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Democracy Watch in court today vs. Lobbying Commissioner rulings letting off lobbyists who helped Chrystia Freeland win election, then lobbied her officials and staff

Lobbying Commissioner ignored clear rules that prohibit putting a politician in even an appearance of a conflict of interest, or lobbying their department or staff, for years after campaigning and/or fundraising for them

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, December 6, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch is at the Federal Court in Ottawa for the much-delayed hearing of the case it filed in August 2020 challenging federal Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger’s rulings that let lobbyists Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) off the hook even though they lobbied Liberal Cabinet minister Chrystia Freeland’s department and staff soon after co-managing her election campaign and serving on her riding association executive.

Democracy Watch’s two cases are being heard together given they are about the same situation, and DWatch argues that Bergen and O’Born’s lobbying violated the federal Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct Rule 6 which, according to the Commissioner’s own website, prohibits lobbyists from putting a politician in even an appearance of a conflict of interest, and Rule 9 which prohibits lobbying a politician or their staff for four years after campaign or fundraising for them or assisting them in any other significant way.

In a related development, Commissioner Bélanger is trying to rush into force a new Lobbyists’ Code that guts Rule 6 and Rule 9 in ways that will allow lobbyists to campaign and fundraise unlimited amounts of money for politicians while lobbying them. Thankfully, the House Ethics Committee is, so far, slowing the Commissioner down, and will hopefully reject the proposed new unethical rules.

The hearing of the cases is at Federal Court Building, 90 Sparks St., 4th floor, Ottawa, and also online on Zoom (contact the Federal Court to register to watch the hearing on Zoom at: Tel: 613-992-4238; Email: <[email protected]>). The cases are Federal Court File Nos. T-915-20 and T-916-20. Democracy Watch is represented by Andrew Montague-Reinholdt and Rhian Foley of Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

“The federal lobbying ethics code prohibits anyone from lobbying a Cabinet minister or their officials for four years after helping them get elected or assisting them in a significant way, and so hopefully the Federal Court will overrule the Commissioner of Lobbying and find Minister Freeland’s former election campaign and riding association managers guilty of violating the code given they lobbied many senior officials in Minister Freeland’s former department before four years had passed,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“By letting the CCI lobbyists off the hook, issuing other similarly weak rulings in recent years letting off other unethical lobbyists, and by trying to get key ethical lobbying rules, Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger is continuing the negligent enforcement record of her predecessor Karen Shepherd who let off 84% of the lobbyists who violated the law during her decade as commissioner,” said Conacher.

Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger finally issued two rulings in March 2020 (a completely unjustifiable delay of almost three years after Democracy Watch filed its complaint) that Mr. Bergen and Ms. O’Born did not violate Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct rules 6, 8, 9 or 10 which prohibit assisting a politician in any significant way and then lobbying their office or officials afterwards.

The cases have been delayed multiple times. First in fall 2020 waiting for the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) to decide whether to allow DWatch to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling on its case challenging former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd’s decision not to investigate the Aga Khan for giving Justin Trudeau’s family and friends a trip to his private Bahamas island. Incredibly, the FCA ruled that the public has no right to have a complaint ruled on by the Commissioner, and therefore no right to challenge a decision not to investigate a complaint. The SCC decided not to hear DWatch’s appeal.

Then, the Trudeau Cabinet filed a motion to have Democracy Watch’s cases thrown out, but the Federal Court rejected the motion because in the Bergen and O’Born cases DWatch is challenging the Commissioner’s final rulings under section 10.5 of the Lobbying Act after completing her investigations. In contrast, in the Aga Khan case, the Commissioner refused to investigate under subsection 10.4(1) of the Act.

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign

21 groups with 1.5 million+ supporters oppose Lobbying Commissioner’s gutting of key ethical lobbying rules – House Ethics Committee should also reject proposed changes

Commissioner’s proposed new Code would allow lobbyists to secretly fundraise and campaign for politicians while lobbying them

New Code will allow secret support similar to secret funding allegedly given by China-sponsored organizations to 11 candidates in 2019 federal election

House Ethics Committee must hold emergency hearings to reject the Code

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, November 29, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the House Ethics Committee to hold emergency public hearings to review and reject key changes to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct proposed by Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger because they gut ethical lobbying rules in ways that will allow for corrupt favour-trading between lobbyists and politicians.

Four MPs on the House Ethics Committee can force the Committee to hold a hearing on the proposed Code, and the Committee must approve the Commissioner’s proposed Code before it can come into force. The Commissioner posted her proposed new unethical Code on her website last Friday afternoon without issuing a news release about it, and she wants it to come into force in January 2023.

“Groups with more than one-and-a-half million supporters oppose the Commissioner of Lobbying’s attempt to gut key lobbying ethics rules in ways that will allow for corrupt favour-trading, and the House Ethics Committee should hold emergency public hearings and reject the Commissioner’s unethical proposals,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Lobbying Commissioner is contradicting herself by proposing new rules to ban lobbyists from giving gifts and hospitality worth more than $80 a year, while gutting other rules to allow lobbyists to secretly campaign and raise unlimited amounts of money for politicians and parties while lobbying them.”

“The Commissioner of Lobbying’s proposed changes to the Lobbyists’ Code are perverse and deeply unethical and will allow lobbyists to give secret campaign and fundraising support to politicians they are lobbying, including support similar to the secret funding allegedly given by China-sponsored organizations to 11 candidates in the 2019 federal election,” said Conacher.

In total, 21 citizen groups with supporters totaling more than 1.5 million Canadians oppose the Commissioner’s proposed changes. Democracy and 13 other citizen organizations, and also David Suzuki and Alan Broadbent, called in June in a joint public letter for Commissioner Bélanger to stop trying to gut the Lobbyists’ Code, and another 7 organizations joined the call by withdrawing their support for the Commissioner’s proposed changes in July (See the World Wildlife Fund submission on behalf of 6 other organizations on this page – Commissioner Bélanger has refused to publish the letter withdrawing that submission that WWF sent to her on July 25).

As well, Commissioner Bélanger has misleadingly claimed on this page that she received only 206 letters from voters – in fact, more than 20,000 voters signed on to Democracy Watch’s petition on Change.org or its letter-writing campaign that sent emails to the Commissioner calling on her to stop gutting the Code, and also calling on federal party leaders and the House Ethics Committee to make key changes to stop all secret, unethical lobbying.

Commissioner Bélanger is proposing to gut the federal Lobbyists’ Code and allow corrupt favour-trading by changing key ethics rules to allow lobbyists:

  1. To secretly campaign for and fundraise for politicians and parties up to nearly full-time while lobbying them (currently if a lobbyist campaigned or fundraised for a politician or party up to nearly full-time, they would be prohibited from lobbying them for 4 years);
  2. To secretly be a second-level, full-time campaign staff person for a politician and/or party and then only be prohibited from lobbying them for 1 year (the current lobbying prohibition time period is 4 years);
  3. To secretly be a top-level, full-time campaign staff person for a politician and/or party and then only be prohibited from lobbying them for 2 years (the current prohibition time period is 4 years);

and not only can all of this campaigning and fundraising be done in secret, but also the Commissioner is proposing to give herself the power to secretly reduce a lobbyist’s 1-2 year lobbying prohibition down to an even shorter time period.

The joint letter from Democracy Watch and the 13 organizations calls for the following Code changes, changes the House Ethics Committee should make:

  1. Keep in the Code the current loophole-free rule that prohibits lobbying anytime there is an appearance of a conflict of interest;
  2. Increase the cooling-off period from 5 years up to 10 years during which a lobbyist is prohibited from lobbying after significant fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party (instead of lowering it to 1-2 years);
  3. Create a new category of lower-level political activity with a 5-year cooling-off period;
  4. Allow lobbying right away only if the lobbyist only canvasses or volunteers no more than a couple of times during a campaign, and;
  5. Don’t allow any reductions of any of the cooling-off periods.

See Backgrounder for more details.

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign

DWatch in Federal Court today challenging constitutionality of too-political federal judicial appointments and promotions system

Trudeau Cabinet still trying to stop court from seeing government emails reported on in La Presse, and evidence that lawyer associations, law professors, experts and media all think the Liberals’ appointment process is too political

Case alleges Trudeau Liberal’s consultation with only Liberals across Canada taints appointments with partisan bias that violates independence of courts and public’s Charter right to courts that appear, and are, impartial

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, November 7, 2022

TORONTO – Today, Democracy Watch is in Federal Court in Toronto challenging the federal government’s too-political, unconstitutional system for appointing judges to the federal courts and all provincial superior courts and courts of appeal, and promoting judges within those courts. Ross & McBride LLP is representing Democracy Watch and its co-founder Duff Conacher in the case – click here to see DWatch’s arguments. The case is being heard in Courtroom 4C at the Federal Court at 180 Queen St. W., Toronto, and can be watched on Zoom by contacting the Clerk at: 416-976-3356.

Details about how the Minister of Justice only secretly consults with officials from Liberal Party not other parties, and only checks the Liberal Party donor database, when reviewing the long lists of candidates for judicial appointments submitted by advisory committees made up of people chosen mostly by the Minister have been confirmed by whistleblowers disclosing internal government emails to the Globe and Mail and CBC and Radio-Canada and La Presse. In addition, the appointments system has been shown to favour Liberal donors.

Democracy Watch has also submitted to the court public letters and articles that lawyer associations (including the Canadian Bar Association), law professors, lawyers, experts and media have produced in the last few years expressing their concerns about how political the federal judicial appointment is, and how that undermines the public’s confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. As well, in April 2020, the Canadian Judicial Council found that Justice Colleen Suche, spouse of then-federal Natural Resources Cabinet Minister Jim Carr, had violated the judiciary’s ethics code by providing suggestions about who the federal Cabinet should appoint as judges.

There are also concerns that the partisan nature of the appointment process may be inhibiting the appointment of judges that reflect Canada’s diversity. In June 2020, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada expressed the need for “our courts, including our highest court, to reflect the diversity of Canadians.” In September 2020, 36 lawyers associations, legal clinics and advocacy groups called for changes to the appointment process, as did the Canadian Bar Association, to increase the appointment of more Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) judges.

All this evidence shows clearly that the federal appointments system for judges is too open to political interference that violates the constitutional principle that guarantees the independence of courts, and the public’s Charter right to impartial courts.

In December 2021, the Federal Court rejected (PDF) the Trudeau Cabinet’s first attempt to have almost all this key evidence thrown out in its case. Department of Justice lawyers are still asking the Federal Court to ignore almost all of the evidence that Democracy Watch filed in a December 2020 affidavit (PDF) and in a second affidavit (PDF) about internal government emails reported on in La Presse on October 31, 2020 (redacted parts of the second affidavit will be considered confidentially by the Federal Court under an order of the court (PDF).

“The current federal judicial appointment system is open to too much political interference by the ruling party, which violates the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the courts that is need to ensure democratic good government and fair law enforcement for all,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully this case will lead to key changes, changes that have already been made in the UK and Quebec, that will help ensure the appointment process for judges across Canada is truly independent and merit-based.”

The constitutional guarantee of the independence of the courts has been upheld in several court rulings on the measures in Part VII of the Constitution and the unwritten constitutional principle of judicial independence. And sections 7, 11(d) (and, indirectly, 24(1)) of the Charter have been applied in rulings to ensure impartial court hearings.

The appointment process for the federal and provincial superior and appeal courts matters a lot because the Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear 90% of appeals from these courts, and many appeals are also refused by provincial appeal courts, so in many cases the provincial superior courts are the public’s actual court of last resort.

The problems are longstanding, and have been raised in the past: unlike in the UK and Quebec, the federal Minister of Justice has too much political control of the process from start to finish, from choosing the majority of the members of the judicial appointment advisory committees in each province and territory (who serve renewable two-year terms), to receiving long lists of candidates from those committees, to circulating those lists secretly to MPs, Cabinet ministers and ruling party officials before making the final choice. The Minister also makes the decision, without any advisory committee involved making recommendations, to promote a sitting judge by appointing them to a court of appeal. (See Backgrounder for details).

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

See more at Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Stop Unfair Law Enforcement Campaign

Group calls on House Committee to recommend key open government changes most stakeholders have wanted for years

Other key open government changes also needed to end secret lobbying, end secret investments by politicians, their staff and Cabinet appointees, and strengthen whistleblower protection

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, October 26, 2022

OTTAWA – In its testimony this afternoon, Democracy Watch will call on the House of Commons Ethics Committee reviewing the federal Access to Information Act (ATIA) to recommend 18 key changes that have been called for by most stakeholders for years to make the ATIA an actual open government law, and to make enforcement more independent, fully resourced, timely and effective, including by penalizing violations with high fines.

The 18 changes (click here to see PDF of Democracy Watch’s submission) are based mainly upon the Ethics Committee’s unanimous June 2016 report that called for many key changes, the former Information Commissioner’s March 2015 report and the current Commissioner’s January 2021 report that both called for key changes, and the December 2021 report on the Trudeau government’s own public consultation which made it clear that all stakeholders supported 10 key ATIA rule changes.

“Citizen groups and experts have loudly and clearly called for decades for key changes to close loopholes in the federal access to information law, and strengthen enforcement,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The House Committee must call on the Trudeau Liberals, and all federal party leaders, to stop their spin, lame excuses and unjustifiable delays and introduce a bill as soon as possible to make the key changes that voters want to ensure all federal government and government-funded institutions are transparent and accountable.”

“The federal access to information law is so full of loopholes that it really is just a guide to keeping information secret that the public has a right to know, and the key changes that stakeholders are calling for will, if the Trudeau government implements them, make the law more effective at ensuring transparency,” said Conacher.

Despite committing to make government information “open by default” in their 2015 federal election platform, the Trudeau Liberals have broken almost all of their open government promises, and have shown little interest in strengthening the ATIA. The Liberals made no ATIA promises in their 2021 election platform, and made no commitments in their new National Action Plan for the international Open Government Partnership process. Also, Treasury Board Minister Mona Fortier’s statement on the release of the government’s consultation report last December committed only to a “review of access to information” – not to making changes.

The Trudeau Cabinet’s Bill C-58 in 2017 changing the federal ATIA ignored many of the recommendations made in the unanimous June 2016 report of the House of Commons Access, Privacy and Ethics Committee, and was actually a step backwards in some ways.

Democracy Watch through its Open Government Campaign has been pushing to strengthen the ATIA for more than 20 years, including through a global coalition open letter in 2017, as have opposition MPs and the Information Commissioner. Democracy Watch’s coalitions have also been pushing for years for key transparency and integrity changes to the federal Lobbying Act, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, and Conflict of Interest Act and related MP and Senate and government-wide ethics rules.

“The Trudeau Liberals broke most of their promises to close loopholes in Canada’s open government law, and strengthen transparency rules for government spending, and they have done nothing to strengthen protections for whistleblowers who report government wrongdoing nor to close loopholes that allow secret lobbying and secret investments by politicians, staff and Cabinet appointees,” 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: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Open Government Campaign, Protect Whistleblowers Campaign, Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign

Democracy Watch in court today appealing ruling that blocked nine cases challenging Integrity Commissioner rulings that allowed Ford/PC Party-connected lobbyists to lobby Ford Cabinet secretly and unethically

Nine court cases challenge Commissioner’s first three public rulings on lobbying ethics rule since July 2016, and failure to penalize six lobbyists who violated law

Seven other cases DWatch has filed challenging Commissioner’s rulings in 2021 and 2022 on hold while courts decide the first nine cases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, August 15, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch is appealing a November 2021 ruling by an Ontario Divisional Court judge that unjustifiably blocked nine court cases Democracy Watch filed in December 2020 challenging nine rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake that let lobbyists off even though they clearly violated Ontario’s lobbying law. DWatch is asking the court to allow it to appeal the ruling that unjustifiably blocked the nine cases. Nick Papageorge and Wade Poziomka of Ross McBride LLP are representing DWatch for the cases.

See below, and in the attached Backgrounder, details about the nine cases, and about an additional seven cases DWatch filed in 2021 and 2022 challenging seven other Commissioner rulings that let lobbyists off even though they clearly violated the law.

To register to watch the appeal hearing on Zoom at 12:30 today, email the Divisional Court registry office at: [email protected].

Three of the nine cases challenge the first three public rulings of the Integrity Commissioner’s unknown number of decisions in the past few years that have let dozens of people (and maybe more) violate enforcing section 3.4 of Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) by lobbying 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.

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.

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. Click here to see a fairly complete list of lobbyists who are lobbying unethically, and click here to see Toronto Star articles about even more lobbyists lobbying the Ford Cabinet unethically.

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 2020 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)

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.

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.

The other six cases challenge Commissioner Wake’s arbitrary failure 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 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 did exactly the same thing as Mr. Gold. 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.

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).

Democracy Watch also filed an additional six cases in 2021 challenging six rulings by the Integrity Commissioner published in his 2020-2021 annual report in which he also let off lobbyists for clear violations. And in July, Democracy Watch filed another case challenging one of the rulings by the Integrity Commissioner published in his 2021-2022 annual report – again he let the lobbyist off even though the lobbyist violated the law in several ways. These seven cases are hold until the rulings are issued in the nine cases filed in 2020. In total, Democracy Watch is challenging 15 rulings made by the Integrity Commissioner over the past three years.

“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 to corrupt Ontario government policy-making as they cash in on their so-called public service. Hopefully the courts will stop this unethical lobbying of Ford’s Cabinet.”

“Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner has also 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,” said Conacher. “Hopefully the courts will issue rulings that require the Commissioner to start enforcing the lobbying rules strictly by penalizing all lobbyists who violate the law.”

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 lobby unethically.

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign

Backgrounder

Backgrounder on Democracy Watch’s 9 cases challenging Ontario Integrity Commissioner rulings on lobbyists in 2019-2020, 6 cases filed in 2021, and one case filed in 2022

From April 2018 to March 2020, Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake 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 allowed dozens of other lobbyists to lobby unethically.

The first three cases of the nine case Democracy Watch filed in 2020 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 public Commissioner rulings enforcing section 3.4 of the Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act). The cases are Division Court file numbers 632/20, 633/20 and 634/20. Click here to see the Notice of Application challenging ruling #6 (the other two applications are very similar).

The other six cases of the nine total cases 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.

In her November 2021 ruling, Ontario Divisional Court Justice Favreau unjustifiably blocked the cases from proceeding by falsely claiming that the nine cases did not challenge the Commissioner’s interpretation and application of the LR Act (in fact, all of them do), and falsely claiming that hearing the cases would expose the identity of the lobbyists. The Federal Court has allowed similar cases to proceed, with the lobbyists’ identity protected by a confidentiality order. Click here to Democracy Watch’s Notion of Motion, and click here to see its Factum, appealing Justice Favreau’s ruling.

Democracy Watch also filed six more cases in 2021 challenge rulings #1 and 3 on page 52 of the Commissioner’s 2020-2021 Annual Report and rulings #5, 6 and 8 on pages 53-54 of the Report. The cases are Division Court file numbers 587/21 to 592/21. Click here to see the Notice of Application challenging ruling #6 (the other five applications are very similar).

Democracy Watch filed one more case in 2022 challenging the ruling that begins at the bottom of page 57 and continues onto page 58 of the Commissioner’s 2021-2022 Annual Report in which the Integrity Commissioner again let a lobbyist off even though they violated the law in several ways. Click here to see the Notice of Application. The case is Division Court file number 390/22.

Democracy Watch’s total of 16 cases challenge 15 of the Integrity Commissioner’s rulings made in the past three years (two of the cases challenge different aspects of one of the Commissioner’s rulings). Nick Papageorge and Wade Poziomka of Ross McBride LLP are representing Democracy Watch for all the cases.

To access any of the court files on any of the 16 cases, email the Divisional Court registry office at: [email protected].

Democracy Watch calls on Ottawa police to investigate obstruction of SNC-Lavalin prosecution by Trudeau Cabinet officials as RCMP lacks independence from Cabinet

Recently disclosed documents about RCMP Commissioner’s relationship with the PM, and about investigation into Trudeau’s Aga Khan trip gift, raise serious questions about RCMP impartiality and competence

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, July 21, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent calling on the Ottawa police to investigate 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, and committed a breach of trust in doing so.

Democracy Watch is asking the Ottawa police to step in because recent disclosures concerning the investigation of the mass shooting situation in Nova Scotia have raised serious questions about whether the RCMP is subject to political pressure from the federal Cabinet. As well, recent disclosures concerning the investigation into the trip gift given by the Aga Khan to Prime Minister Trudeau and his family show that the RCMP did not do a full investigation of that situation, neglecting to ask the Prime Minister key questions and to disclose key evidence.

As well, neither the RCMP nor Crown prosecutors have issued any information or statements since August 2019 about the investigation into the SNC-Lavalin situation. Democracy Watch sent a letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki requesting an update in February 2021, and again in June 2022, as the public has a right to know the findings and the basis of any decisions concerning prosecutions.

“Given that three years have passed the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling on wrongdoing by Prime Minister Trudeau and other government officials pressuring the Attorney General to stop prosecuting SNC-Lavalin, and given the RCMP is refusing to give an update on its investigation, and recent disclosures have raised serious questions concerning the RCMP’s independence from the federal Cabinet, and competence, Democracy Watch is requesting that the Ottawa police take over the investigation into the SNC-Lavalin situation,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

“It seems that the RCMP and federal prosecutors are waiting for a third federal election to pass, and doing what 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. “Hopefully the Ottawa police will do their job properly and investigate the alleged wrongdoing quickly, given most of the key facts are well known, and issue a public statement on prosecution decisions when their investigation is concluded, as the public has a right to know.”

Democracy Watch’s position is that, according to federal prosecution policy, and given there are no past court rulings on a similar situation in Canada, prosecutors should let the courts decide whether the lines in the Criminal Code were crossed, and also for the following reasons:

  1. Obstruction of justice is a serious criminal offence, as is breach of trust.
  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. Also as set out in the letter, all of the elements needed to prove breach of trust (subsection 122 of the Code) are present in the situation.
  5. 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.”

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

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

14 groups with 1 million+ supporters call on federal Lobbying Commissioner to stop gutting ethical lobbying rules

Commissioner’s proposed new Code would allow lobbyists to fundraise and campaign for politicians, and then lobby them soon after

Current lobbying cooling-off period is 5 years (which is still too short)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, June 23, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch and 13 other citizen organizations, and also David Suzuki and Alan Broadbent, called in a joint public letter on federal Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger to stop trying to gut the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by changing key rules in ways that will allow corrupt favour-trading in federal politics that has been illegal since 1997.

The letter is co-signed by DWatch and the following 13 groups with supporters totalling more than one million Canadians: B.C. Civil Liberties Association; Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies; Centre for Free Expression; Climate Action Network; Dogwood; Ecology Action Centre; Leadnow; MakeWay; OpenMedia; Prevent Cancer Now; Sierra Club B.C.; Stand.earth and; Unlock Democracy Canada.

A total of more than 17,000 voters have also signed on to Democracy Watch’s petition on Change.org or its letter-writing campaign calling on the Commissioner to stop gutting the Code, and also for key changes to stop all secret, unethical lobbying.

Democracy Watch has also filed separately its third submission in the Commissioner’s consultation process that addresses all of the Commissioner’s proposed changes to the Code. In addition to calling for all the changes in the joint letter, DWatch’s third submission also calls for an anti-avoidance rule to be put in the Code, and for a stronger honesty requirement to prevent all misinformation in lobbying, and a stronger rule to prevent multiple gifts and wining and dining of politicians by many lobbyists working at the same firm or on the same lobbying effort.

“Groups with more than one million supporters are jointly calling on the federal Commissioner of Lobbying to do the right thing and stop gutting key lobbying ethics rules in ways that will allow for corrupt favour-trading in federal politics that has been illegal since 1997,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Lobbying Commissioner is contradicting herself by proposing new rules to ban lobbyists from giving gifts and hospitality worth more than $30 annually, while gutting other rules to allow lobbyists to raise thousands of dollars and campaign for politicians and then lobby the politicians for return favours soon afterwards.”

Since 1997 when the Lobbyists’ Code became federal law, it has been illegal for a registered lobbyist to do anything for, or give anything to, a federal politician, political staff person, government official or employee that would create even the appearance of a conflict of interest, including fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party and then lobbying them soon afterwards. Huge loopholes in the federal Lobbying Act unfortunately allow for secret, unregistered lobbying that is not covered by the Code’s rules.

Former Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd, forced by a unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling won by Democracy Watch in 2009, set a five-year cooling-off period under the Code that prohibited lobbying after fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party (Click here to see archive doc re: the Commissioner’s five-year rule, in “The risk diminishes with time” subsection).

Five years is still much too short, as the appearance of a conflict of interest continues for much longer, but it at least prohibits registered lobbyists from lobbying politicians they had helped until after the next election. The Lobbying Act also prohibits former office holders from being a registered lobbyist for five years after they leave office (Click here to see the five-year rule in section 10.11 of the Act).

Now, in her proposed new Code made public a few weeks ago, Commissioner Bélanger is gutting that rule and proposing new rules that will allow lobbyists to lobby politicians and parties soon after they fundraise or campaign for them – right after or one or two years later, depending on how much they fundraise or help the politician or party, and possibly an even shorter cooling-off period if the Commissioner grants a reduction. Click here to see the Commissioner’s proposed new Code Rule 6 and, in the Appendix, the “Political Work” section which sets out specific rules related to Rule 6’s no time, and one- and two-year prohibitions.

Commissioner Bélanger’s proposed new Rule 6 blatantly contradicts the proposed new Objectives and Expectations sections, and proposed Rules 5, 7.1 and 7.2, in the new Code, all of which strictly prohibit lobbying when there is even an appearance of a conflict of interest. New Rule 6 also blatantly contradicts proposed new Rules 3 and 4 that prohibit lobbyists giving gifts or hospitality worth more than $30 annually.

Proposed new Rule 6 also blatantly contradicts the 5-year prohibition in the Lobbying Act on lobbying by ministers, their staff and MPs after they leave their position. By legalizing lobbyists lobbying politicians they have fundraised or campaigned for, proposed new Rule 6 will also make it legal under federal ethics rules for Cabinet ministers and MPs to make decisions that return the favours that lobbyists have done for them.

The joint letter from Democracy Watch and the 13 organizations calls on the Commissioner to do the right thing by:

  1. keeping in the Code the current rule that prohibits lobbying anytime there is an appearance of a conflict of interest;
  2. increasing the cooling-off period from 5 years up to 10 years during which a lobbyist is prohibited from lobbying after significant fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party (instead of lowering it to 1-2 years as the Commissioner proposes);
  3. creating a new category of lower-level political activity with a 5-year cooling-off period;
  4. allowing lobbying right away only if the lobbyist only canvasses or volunteers no more than a couple of times during a campaign, and;
  5. not allowing any reductions of the cooling-off periods.

See Backgrounder for more details.

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign

Lobbying Backgrounder

Backgrounder on federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s attempt to gut key ethics rules in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct

(Democracy Watch: June 2022)


Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger first proposed to reduce the cooling-off period during which a lobbyist would not be allowed to lobby from 5 years down to 1 to 2 years in her December 2021 draft of the new proposed Code.

Big businesses and unions pushed for even shorter cooling-off periods, and Commissioner Bélanger rolled over like a lapdog and given them what they want by adding to proposed Rule 6 in the new draft Code (May 2022 version) the possibility that she can reduce the cooling-off period.

Commissioner Bélanger gave no hint in her initial consultation in December 2020 on possible Lobbyists’ Code changes that she was planning to gut these key rules in the Code to roll back ethics standards for federal lobbyists 25 years in ways that will, once again, allow for rampant unethical lobbying.

Democracy Watch filed a submission in December 2020, and a second submission in February 2022, and a third submission in June 2022, all calling for key changes to strengthen key Lobbyists’ Code rules, and enforcement, and the second submission also called on the Commissioner to stop proposing to gut key ethics rules in the Code.

By changing the rules, Commissioner Bélanger is also trying to negate the effect of an upcoming Federal Court ruling on two cases Democracy Watch filed in August 2020. The cases challenge the Commissioner’s rulings that let lobbyists Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) off even though they co-chaired Chrystia Freeland’s 2015 election campaign, and served in her riding association, and then lobbied her office. The ruling will determine whether the Commissioner failed to enforce the current Code rules.

“Commissioner Bélanger not only has an equally bad record as past lobbying lapdogs, she is now proposing to change some of the rules she enforces to try to avoid being found guilty of failing to enforce those rules,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The lobbying law needs to be changed to close huge loopholes that allow for secret, unethical lobbying, and to require effective enforcement by the Commissioner.”

Commissioner Bélanger has also backed off from requiring lobbyists to be honest always. In her December 2021 draft of the proposed new Code, Rule 2 clearly prohibited lobbyists making false claims to office holders and the public. In her latest draft, Rule 2 is much less clear.

“It is unfortunately not surprising that Commissioner Bélanger is trying to gut key federal ethics rules for lobbyists, given that she was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, dishonest process that the Federal Court of Appeal ruled was biased,” said Conacher.

Since 1997 when the Lobbyists’ Code became federal law, it has been illegal for a registered lobbyist to do anything for, or give anything to, a federal politician, political staff person, government official or employee that would create even the appearance of a conflict of interest, including fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party and then lobbying them soon afterwards. Huge loopholes in the federal Lobbying Act unfortunately allow for secret, unregistered lobbying that is not covered by the Code’s rules.

Former Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd, forced by a unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling won by Democracy Watch in 2009, set a five-year cooling-off period under the Code that prohibited lobbying after fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party (Click here to see archive doc re: the Commissioner’s five-year rule, in “The risk diminishes with time” subsection).

Five years is still much too short, as the appearance of a conflict of interest continues for much longer, but it at least prohibits registered lobbyists from lobbying politicians they had helped until after the next election. The Lobbying Act also prohibits former office holders from being a registered lobbyist for five years after they leave office (Click here to see the five-year rule in section 10.11 of the Act).

Now, in her proposed new Code made public a few weeks ago, Commissioner Bélanger is gutting that rule and proposing new rules that will allow lobbyists to lobby politicians and parties soon after they fundraise or campaign for them – right after or one or two years later, depending on how much they fundraise or help the politician or party, and possibly an even shorter cooling-off period if the Commissioner grants a reduction. Click here to see the Commissioner’s proposed new Code Rule 6 and, in the Appendix, the “Political Work” section which sets out specific rules related to Rule 6’s no time, and one- and two-year prohibitions.

Commissioner Bélanger’s proposed new Rule 6 blatantly contradicts the proposed new Objectives and Expectations sections, and proposed Rules 5, 7.1 and 7.2, in the new Code, all of which strictly prohibit lobbying when there is even an appearance of a conflict of interest. New Rule 6 also blatantly contradicts proposed new Rules 3 and 4 that prohibit lobbyists giving gifts or hospitality worth more than $30 annually. New Rule 6 also blatantly the 5-year prohibition in the Lobbying Act on lobbying by ministers, their staff and MPs after they leave their position.

Appeal court should find Ford government’s third-party ad spending limits, and his notwithstanding clause, unconstitutional

DWatch intervening in this week’s appeal court hearing to argue that limits are needed for democratic, fair elections, but limits also need to be democratic

Ford also doubled donation limit allowing wealthy donors to buy even more influence, helping Ford’s PC Party most – limit should be lowered to $100

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, June 15, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it is intervening in the online court hearing today and tomorrow on whether the Ford government’s limits on third-party ad spending for 12 months before each election are unconstitutional.

Democracy Watch is scheduled to present its arguments today, Wednesday, June 15th, in the afternoon. The media and the public can obtain the Zoom link for the hearing by emailing [email protected], Appeals Scheduling Officer (Tel: 416-327-4217). The case is court file numbers C70178, C70197, C70212 – Working Families Coalition (Canada) Inc. v. Attorney General of Canada [LOLG-DMS.FID117928]. Crawford Smith of the law firm LOLG will present Democracy Watch’s intervention, assisted by Matthew Law and Patrick Wodhams.

Unlike the unions who filed the court case, and other intervenors, Democracy Watch is arguing that limits on third-party interest group ad spending between elections can be constitutional if the limits are democratic, established democratically, and based on the actual cost of reaching voters through advertising on any issue.

In contrast, the limits set by the Ford government Bill 307 allow a wealthy individual voter, or a private corporation with only a few shareholders, to spend $600,000 on issue ads – the same amount as a citizen group with tens of thousands of voters. That’s not democratic – individual voters and private corporations should have a much lower spending limit than broad-based citizen groups. Also, the Ford government did not study the actual cost of reaching voters on any issue – the government just imposed an arbitrary limit based on the arbitrary limit set in 2017 by the Wynne government.

The Ford government’s spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election should be ruled unconstitutional by the appeal court because they are undemocratic, arbitrary, and were rammed through the legislature without proper study or consultation,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “Restricting massive ad campaigns by wealthy interest groups and individuals in the months leading up to an election is a good, democratic idea, as the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, as is prohibiting huge ad campaigns by wealthy individuals and lobby groups all the time, but an independent commission should be set up to study the actual costs of reaching voters to ensure the spending limit is realistic, and the limit should be much higher for citizen groups that have lots of supporters than it is for an individual voter or private business.”

The court should also rule that it was undemocratic and illegal for Doug Ford to invoke the notwithstanding clause to impose his arbitrary restrictions,” said Conacher.

Ford first imposed the limits last April in Bill 254 which was introduced without any consultation with opposition parties or stakeholders. However, in a case filed by several unions, the limits were struck down by Ontario’s Superior Court in June for unreasonably restricting Charter free expression rights (Charter s. 2(b)).

Then, in just a few days, despite many calling for a re-consideration of the limits, including Democracy Watch backed by 35,000 Ontario voters, Ford’s PC Party introduced and passed Bill 307 to impose the limits again, and included the notwithstanding clause in the bill in an attempt to prevent anyone from challenging the limits in court. However, several unions again challenged the limits as a violation of the right of voters under Charter s. 3 to play a meaningful role in elections. The notwithstanding clause cannot be used to shield violations of s. 3 from court challenges. The court upheld the new rules last December, resulting in the current appeal.

Bill 254 rigged Ontario’s political finance system in favour of Ford’s PC Party

The Ford government’s Bill 254 also doubled the annual donation limit, allowing wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians. According to Democracy Watch’s analysis of preliminary data from Elections Ontario’s donations database, in 2021 Ford’s PC Party received 63% of its donations from only 25% of donors who each donated $1,000 or more. The other main parties’ top 2021 donors also provided disproportionate amount of funding, and all the parties’ top donors provided much higher amounts than in 2020.

“Doubling the donation limit as the Ford government’s Bill 254 did allows wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, especially given that the full identity and associations of donors is not disclosed, and benefits Ford’s party the most,” said Conacher. “The only way to stop the unethical, undemocratic influence of big money on Ontario politics is to limit donations to $100 or less, like Quebec has, which is an amount an average voter can afford.”

Bill 254 also extended and increased the annual per-vote funding for parties. Democracy Watch’s analysis, contained in its Bill 254 submission, revealed that the provincial per-vote funding system provides on average half to two-thirds of each of the four main parties’ annual funding. Combined with the tax credits that donors receive, it adds up to too high public funding for parties and candidates.

“An independent commission is needed to study the actual costs of running parties and riding associations are and then, only if parties and candidates can prove they need it, public funding should be adjusted to reflect those actual costs, and to ensure the funding is fair and based on actual voter support,” said Conacher.

The only good parts in Bill 254 were the measures allowing independent candidates to raise money before election campaigns begins (however, more disclosure must be required of donations and spending of such candidates), and the measures giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to fine violators of Ontario’s election law.

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign