-Treasury Board Minister Scott Brison rejected the Committee’s recommendations in an October 2017 letter – committing the government only to reinforcing the internal disclosure process. The Liberals’ Bill C-65 in 2018 did nothing to change the Canada Labour Code’s requirement that federal workplace victims file complaints with their boss, who is often the harasser, and so it left political staff and other whistleblowers essentially unprotected.

On February 25th, the House Committee voted to send its June 2017 report back to the House of Commons to force the Trudeau Cabinet to respond to it again. Click here to see Backgrounder on Key Developments in Federal Whistleblower Protection since 2017.

Democracy Watch appeared before the House Committee twice, and its submission included the Change.org petition that more than 22,000 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 several recent scandals have shown, such protection is much needed.

Democracy Watch’s submission also repeated the call it has made since 2015 for members of Canada’s armed forces, and the RCMP, be covered by the federal whistleblower protection law. The Committee unfortunately did not include this recommendation in its report. Recent scandals in the military have shown how much this protection is needed.

“The international report shows yet again how much the Trudeau Liberals have failed to protect whistleblowers, and 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 and Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. “The House Committee, public sector unions and citizen watchdog groups have been unanimously calling for key changes to strengthen whistleblower protection for years, as have tens of thousands of voters who have signed a national petition, so there is no reason for the Liberals to fail to work together with the other parties in this minority government and finally make these much-needed changes.”

Democracy Watch also called on Parliament to fire Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday, finally, as he was for the third time found guilty in December 2017 by the Federal Court of violating a whistleblower’s rights.

“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 and use an independent process to appoint a new, effective Integrity Commissioner, they will continue breaking their open government promise in this key way,” said Conacher.

“Unfortunately, the House Committee did not recommend in its June 2017 report any changes to strengthen protection for whistleblowers who work for federal politicians or for 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 politicians and people in Canada’s big banks and other financial institutions, and in airlines, phone, cable TV, food, mining and forestry companies,” said Conacher.

Section 334 of the Liberals’ Bill C-86 in 2018 was supposed to add sections 979.1 to 979.4 to the Bank Act to create a right for bank employees to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, but the measures have still not been implemented (not that having the right to blow the whistle is enough protection to actually encourage and support whistleblowers).

Measures to strengthen whistleblower protection are needed across Canada. Democracy Watch will continue its ProtectWhistleblowers.ca letter-writing campaign and petition until these changes are made.

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

Democracy Watch’s Protect Whistleblowers Who Protect You Campaign

Trudeau Liberals’ predictable appointments scandal could have been prevented


The following op-ed by Democracy Watch Co-founder Duff Conacher was published by Troy Media on February 21, 2021, and by the Hill Times on February 25, 2021.


Throughout 2016, after they were first elected, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers claimed again and again that they were making significant changes to the Cabinet appointment system to ensure it was “transparent, open and merit-based.” Very unfortunately, literally every media outlet believed and reported the claims without checking whether they were true.

At the beginning of 2017, the Liberals issued an announcement saying the changes had been made, and media across Canada echoed the claim, again without any verification.

For a couple of years afterwards, as is often the case, the media was reluctant to cover evidence of its own negligence. What the Trudeau Liberals had claimed must be true because the media had reported it as being true.

However, the evidence was mounting that the Liberals were blowing smoke. First, incredibly, former Ontario Liberal MPP Madeleine Meilleur admitted in spring 2017 before a House Committee that when she was considering ending her political career she had talked with Trudeau’s then-senior adviser Gerald Butts, and also his Chief of Staff Katie Telford, and asked to be appointed as federal Commissioner of Official Languages.

Her statement became so politically costly to the Trudeau Cabinet that she ended up withdrawing her candidacy.

Then, in June 2017, the Liberals made the very questionable claim that they couldn’t find replacements for then-Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and then-Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd, and so they had to re-appoint them for a third temporary six-month term. The opposition leaders pushed Trudeau to consult with them on appointments of these and other key watchdogs, and have a House committee review a short list of candidates for each position, as a committee does for such appointments in B.C.

However, the Liberals refused to give up control of the levers of patronage, even for those two government watchdogs whose offices were both investigating Trudeau and some of his Cabinet ministers for wrongdoing. In late November 2017, the Liberals suddenly announced they had finally found new commissioners. They claimed the best people they could find in Canada for Ethics Commissioner were Mario Dion, and for Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger.

It was truly unbelievable. Dion had a record of eight unethical actions in his former job as federal Integrity Commissioner. Just after he started that job, he illegally tipped off his friend, then-Clerk of the Privy Council (PCO) Wayne Wouters, that a whistleblower had filed a complaint about his office. He refused to re-examine fully more than 220 past whistleblower complaints that had been buried by the former commissioner, and he went on to be found guilty twice of violating whistleblowers’ rights, and of gross mismanagement in two other situations.

Meanwhile, Bélanger hadn’t even applied for the job – she had instead applied to be Information Commissioner where she was already general counsel. She has gone on to increase secrecy in her office’s operations, let two big business directors off the hook who held fundraising events Trudeau attended that raised tens of thousands dollars for the Liberals, while their companies were lobbying Trudeau and other Liberals, and made many other bad decisions.

Access to information requests have revealed that the Liberals lied to opposition parties as they had found other qualified candidates for both commissioner positions by spring 2017. However, three years later the Information Commissioner’s office continues to investigate why the PCO is hiding details about how Commissioner Bélanger was handpicked by Trudeau.

Through 2017-2018, the Trudeau Liberals chose a new Information Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner, Parliamentary Budget Officer, Auditor General, Chief Electoral Officer and Governor General, all key guardians of our democracy, using similar secretive, dishonest, unethical, Cabinet-controlled processes.

And, in the past year, a whistleblower has disclosed internal government emails that show the Trudeau Liberals even check not only with Cabinet ministers and MPs, but also party members, before making decisions about whom to appoint as judges. It’s another politicized process that raises questions about the impartiality of the judges they have appointed (past governments likely did the same, but evidence proving that has never been disclosed).

Most recently, after the Governor General scandal broke wide open and Julie Payette resigned, Trudeau again claimed that his appointment process was open, transparent and merit-based. However, like so many of Trudeau’s answers to questions about his own wrongdoing, his claim was a sad joke.

His own minister, and friend, Dominic LeBlanc (whose sister-in-law is head of investigations for Ethics Commissioner Dion), had just before admitted that the vetting had not been strong enough. And then “sources” told reporters (finally) that the Cabinet had not even checked Payette’s record with organizations she had worked with in the past.

What are the lessons from Trudeau’s ongoing scandalous record of appointments? First, as the media should know after decades of covering misleading politicians, don’t report any politician’s claims without checking them first, even during their so-called “honeymoon” first year after they are elected. Only about 20 percent of voters keep up with news, and only 10 percent of those people read beyond the headlines, so if your media outlet’s headline unquestioningly reports a politician’s claim, you are helping mislead voters.

If the media had questioned the Trudeau Cabinet’s appointment process claims and reported how false they were, very likely the Cabinet would have been forced to establish an actually open and merit-based process.

Secondly, the media should regularly cover the secrecy concerning any claim made by any politician. The secrecy is the story, and if the media doesn’t cover it, they are helping with the cover-up.

Finally, no one involved in law enforcement or watching over politicians, lobbyists or government institutions can be appointed can be appointed by the ruling party Cabinet alone, especially watchdogs who enforce laws that apply to Cabinet. Cabinet ministers are biased, and when they control such appointments it dangerously undermines our democracy and fair law enforcement.

Fully independent commissions need to be established across Canada to do public, merit-based searches for a short list of qualified candidates for all of these positions, and then a multi-party committee should be required to choose from that short list.

Duff Conacher is co-founder of Democracy Watch, and a Ph.D. student in law at the University of Ottawa


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

DWatch calls on Ethics Commissioner to issue ruling on its July 2019 complaint about appointments of judges connected to Dominic LeBlanc

Ethics Commissioner committed to issue rulings on all complaints, but his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law – is this why no ruling has been issued?

Democracy Watch filed court case last November challenging federal judicial appointment system for being too political

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, February 25, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion calling on him to issue a ruling, finally, on Democracy Watch’s complaint filed in July 2019 requesting an investigation into whether Trudeau Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc participated in the appointment process for judges in New Brunswick with financial and other connections to him.

When testifying before the House Ethics Committee in December 2017 about his appointment, Commissioner Dion committed to issue a public ruling on every complaint he received. Yet more than 18 months have passed and still no ruling.

Democracy Watch filed a court case last November challenging the federal judicial appointment process for being too political because the Minister of Justice controls the process too much, including consulting with other ministers, and Liberal MPs and party members before making the final choice about who will be appointed.

“Given Democracy Watch filed its complaint in July 2019, Ethics Commissioner Dion’s ruling on Dominic LeBlanc’s participation in appointing New Brunswick judges who have connections to him is long overdue,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given what has been revealed over the past year about how the federal Minister of Justice consults with other ministers about the appointments of judges in their provinces, it is difficult to believe that Dominic LeBlanc did not participate in the process appointing these judges who have financial and other connections to him.”

“Has Commissioner Dion not issued a ruling because he was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a biased, secretive, dishonest process, and his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law? Commissioner Dion should have long ago delegated the investigation to someone independent of his office and all political parties,” said Conacher.

“The Trudeau Liberal 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 to choose lapdogs instead of watchdogs,” said Conacher. “To stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for all judges and democratic good government watchdogs, the appointment process should be suspended until, as in the UK and Ontario, fully independent committees are created to conduct public, merit-based searches for short lists of well-qualified nominees, with Cabinet required to choose from the lists.”

As first reported by CBC New Brunswick, Justice Charles LeBlond who was appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, and Justice Arthur Doyle and Justice Robert Dysart who were appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench, all donated to help Minister LeBlanc pay off his debt from his 2008 Liberal Party leadership race campaign. GlobalNews.ca reported other donations made by these three justices to Minister LeBlanc’s riding association, and to the Liberal Party.

These outlets also reported that Jacques Pinet, the husband of Tracey DeWare, who was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench by Prime Minister Trudeau in June, also donated to Minister LeBlanc’s campaign, among other donations to the Liberal Party. CBC also reported that the couple purchased a seaside home from Minister LeBlanc in 2013 for $430,000, located next to Minister LeBlanc’s summerhouse.

Democracy Watch also revealed that, according to Minister LeBlanc’s federal ethics disclosure registration, sometime in 2017, a Jacques Pinet, Vice-President, Assumption Life Insurance Co. of New Brunswick, gave Minister LeBlanc a gift of 3 days hospitality at Ledges Lodge, Doarktown, New Brunswick. If this is the same Jacques Pinet who is married to Chief Justice DeWare, it would only compound the appearance of conflict of interest for Minister LeBlanc.

The Globe and Mail reported that Minister LeBlanc participated in the decisions for all of these appointments, while recusing himself from the appointment of one other judge who is a relative of his.

Section 4 and subsection 6(1) of the COIA together prohibit public office holders like Cabinet ministers from making or taking part in decisions when they have an opportunity to further their own, their family’s or their friends’ private interests, or improperly furthering another person’s interests (and section 9 prohibits trying to influence such decision, and section 8 prohibits using inside information to further a private interest). Democracy Watch’s position is that appointing someone as a judge furthers their private interest, and that “friends” should be defined by the Ethics Commissioner as including political friends such as significant supporters of the governing party.

In any case, it is improper for a minister to take part in a decision that affects any person who is their friend or has given them donations or gifts.

While the Trudeau Liberals added the goal of diversity for appointments, and reduced the number of members chosen by the Minister of Justice from four to three out of seven judicial advisory committee members, the committees still produce long lists of candidates which allow the Minister and Cabinet to appoint essentially whomever they want as a judge.

For quasi-judicial positions like key government watchdogs, Liberal Cabinet ministers still choose all advisory committee members and control the appointment process completely.

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

“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.

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

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

97,000+ call on Finance Minister Freeland to Make the Big Banks Help more during the coronavirus crisis, and after

Key measures, that the U.S. enacted decades ago, needed to stop racism and discrimination in bank lending, and to ensure fair interest rates, fees and service for all customers

Big 6 Banks gouged out still very high profits of more than $41 billion in 2020 – so they can afford to help more, as the Prime Minister said last April

Loopholes also must be closed to ensure banks pay fair share of taxes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, February 22, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch, along with the more than 97,000 people from across Canada who have joined its letter-writing campaign and/or signed its Change.org petition, called on Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to work together with all federal parties in this minority government situation to make Canada’s big banks do more to help Canadians and small businesses, and pay their fair share of taxes, now and after the coronavirus crisis.

Democracy Watch recently filed a submission with Finance Canada’s pre-budget consultation process calling for 8 key changes (set out further below) needed to make the banks help more, stop racism and discrimination in lending and services, and stop gouging and other abuses.

Many of the 8 key changes were enacted in the U.S. decades ago, and apply to the U.S. banks that 4 of Canada’s Big 6 Banks own. In contrast, the Trudeau Liberals have done very little to address discrimination in bank lending, and nothing to stop gouging of all customers.

Recently, associations representing Black and Indigenous business owners called for the U.S. measures to be enacted in Canada to stop discrimination in bank lending.

The call comes after Canada’s Big 6 Banks reported still high profits in 2020 totalling $41.13 billion, just $5.1 billion (12%) less than in 2019 (BMO – $5.1B; CIBC – $3.8B ; National – $2.08; RBC – $11.4B; Scotiabank – $6.85B; TD – $11.9B). The Big 6 had record profits of more than $46 billion in 2019 – the 10th year in a row, and more than double their 2010 profits.

Four of Canada’s Big 6 Banks are listed in Fortune’s Global 500 for 2020, and are the 15th (RBC), 20th (TD), 32nd (Scotiabank) and 50th (BMO) most profitable financial institutions in the world, and the four most profitable Canadian companies in the Global 500 (See Canada’s Big Banks Backgrounder).

Former Finance Minister Bill Morneau boasted in early April 2020 that the federal government negotiated with the Big 6 Banks to temporarily cut some credit card interest rates for some customers (but not for small businesses) who request a deferral for a couple of months, and to process small business loans funded by the government, in addition to the up-to-6-month mortgage and loan deferrals and fee reductions the banks have already offered (but again, only for some customers, with the delayed amount still required to be paid later, plus interest).

However, those payment deferrals of about $1 billion have run out for most people, including about 760,000 Canadians who deferred their mortgage, and Prime Minister Trudeau stated on April 6th that “we need to see even more action like this going forward because this is a time to think about each other, not about the bottom line.”

“The big banks can afford to do much more to help during this crisis, and must be required by law to disclose much more information about how they treat customers and borrowers, and about their profits in every part of their business, to ensure they don’t gouge, discriminate against or abuse anyone and to ensure they are effectively required to serve everyone fairly and well with fair interest rates and fees,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“The federal government cannot tell if the banks are still gouging or treating customers unfairly in this crisis, and won’t be able to tell post-crisis, because the banks are allowed to keep secret the profit levels in each area of their business, what type of borrowers they approve and reject for loan and credit relief, and how many complaints they are receiving,” said Conacher. “As the U.S. did more than 40 years ago, the federal government must require the banks to disclose this information and more to ensure the banks don’t discriminate against anyone, and give everyone who needs it a real break in their loan and credit card payments during the crisis, and serve everyone fairly and well at fair interest rates and fees that give the banks a reasonable profit and not excessive gouging profit levels.”

The Big 6 Banks continue to reap high profits by firing thousands of people, shifting jobs overseas (or using temporary foreign workers), cutting services, and hiking fees and credit card interest rates even as the Bank of Canada’s prime rate dropped to record low levels.

The Big 6 Banks also paid their CEOs a total of $75 million in 2019 in salary and bonuses (an average of $12.5 million each).

The Big 6 Banks’ high profits and cuts to their prime lending rates show that they can afford to cut interest rates much more on loans like mortgages etc., and also to cut fees much more, and not raise them again to their gouging, excessive profit levels.

The more than 97,000 voters are calling on federal parties to work together now to require the banks:

  1. To cut all their interest rates and fees in half now, and cut loan payments entirely for anyone who needs it, without requiring payment or extra interest later;
  2. To disclose detailed profit reports after fully independent audits and keep rates and fees at reasonably low levels in the future (for example, many U.S. states cap credit card interest rates);
  3. To empower consumers and increase consumer protection by supporting the creation of an independent, consumer-run bank watchdog group (as recommended by MPs and senators in 1998);
  4. To disclose approval rates for credit, loans and account services by neighbourhood and type of borrower, and require corrective actions by any bank that discriminates (as the U.S. has required for more than 40 years under the Community Reinvestment Act) as part of their annual Public Accountability Statements);
  5. To re-open basic banking branches in neighbourhoods (where they closed them in the 1990s) to help get rid of predatory pay-day loan companies (and banking at Canada Post outlets should also be allowed to help ensure everyone has access to basic banking services at fair rates and fees);
  6. To cut bank executive pay down to a reasonable level (as in some European countries);
  7. To pay their fair share of taxes now, and in the future, by closing all the loopholes they exploit and (as England and Australia have) imposing an excess profits tax, and;
  8. Finally, enforcement measures and penalties also need to be strengthened to ensure banks, and other financial institutions, serve everyone fairly and well at fair prices (See Backgrounder on Weak Enforcement of Financial Consumer and Investment Protection)

See Full List of Key Bank Accountability Changes.

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

Democracy Watch’s Big Banks Coronavirus Accountability Campaign

Democracy Watch calls on RCMP and prosecutors to issue update on investigation into obstruction of SNC-Lavalin prosecution by Trudeau Cabinet officials

Group also pursuing lawsuit challenging Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that let everyone off except PM Trudeau for pressuring Attorney General to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin

Group also filed request in March 2019 with Lobbying Commissioner for investigation into lobbying by former PCO Clerk Kevin Lynch for SNC-Lavalin, and all SNC-Lavalin lobbying since 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, February 11, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent calling on the RCMP and Crown prosecutors to issue a full, public explanation of the state of the investigation into the allegation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Finance Minister Bill Morneau, some members of their staff, and former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick obstructed justice by pressuring then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

The letter sets out several reasons why the public deserves, and has a right to, a public explanation of the state of the investigation, and all decisions concerning the investigation, and any decisions concerning prosecutions. One of the main reasons is that two years have passed since the situation was first made public, and many of the facts of the situation have also been known for almost two years, and so an update is long overdue.

“Given the evidence, and that two years have passed since the situation was made public, and 18 months since the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling revealed many of the facts concerning Prime Minister Trudeau and other government officials pressuring the Attorney General, the public has a right to an update on the RCMP’s investigation, and any decisions that have been made concerning prosecuting anyone involved in the situation,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.

“Are the RCMP and prosecutors waiting for another election to pass, or doing what so often happens in Canada when powerful politicians and government officials are involved in alleged illegal activities – delaying with the hope that they can eventually bury the results of the investigation?” said Conacher.

Other reasons set out in the letter why the RCMP’s silence on the situation since August 2019 is unacceptable, include:

  1. Obstruction of justice is a serious criminal offence.
  2. Obstruction of justice is even more serious when committed behind closed doors by government politicians and officials, as it is then also an act of government corruption.
  3. As summarized in the letter, all of the elements needed to prove obstruction of justice (subsection 139(2) of the Criminal Code) are present in the actions of the Prime Minister and others as they pressured the Attorney General multiple times to stop the prosecution.
  4. Concerning intent, federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded in 284 of his August 2019 ruling that “Mr. Trudeau knowingly sought to influence Ms. Wilson-Raybould both directly and through the actions of his agents.”
  5. Many legal and political experts dispute the claim by the Clerk of the Privy Council, and Prime Minister Trudeau, that it is proper for Cabinet to refuse to waive Cabinet confidence and prohibit the RCMP (and the Ethics Commissioner) from seeing all documents and records concerning the actions of the Prime Minister and the other government officials in this situation, and prohibit all government witnesses to provide full testimony, as can be seen in a September 13, 2019 Globe article.
  6. Prosecutors in Canada have, in recent years, usually provided public explanations of investigation and prosecution decisions in such cases (for example, B.C. special prosecutors in several recent cases, and the Commissioner of Canada Elections concerning the robocalls situation).

Democracy Watch also sent a letter in March 2019 to Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger requesting an investigation into whether former Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch violated the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by failing to register as a lobbyist for SNC-Lavalin, and into all of SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying of the federal government since 2014. The letter also requested that Commissioner Bélanger delegate the investigation to a provincial commissioner or someone independent of her and the Trudeau Cabinet, because she was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, dishonest process.

Democracy Watch is also pursuing a court case in the Federal Court of Appeal challenging Ethics Commissioner Dion’s ruling that let everyone off the hook, except Prime Minister Trudeau, for pressuring the Attorney General. Daniel Tucker-Simmons of Avant Law is representing Democracy Watch in the case, Federal Court of Appeal File #A-331-19.

DWatch is challenging this part of the ruling in court because in paragraphs 262-281 (pages 41-44) the Ethics Commissioner summarizes the actions of PMO officials, Cabinet ministers and their staff that put pressure on the Attorney General. However, in paragraphs 282-286 (page 44), the Ethics Commissioner then excuses the actions of everyone except Prime Minister Trudeau on the very questionable basis that the other officials “could not have influenced the Attorney General” and were acting “under the direction or authority of the Prime Minister…”

As the Ethics Commissioner ruled, by attempting to influence the Attorney General PM Trudeau violated section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act. Morneau, Wernick, and PMO and Finance Minister staff also attempted to influence the Attorney General. It is irrelevant whether they had the same power over the Attorney General as the PM has.

“The Ethics Commissioner made the right ruling by finding Prime Minister Trudeau guilty of violating the ethics law for pressuring the Attorney General to drop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, but he should have also found other PMO and government officials guilty because they also pressured the Attorney General,” said Conacher. “The Ethics Commissioner’s ruling set a dangerous precedent because it says Cabinet staff aren’t covered by the federal ethics law, and can do things that Cabinet ministers are not allowed to do, so hopefully the courts will reverse the Commissioner’s ruling so everyone who violated the law will be found guilty.”

Democracy Watch’s case also argues that Ethics Commissioner Dion should have delegated the investigation and ruling on the situation to a provincial ethics commissioner who had no ties to any federal party, given that he was chosen by the Trudeau Cabinet after a secretive, Cabinet-controlled process that failed to consult with opposition parties as required by the Parliament of Canada Act. Mr. Dion also had a record 8 unethical and questionable actions when he was federal Integrity Commissioner.

“Ethics Commissioner Dion should not be ruling on any situations involving Liberals as he was hand-picked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, very questionable process, and has an unethical past enforcement record, and so he should delegate investigations to a provincial ethics commissioner,” said Conacher.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Unfair Law Enforcement Campaign

Democracy Watch sues Integrity Commissioner for letting Ford/PC Party-connected lobbyists lobby Ford Cabinet unethically

Court cases challenge Commissioner’s first three public rulings on lobbying ethics rule enacted in July 2016 – he has made 763 secret decisions since 2018

Even a Ford PC Party MPP is concerned about whether Ford is giving these lobbyists policy gifts as they cash in on their so-called “public service”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, February 10, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has filed three applications in Ontario’s Divisional Court challenging rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake that allowed lobbyists who worked on campaigns for Ontario politicians, or gave them gifts, to lobby the politicians soon afterwards.

The cases challenge the first three public rulings of the Integrity Commissioner’s unknown number of decisions that have let dozens of people (and maybe more) lobby Doug Ford and his Cabinet ministers soon after they campaigned, fundraised or worked for Ford and/or Ontario’s PC Party in the 2018 leadership race and election, and/or worked for Ford or one or more of his ministers since the election.

Many of these people are still advising Ford and/or in senior PC Party positions while they continue to lobby Ford’s Cabinet on long-term care, property development, COVID-19 relief, mining, and other big issues.

The cases challenge rulings #6 and 7 on page 52 of the Commissioner’s 2019-2020 Annual Report, and ruling #10 on page 53 of the Report. These are the first three rulings that the Integrity Commissioner has made public enforcing section 3.4 of Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act). The cases are Division Court file numbers 632/20, 633/20 and 634/20. Nick Papageorge of Ross McBride LLP is representing Democracy Watch for the cases. Click here to see the Notice of Application challenging ruling #6 (the other two applications are very similar).

Section 3.4 was added to the LR Act on July 1, 2016, and it prohibits lobbying any politician or other public office holder if it will create a real or potential conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients. Commissioner Wake’s rulings are based on a very weak Interpretation Bulletin he finally issued in June 2020 that claims when a lobbyist assists a politician with fundraising or campaigning or gives them a gift, the conflict of interest created by the assistance or gift disappears soon afterwards, so the lobbyist can then lobby the politician and their staff.

The cases also ask the courts to rule that Commissioner Wake was biased when he issued the three rulings, given he knew that he would need the unanimous approval of Ford’s Cabinet and all MPPs to be re-appointed for a second five-year term, which happened on December 1st (although many MPPs were not present for that snap vote).

“Dozens of people who have helped or worked for Doug Ford or his Cabinet ministers or the PC Party have set themselves up in lobbying firms and, even though many of them have never lobbied before, big businesses are hiring them because they know it will get them inside access to Ford and his ministers,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Democracy Watch is challenging the first three very weak decisions that Ontario’s so-called Integrity Commissioner has made public that have allowed lobbyists corrupt Ontario government policy-making as they cash in on their so-called public service.”

“Hopefully the courts will issue rulings that stop this unethical lobbying of Ford’s Cabinet and require the Commissioner to start enforcing the lobbying ethics rules strictly and strongly,” said Conacher. “Democracy Watch will continue challenging the Integrity Commissioner’s rulings in court, and his excessive secrecy including 763 secret decisions since 2018, as long as the Commissioner continues letting lobbyists lobby politicians unethically, and violate the lobbying law in other ways.”

Even one of Ford’s MPPs has expressed concern, as Thornhill MPP Gila Martow issued a statement via Twitter and a docs webpage in December that said in part:

“Big box retailers should not be permitted to enrich themselves on the backs of small businesses simply because they can afford to hire well-connected lobbyists like Melissa Lantsman to get them preferential treatment.” (link in original)

Since April 2018, Commissioner Wake has issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions, closed 135 secret compliance reviews at the initial stage, and resolved 436 cases informally in secret (Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2020). At least some of those 763 secret decisions by Commissioner Wake have allowed dozens of other lobbyists (see list in next paragraph) to fundraise or campaign or give significant gifts to Ford’s Cabinet and then lobby them soon afterwards.

In addition to Melissa Lantsman of Enterprise Canada, the Commissioner has been letting the following lobbyists who have campaigned or worked for Ford or his Cabinet ministers lobby the Ford government unethically: Chris Froggatt of Loyalist Public Affairs; Kory Teneycke of Rubicon Strategy; Michael Diamond of Upstream Strategy Group; Alex Simakov of Sussex Strategy Group; Brayden Akers of Navigator Ltd.; Andrew Brander of Crestview Strategies; Carly Luis of StrategyCorp (until she re-joined as Ford Cabinet staff in September 2020); Melanie Paradis of McMillan Vantage (until she started working for Erin O’Toole in Sept. 2020) – and many others at their lobbying firms. Click here to see the full list.

All other commissioners in Canada have ruled that the conflict of interest created by assisting a politician in any significant way lasts for several years. For example, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s ruling says the conflict lasts four years. The federal lobbying law also prohibits Cabinet staff from lobbying for five years after leaving their position (s. 10.11 – though it has loopholes). (Click here to see Backgrounder on Conflict of Interest Rule in Ontario’s Lobbying Law).

As well, huge loopholes in the LR Act allow countless other lobbyists to lobby in secret and unethically. None of the following lobbying activities are required to be disclosed: unpaid lobbying, business lobbying or non-profit organization lobbying of less than 50 hours a year, lobbying about the enforcement of a law, or in response to a request for feedback from a Minister, official or MPP. As a result, anyone lobbying in these ways is also allowed to give gifts to and campaign, fundraise and do favours for Ontario Ministers, MPPs, political staff and government officials they are lobbying.

“Until huge loopholes are closed in the lobbying law, public officials are banned from lobbying for years after they leave their position, and the Integrity Commissioner enforces the law more strictly and strongly, secret, unethical lobbying will continue to corrupt Ontario government policy-making,” said Conacher.

– 30 –

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

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

Next Governor General should be chosen through democratic, multi-partisan, Canadianized process

GG is a key guardian of Canada’s democracy – must be fully independent and impartial, not handpicked in secret by PM

All federal parties should also agree on key rules of Parliament before next election to prevent abuse of power by PM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, January 22, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, as part of its Democratic Head Campaign which is supported by thousands of Canadians, Democracy Watch called on Prime Minister Trudeau to democratize and Canadianize the choice of the next Governor General. Like all the other Officers of Parliament, the Governor General (GG) must be independent of the Prime Minister because s/he makes many key decisions about the operations of Parliament and the government, and so the Prime Minister should not be choosing the GG alone as that taints the position with partisanship.

To democratize the selection of the Governor General, Democracy Watch’s campaign proposes that an independent committee (whose members are approved by all federal party leaders in the House of Commons) conduct a public, merit-based search for a shortlist of three nominees for GG, and then at least all federal party leaders should approve the choice of GG. Even better, given that the GG appoints the Lieutenant Governors of each province, Prime Minister Trudeau should send the shortlist of nominees to the party leaders of each legislature and have them rank the nominees. The GG would be the person who receives the most votes from this ranked ballot vote.

To Canadianize the selection of the Governor General, Democracy Watch proposes that the Prime Minister should not request that Queen Elizabeth approve of the person chosen through the process. The Queen does have to approve the person formally, but if the Prime Minister does not request the approval, and the Queen agrees to whomever is nominated, then a new constitutional convention will be established that Canada chooses its own Head of State. This will be a small but significant step toward full independence for Canada.

Both of these changes to the Governor General’s appointment process can be made by the Prime Minister alone – no changes to any law, or Canada’s Constitution, are needed.

“Prime Minister Harper appointed his own advisory committee for choosing the Governor General but it was a charade as he could ignore the committee’s nominees and he controlled the final choice. Given how important it is for the Governor General to be independent of the Prime Minister and impartial, especially in a minority government situation, Prime Minister Trudeau must involve opposition parties in choosing the Governor General, and it would be even better to involve party leaders from across Canada given that the Governor General appoints the Lieutenant Governors in each province,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.

“Prime Minister Trudeau should also tell the Queen who Canada has chosen as Governor General, and not ask her approval, and if she accepts that as the new protocol it will become clear that Canada chooses its own head of state,” said Conacher.

As well, Democracy Watch called on federal party leaders in the House of Commons to agree on public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want and as Britain’s Parliament did 10 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 current rules in Canada 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 former Governor General also said in an August 2016 interview with the Hill Times that he thought these unwritten constitutional conventions should be written down.

The rules should, at the very least, make clear: what a vote of non-confidence is; when and how the next election can be called before the fixed election date; which party will get to try governing first after the next election; when the legislature will open; when it can be closed, and when and how the opposition parties may get a chance to govern (See Backgrounder for the seven key rules).

Ideally, the rules should also 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 can be removed from and reinstated in political party caucuses through democratic votes of caucus members; how members of legislature committees are chosen by caucuses not by party leaders, and; what a Cabinet can do during an election campaign period until the next Cabinet is chosen.

In England, Australia and New Zealand, political party leaders and MPs agreed years ago to clear, public rules so what happens before, after and in-between elections is fair for all the parties, and for voters. Most countries in the world also have clear, public rules. Britain’s politicians and public also 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.

“Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s politicians and public know the rules for UK minority governments because its rules are written but Canadian politicians and public don’t because our rules are unwritten,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “If federal party leaders don’t agree to key written rules before the next election, constitutional crises could happen with politicians, lawyers and academics having ridiculous arguments about what our unwritten rules are, and the unelected, unaccountable Governor General forced to make decisions based on conflicting opinions about unwritten rules. Meanwhile, in Britain, Australia and New Zealand everyone is 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 Canada’s rules be written down to stop unfair abuses of power by the PM and Cabinet that will violate the rights of the legislature and the democratic will of the majority of voters right through the next election.”

The Governor General has almost never stopped a Prime Minister 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.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Head Campaign and Stop PM/Premier Abuses Campaign

Dozens of Ford and PC Party-connected lobbyists corrupting Ontario policy-making – Integrity Commissioner letting them violate law

Is Ford giving them gifts as they cash in on their so-called “public service”? Even a Ford PC Party MPP is concerned

Huge loopholes in law also need to be closed to stop secret, unethical lobbying

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, December 17, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its report on the dozens of people who have become provincial lobbyists soon after they campaigned, fundraised or worked for Doug Ford and/or Ontario’s PC Party in the 2018 leadership race and election, and/or worked for Ford or one or more of his Cabinet ministers. Many of them are still advising Ford and/or in senior PC Party positions while they continue to lobby Ford’s Cabinet on long-term care, property development, COVID-19 relief, mining, and other big issues.

Even one of Ford’s MPPs is expressing concern, as Thornhill MPP Gila Martow issued a statement via Twitter and a docs webpage on Friday that said in part:

“Big box retailers should not be permitted to enrich themselves on the backs of small businesses simply because they can afford to hire well-connected lobbyists like Melissa Lantsman to get them preferential treatment.” (link in original)

Very unfortunately, Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake has let Melissa Lantsman and many other Ford/PC Party-connected lobbyists violate Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act). Commissioner Wake finally confirmed publicly that he has been allowing Ford-connected lobbyists to do this in the negligently bad Interpretation Bulletin he issued in June 2020 interpreting the rule added to the LR Act on July 1, 2016 (section 3.4).

The rule prohibits lobbying any politician or other public office holder if it will create a real or potential conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients. But Commissioner Wake believes it’s fine to start lobbying one year after campaigning, fundraising, gifting or working with politicians or parties.

Among the dozens of lobbyists Commissioner Wake has let lobby unethically are: Chris Froggatt of Loyalist Public Affairs; Kory Teneycke of Rubicon Strategy; Michael Diamond of Upstream Strategy Group; Alex Simakov of Sussex Strategy Group; Brayden Akers of Navigator Ltd.; Andrew Brander of Crestview Strategies; Carly Luis of StrategyCorp (until she re-joined as Ford Cabinet staff in September 2020); Melanie Paradis of McMillan Vantage (until she started working for Erin O’Toole in Sept. 2020) – and many others at their lobbying firms – and (as noted above) Melissa Lantsman of Enterprise Canada. Click here to see the full list.

All other commissioners in Canada have ruled that the conflict of interest created by assisting a politician lasts for several years. For example, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s ruling says the conflict lasts four years. The federal lobbying law also prohibits Cabinet staff from lobbying for five years after leaving their position (s. 10.11 – though it has loopholes). (Click here to see Backgrounder on Conflict of Interest Rule).

“Dozens of people who have helped or worked for Doug Ford or his Cabinet ministers or the PC Party have set themselves up in lobbying firms and, even though many of them have never lobbied before, big businesses are hiring them because they know it will get them inside access to Ford and his ministers,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch. “With negligently bad decisions, Ontario’s so-called Integrity Commissioner is showing zero integrity by letting these lobbyists corrupt Ontario government policy-making as they cash in on their so-called public service.”

As a result of his negligently bad enforcement attitude, since July 2016 Commissioner Wake has also let off 85% of lobbyists he has found violating the LR Act, and issued 763 secret decisions that have let off an unknown number of other lobbyists who may have fundraised or campaigned or give significant gifts to politicians and then lobbied them only one year later, or violated the law in other ways. Click here to see details.

Commissioner Wake’s weak enforcement record shows he is a lapdog who should not have been appointed to a second term. Opposition MPs should have forced a committee vote on this (ss. 23(2)) but they all approved it on December 1st.

As well, huge loopholes in the LR Act allow countless other lobbyists to lobby in secret and unethically. None of the following lobbying activities are required to be disclosed: unpaid lobbying, business lobbying or non-profit organization lobbying of less than 50 hours a year, lobbying about the enforcement of a law, or in response to a request for feedback from a Minister, official or MPP. As a result, anyone lobbying in these ways is also allowed to give gifts to and campaign, fundraise and do favours for Ministers, MPPs, political staff and government officials they are lobbying.

“Until huge loopholes are closed in the lobbying law, public officials are banned from lobbying for years after they leave their position, and the Integrity Commissioner strengthens enforcement, secret, unethical lobbying will continue to corrupt Ontario government policy-making,” said Conacher.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

Integrity Commissioner has let off 23 of 27 lobbyists (85%) he found violating lobbying law since 2018 – likely dozens more violated law

763 rulings remain secret — negligently weak enforcement means MPPs made a big mistake re-appointing Commissioner Wake for a second 5-year term

Huge loopholes in law also need to be closed to stop secret, unethical lobbying

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, December 8, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its report on the rulings on lobbyists published in Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake’s 2018-2109 and 2019-2020 Annual Reports. From April 2018 to March 2020, Integrity Commissioner Wake let off 23 out of 27 (85%) of the lobbyists he found violating Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) in serious ways, including failing to register their lobbying for a year or more. He only penalized four of the lobbyists who violated the LR Act, and only by publicizing their names.

As well, Commissioner Wake only fully investigated and issued public rulings on 63 of the 634 allegations of lobbying violations he reviewed (only 10%), and he issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions to lobbyists. Given his weak public enforcement record, he likely let off dozens more lobbyists in the 763 secret rulings and opinions he issued.

Commissioner Wake’s weak enforcement record shows he is a lapdog who should not have been appointed to a second term. Opposition MPs should have forced a committee vote on this (ss. 23(2)) but they all approved it on December 1st.

When the Integrity Commissioner lets a lobbyist off for a violation of the law, the lobbyist’s identity is kept secret, as are the details of their lobbying. The Commissioner can penalize a lobbyist for a violation of the LR Act by naming them publicly and/or banning them from lobbying for up to two years (section 17.9).

As well, from April 2018 to March 2020 the Commissioner let off at least 13 lobbyists, and likely dozens more, for secret or unethical lobbying because of huge loopholes in the LR Act. None of the following communications are required to be disclosed as lobbying: Unpaid lobbying, business lobbying or non-profit organization lobbying of less than 50 hours a year, lobbying about the enforcement of a law, or in response to a request for feedback from a Minister, official or MPP.

Among the dozens of lobbyists Commissioner Wake has let off are people who worked in senior roles on Doug Ford’s or the Ontario PC Party’s election campaign and/or for Ford’s ministers and, one year later, started lobbying Ford’s Cabinet. These lobbyists include Chris Froggatt of Loyalist Public Affairs, Kory Teneycke of Rubicon Strategy and Michael Diamond of Upstream Strategy Group (and several others at their lobbying firms), Melissa Lantsman of Enterprise Canada and Melanie Paradis (until she stopped in Sept. 2020). See details in subsection B(ii) of Backgrounder on rulings.

Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2020.

Commissioner Wake let these and many other lobbyists off based on a negligently bad Interpretation Bulletin he issued in June 2020 saying that when a lobbyist assists a politician with fundraising or campaigning or gives them a gift, the conflict of interest created by the assistance or gift magically disappears after one year, so the lobbyist can lobby the politician and their staff after that year.

A rule was added July 1, 2016 to the LR Act (section 3.4) that prohibits lobbying any politician or other public office holder if it will create a real or potential conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients. But Commissioner Wake negligently took until June 2020 to issue his Bulletin about the new rule (Click here to see Backgrounder on Conflict of Interest Rule).

As a result of this negligently bad Interpretation Bulletin, from 2018-2020 Commissioner Wake has let off an unknown number of other lobbyists for unethically illegal lobbying. Since April 2018, Commissioner Wake has issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions, closed 135 secret compliance reviews at the initial stage, and resolved 436 cases informally in secret. Likely dozens of those 763 secret decisions by Commissioner Wake allowed lobbyists to fundraise or campaign or give significant gifts to politicians and then lobby them only one year later, or to violate the law in other ways.

Commissioner Wake’s Bulletin is ridiculous. Doug Ford and all his Cabinet ministers and their staff, and all Progressive Conservative MPPs, owe all of the people who helped them win power (or have fundraised for them) at least until the next election, and arguably for the rest of their political careers. No other commissioner in Canada has set such a short “cooling-off” time period for lobbyists – all have said the conflict of interest created by assisting a politician lasts for several years. See, for example, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s ruling that the conflict of interest lasts at least four years.

“Doug Ford’s former campaigners who set themselves up in lobbying firms after he won the 2018 election are all violating Ontario’s lobbying law that prohibits lobbying politicians you have assisted with fundraising or campaigning, but unfortunately the Integrity Commissioner has issued negligently bad rulings protecting them and failing to stop their unethical lobbying,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.

Commissioner Wake’s ethics rulings on Ministers, MPPs and other government officials are just as bad. He let Premier Ford off even though he attended the final Cabinet meeting approving the appointment of his old friend Ron Taverner as OPP Commissioner, and let his staff try to rig the process in favour of Taverner (and he also let Ford’s staff off). He also let Premier Ford off even though he offered Taverner an executive job at the Ontario Cannabis Store. He also let a top government official off who was fundraising for a political party (See p.29), and let several public servants off even though they used government resources for self-benefit (See p.40), and another public servant off even though they were involved in hiring a family member (See p.42).

Integrity Commissioner Wake’s negligently bad enforcement record shows he is a lapdog who should not have been re-appointed for another term, as he has let dozens of lobbyists get away with secret, unethical lobbying, and let the Premier and his staff and top government officials get away with clear violations of the province’s government ethics laws,” said Conacher. “By re-appointing Commissioner Wake, Ontario’s political parties have confirmed that they are in favour of secretive and unethically bad government decision-making and don’t care about protecting the public interest or ensuring democratic good government.”

Integrity Commissioner Wake has also taken the negligent position (in response to a letter sent by DWatch in January 2020) that he will only issue public summaries of his rulings in his annual report which is made public in June of each year, and covers the fiscal-year period which runs from April 1 to March 31 of the previous year.

This means if Commissioner Wake completes an investigation of a lobbyist after April 1st any year, he will not issue any information or a public ruling on that investigation until his annual report in June of the following year (14 months later), unless he decides to penalize the lobbyist (which he rarely decides to do).

Commissioner Wake also claimed in his 2018-2019 Annual Report (p. 47) that the advisory opinions he gives lobbyists under section 15 of the LR Act are confidential, but there is nothing in that section or anywhere in the LR Act that requires them to be kept secret. They are rulings, and the public has a right to know how the Commissioner has ruled every time. The Commissioner should at least issue a summary of every ruling.

There is nothing in the lobbying law that prohibits Integrity Commissioner Wake from issuing a public ruling on a lobbyist’s alleged violations of the law after he completes his investigation and the lobbyist has been given an opportunity to respond, and it is absurdly negligent for him to claim that the law allows him to wait a year or more to issue a public ruling, and to keep almost all his rulings secret,” said Conacher.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign