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Ontario party leaders and Lieutenant Governor should agree on eight key rules for minority government to ensure fair post-election decisions

Rules should make clear which party will try governing first, when the legislature will open, what a vote of non-confidence is, what will trigger next election etc.

Should issue public statement of agreement on the rules, and then first bill passed by legislature should make the rules law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, May 30, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on Ontario party leaders and the Lieutenant Governor to agree on eight public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want. While Ontaro may not have a minority government after the recounts in some ridings and the official provincial vote count is finalized in a couple of weeks, agreeing on the rules now will help ensure the legislature runs fairly and democratically through to the next election.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign


BACKGROUNDER

8 Key Rules for Minority Government

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

Elections Ontario decides to violate the law – refuses to inform voters of right to decline their ballot in its election ads

Democracy Watch requested in January that all voter information inform voters of this right – 4 months later Elections Ontario claims it doesn’t have time to do any TV, radio or print ads about right to decline ballot

Parties and some interest groups produce new TV and radio ads almost daily during elections – Elections Ontario’s decision is negligent

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that Elections Ontario has finally, after four months, decided that it will once again, for the third election in a row, negligently violate Ontario’s election law by failing to fully inform voters that they have the right to decline their ballot (i.e. vote “none of the above”) in all forms of voter education it does leading during the election campaign period. As a result, Democracy Watch is considering its legal options, including going to court to challenge the decision.

Although it has added mention of the right to its website and a few of its publications, Elections Ontario is refusing to mention the right to decline your ballot in its TV, radio and print advertising (which reach the widest audience).

After Democracy Watch sent a letter on January 8th to Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Greg Essensa requesting that Elections Ontario inform voters about their legal right to decline their ballot in the likely more than $4.5 million it will spend on advertising and communications with voters leading up to Ontario’s provincial election day on June 7th, Elections Ontario responded on January 12th and finally changed three pages of its website by adding information about the right to decline your ballot.

However, Elections Ontario refused to respond to a follow-up email Democracy Watch sent to it that same day asking Elections Ontario to commit to correct other website pages, and do other other voter education, including advertising, about this right.

Democracy Watch’s lawyers from Ross McBride LLP, Andrew Spurgeon and Wade Poziomka, sent another letter to CEO Essensa on March 6th. After that, Elections Ontario posted a few Twitter images and Facebook photos about the right to decline your ballot (but not nearly as many as it has posted about other voter rights topics). See details in this report.

Elections Ontario’s March 15th response letter finally committed that the right to decline your ballot would be mentioned in the pamphlet it has just sent out to voters across Ontario before election day. It is mentioned in the pamphlet but only in one line buried at the end of a section that is about voting for candidates even though another page of the pamphlet had blank space in which a special section about declining your ballot could have been placed (similar to the special sections on “Student Voting” and “Hospital Voting”).

Elections Ontario continues to refuse to commit to mention the right in its TV, radio and print ads, and in some other voter education material (including on a key page on its website that misleads voters by claiming your only option at a poll is to mark your ballot for a candidate).

Elections Ontario is very questionably claiming it doesn’t have time now (even though Democracy Watch filed its request in January) to produce even one TV, radio or print ad mentioning the right to decline your ballot. Yet parties and third parties produce new ads throughout election campaigns, sometimes daily.

In addition to its letter in January, Democracy Watch sent similar letters to CEO Essensa in 2011 (after it was consulted by Elections Ontario concerning voter education), and again in 2014. So Elections Ontario is completely unjustified in claiming that it hasn’t had enough time to produce any TV and radio ads about the right to decline your ballot – it’s had seven years!

“Democracy Watch called on Elections Ontario in January to comply with Ontario elections law and inform voters in all its advertising and voter education information that they have the legal right to vote none of the above by declining their ballot in the provincial election,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Four months later, Elections Ontario has decided to continue to negligently violate Ontario’s election law by making the baseless claim that they don’t have enough time to produce even one TV or radio ad that will mention this right.”

“Political parties and some interest groups produce new TV and radio ads almost daily during election campaigns, so Elections Ontario is simply lying when it says it can’t produce even one TV or radio ad about the right to decline your ballot, especially given that Democracy Watch asked it to produce such ads in 2011 and 2014,” said Conacher. “No one should believe Elections Ontario when it claims its goal is to lower barriers to voting in Ontario elections when it won’t even fully inform voters about one of their fundamental voting rights.”

“Some voters may not support any party that has a candidate in their riding or may not support any of the parties’ platforms, and they have the right to be informed by Elections Ontario that they have the right to vote for ‘none of the above’ by declining their ballot,” said Conacher. “Ontario’s politicians gave voters the right to decline their ballot in 1975, and for more than 40 years Elections Ontario has negligently and illegally refused to inform voters that they have this right.”

Ontario voters have the legal right under section 53 of Ontario’s Election Act to decline their ballot (i.e. vote “none of the above”) and have it counted separately from a vote for a candidate or a spoiled ballot. This right has existed in the law since 1975. However, Elections Ontario has consistently failed to inform voters that they have this right in its communications to educate voters undertaken under subsection 114.1(2) and section 114.2 of the Election Act.

Despite Elections Ontario’s $4.5 million in advertising spending in 2011, voter turnout in the 2011 Ontario election was a record low 48.2% of eligible voters, the first time in history that turnout dropped below 50%. And despite Elections Ontario’s more than $4.8 million in ad spending in 2014, turnout in the 2014 election was the second-lowest ever at 51.3%. The 2007 turnout was only slightly better at 52.1%.

Democracy Watch has long called on the federal government, and every provincial and territorial government, to change their election laws (including the law for municipal elections in each jurisdiction) and add the right to vote “none of the above” and to give a reason to election and by-election ballots.

Democracy Watch has also long called on Elections Ontario, and all election agencies across Canada, to include two key messages in their voter education advertising and communications – the real reasons to vote:

  1. “You never know when your vote may count” — with examples from past elections, and from specific ridings in various elections, which show clearly that election results cannot be predicted in advance, and;
  2. “If you don’t vote, you don’t count” — making it clear that politicians don’t really care about you if you don’t vote because non-voters do not help them get elected or defeated.

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

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign

Democracy Watch files complaint about Facebook lobbying and favours for politicians with federal Lobbying Commissioner

Questions raised about Facebook/Instagram employees not registering as lobbyists, and doing favours for federal Finance Minister, and federal politicians, and limited activities registered by consultant lobbyists

New Lobbying Commissioner should not rule on situations involving Liberals because of bias – handpicked in secret by PMO and Cabinet

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, April 26, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it sent yesterday to new federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger requesting an investigation of Facebook Canada’s lobbying activities and favours for federal politicians to determine whether Facebook has violated the Lobbying Act or the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct (“Lobbyists’ Code”). Democracy Watch’s complaint also covers lobbying for Instagram which is a separate online service but not a separate company from Facebook.

“The actions of Facebook’s employee and its consultant lobbyists, including favours provided to federal Cabinet ministers and politicians, raise serious questions and an investigation is needed to determine if they have violated the federal lobbying law and lobbyists’ code,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law, and Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

As Maclean’s magazine first reported recently, Facebook has not been registered as a company in the Registry of Lobbyists to lobby the federal government from 2010 on, until it announced recently it would register (while still maintaining that it is not required to register). Facebook also has several consultant lobbyists on contract but they have reported only one communication with federal government politicians and officials since 2014.

In contrast, other social media companies such as Google have several employees and consultant lobbyists registered, and many monthly communications reports.

The Professionalism principle in the Lobbyists’ Code requires that lobbyists follow the spirit of the registration requirements of the Lobbying Act, and the Act requires registration for paid communications “in respect of” various policy, program, financial or contract matters, and for consultant lobbyists also arranging meetings with government officials and MPs. Some communications are also required to be disclosed in monthly reports.

The key question to be investigated for Facebook/Instagram employees is whether they have spent more than 20% of their collective time lobbying and should be registered in the Registry as required by the Act. The key question for their consultant contract lobbyists is whether their registrations in the Registry are complete and accurate, as it is a violation of the Act to file a false or misleading registration.

As well, Facebook is providing cyber-threat training and services for free to federal politicians, and Facebook Canada’s head of public policy Kevin Chan provided advice for free to Finance Minister Morneau about how to do a Facebook Live event for his budget speech.

The Lobbyists’ Code rules 6 and 10 prohibit lobbyists from doing anything for anyone they are lobbying that could create even the appearance of a conflict of interest, including providing benefits to or doing favours for them. Rule 8 of the Code prohibits lobbying that person after providing the benefit or doing the favour for them.

In the letter, Democracy Watch also requests, as it has in a letter sent on April 20th, and in a letter sent on January 25th, that Commissioner Bélanger not make any decisions concerning investigations of situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals because the Cabinet created a conflict of interest for her by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process. As well, the Cabinet failed to consult with opposition party leaders before making her appointment as required by the Lobbying Act.

On January 15th, Democracy Watch filed an application in Federal Court challenging the appointment of the new Lobbying Commissioner.

To allow the investigations into Democracy Watch’s complaints to continue, Democracy Watch proposes that Commissioner Bélanger delegate the situations to a provincial commissioner who is independent of her, the Trudeau Cabinet, and all federal political parties. This process has been used at the provincial level by ethics commissioners. For example, in 2016 Marguerite Trussler, Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, recused herself from investigating and ruling on a complaint because she was friends with two people involved in the matter.

“The Trudeau Cabinet put the new Lobbying Commissioner in a conflict of interest by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, and as a result the Commissioner is tainted by bias and must not rule on any situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals,” said Conacher.

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

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

Democracy Watch again requests new Lobbying Commissioner not make any decisions affecting Liberals because of bias – clarifies that organizations violate Lobbyists’ Code if they allow board members or others give gifts or do favours for politicians

Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet put new Lobbying Commissioner in a conflict of interest by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process that failed to consult with opposition parties as required

More than 11,000 Canadians have called for key changes to make the Cabinet appointment process actually open, independent and merit-based

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, April 20, 2018

OTTAWA – Democracy Watch released the letter it sent today to new federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger requesting that she not make any decisions concerning investigations of situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals because the Cabinet created a conflict of interest for her by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process. As well, the Cabinet failed to consult with opposition party leaders before making her appointment as required by the Lobbying Act.

As a result, Commissioner Bélanger has an appearance of bias that taints any decision she may make, including the decision she made on January 24th ending the investigation into Democracy Watch’s complaint alleging that Barry Sherman, Chair of Apotex until he passed away recently, violated rules in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by hosting an August 2015 fundraising event at his home that Justin Trudeau attended. In early March, Democracy Watch challenged Commissioner Bélanger’s ruling in Federal Court.

Democracy Watch also challenged former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd’s ruling in Federal Court in late January that the Aga Khan’s Bahamas trip gift to Prime Minister Trudeau was legal under the Lobbyists’ Code.

The office of the Commissioner of Lobbying is investigating four other Democracy Watch complaints about situations involving Prime Minister Trudeau or other Cabinet ministers (See the four situations summarized under A.1 here). Democracy Watch’s letter requests that Commissioner Bélanger not make any decisions concerning any of the four situations or any other situation involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals.

In its letter, Democracy Watch also clarified that its complaints allege that businesses and other organizations violate the Lobbyists’ Code by allowing their board members and others associated with them give gifts to or do favours for politicians and government officials.

On January 15th, Democracy Watch also filed an application in Federal Court challenging the appointment of the new Lobbying Commissioner by the Trudeau Cabinet because of the failure to consult with opposition party leaders, and because the Cabinet was in a conflict of interest as the office of the Lobbying Commissioner was investigating situations involving Prime Minister Trudeau and other Cabinet ministers at the time the appointment was made.

To allow the investigations into Democracy Watch’s complaints to continue, Democracy Watch proposes that Commissioner Bélanger delegate the situations to a provincial commissioner who is independent of her, the Trudeau Cabinet, and all federal political parties. This process has been used at the provincial level by ethics commissioners. For example, in 2016 Marguerite Trussler, Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, recused herself from investigating and ruling on a complaint because she was friends with two people involved in the matter.

“The Trudeau Cabinet put the new Lobbying Commissioner in a conflict of interest by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, and as a result the Commissioner is tainted by bias and must not rule on any situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law, and Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

“It would be a clear conflict of interest if someone sued Prime Minister Trudeau or a Cabinet minister and the Cabinet chose which judge would hear the case, and it is just as clearly a conflict of interest for the Cabinet to choose the new Lobbying Commissioner when she is judging whether the PM and other Cabinet ministers are involved in illegal situations,” said Conacher.

More than 11,000 Canadians have signed a petition supporting Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign calling on federal parties to work together to change the appointment process for all officers of Parliament and judicial and watchdog positions, to make it actually merit-based and independent from Cabinet, and to prohibit reappointments.

For many appointments, including of the new Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner, the Trudeau Cabinet continues to use the same secretive, PMO-controlled, partisan process that past governments used.

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

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

Democracy Watch calls for changes to stop secret fake online election ads that can easily violate spending limits

More than 4,500 Canadians have signed online petition supporting changes to election laws to prohibit social media companies from running secret, false election ads that violate limits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, as more and more details about secret, fake online ads in the U.S. election and Brexit referendum that violated spending limits are being revealed, Democracy Watch called for changes to election laws across Canada to stop such ads undermining elections and referendums here.  More than 4,500 Canadians have signed its online petition on Change.org aimed at federal party leaders, and Democracy Watch also has an online letter-writing campaign calling on all governments across Canada to make the same changes.

The campaign calls for changes to ensure that all election advertising, in media and social media, complies with election laws that:

The problem is mainly with social media sites, like Facebook, through which ads can be targeted directly and only to a specific individual’s page.  Unlike an ad in a newspaper or on radio or TV, election watchdog agencies, the media and the public can’t track these targeted online social media ads because only the targeted individual sees the ad.  As a result, they can’t ensure the ads comply with the law.

“Canada’s democracy faces the new threat of fake and foreign online election ads, and we need to fight back with changes to elections laws to stop these ads,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.  “Social media companies cannot be trusted to stop fake or foreign ads on their own because they are in a conflict of interest since they make money from the ads and also may support one political party more than others.”

Democracy Watch’s Stop Fake Online Election Ads campaign calls for the following six key changes:

  1. prohibit media and social media companies from publishing election-related ads during the six months leading up to an election if the ad is paid for with foreign currency (such as Russian rubles);
  2. require media and social media companies to report every election-related ad to the election law enforcement agency during the six months leading up to an election so the ad can be reviewed to determine if it makes a clearly false claim about a party or candidate;
  3. require media and social media companies to report to the election law enforcement agency who placed and paid for each ad, and how much was spent on the ad, so agency can determine if the amount spent on the ad violates the legal limit (including the amount spent on having employees or contractors or bots share, like or retweet the ad);
  4. require the government to establish an independent commission (whose members are appointed by non-governmental bodies like the Canadian Judicial Council) to conduct a public, merit-based search for the next Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Elections Canada (and for the next head of the election law enforcement agency in each province), with the commission giving a shortlist of nominees to the party leaders from which they will all choose together one person as the head of the agency;
  5. give the head of the election law enforcement agency (who, at the federal level, is the Commissioner of Canada Elections) the power, during the six months leading up to an election, to order clearly false, illegal ads be deleted from media and social media sites, and require the head to issue these orders within a few days of receiving the information about each ad, and;
  6. give the head of the election law enforcement agency the power to impose significant fines on social media companies and advertisers who violate the rules (the fines must be large enough to discourage attempts to violate the rules).

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch

Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Stop Fake Online Election Ads Campaign