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Democracy Watch calls on Ethics Commissioner to ensure investigation into PMO trying to influence Attorney General’s decision about SNC-Lavalin prosecution

Commissioner Dion should delegate investigation to a provincial ethics commissioner – he is biased as Trudeau Cabinet chose him after secretive process

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, February 8, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion calling on him to delegate an inquiry into whether Prime Minister Trudeau or anyone in the PMO violated the federal government ethics law by trying to pressure Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene and stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC).

Ethics Commissioner Dion should delegate the investigation and ruling on the situation to a provincial ethics commissioner who has 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 has a record 8 unethical and questionable actions when he was federal Integrity Commissioner.

As the Globe and Mail reported yesterday, unnamed sources in the federal government claim that members of the PMO pressured the Attorney General to intervene. Prime Minister Trudeau denied yesterday that he or anyone in the PMO had directed the Attorney General to stop the prosecution, but did not reject the claim that people in the PMO had pressured the Attorney General, according to another Globe article.

It is a violation for anyone covered by the federal the Conflict of Interest Act, including the Prime Minister and PMO staff, to “use his or her position as a public office holder to seek to influence a decision of another person so as to… improperly further another person’s private interests” (section 9).

Democracy Watch’s position is that stopping the prosecution would clearly further SNC-Lavalin’s private interests, and that it would be improper to pressure the Attorney General to intervene to stop the prosecution because the PPSC was established explicitly to prevent such political interference in prosecutions.

“If anyone in the PMO tried to pressure the Attorney General to intervene and stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, they violated the federal ethics law, and so a full, independent investigation is needed,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “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 so he should delegate the investigation to a provincial ethics commissioner.”

Democracy Watch also called for an investigation into whether anyone in the PMO used secret information they learned from the many lobbying meetings SNC-Lavalin had with the PMO in an effort to influence the Attorney General (which would violate section 8 of the Act), and whether anyone from SNC-Lavalin has a relationship with anyone in the PMO that would cause them to give them preferential treatment by trying to influence the Attorney General (which would violate section 7 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
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

New federal government actions, and Bill C-76, won’t stop secret, fake online election ads

Bill C-76 actually legalizes more false claims and false promises, more than doubles the ad spending limit for wealthy interests, and maintains unfair donation limits

Panel watching for election disruptions lacks independence as members all handpicked by Trudeau Cabinet, and voter education is a charade as voters can’t possibly be expert enough in all issues to know an online ad is false

House Committee report in December recommended many of the same changes as Democracy Watch to stop fake online election ads, protect voters’ privacy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wedesday, January 30, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch highlighted key problems with the changes made by Bill C-76 (which became law in December), and the federal government’s initiatives announced today, that together don’t do enough to stop secret, fake online election ads or false claims about candidates, or to protect voters’ privacy.

The Trudeau Liberals’ actions so far will make the fall 2019 federal election more dishonest and dominated by wealthy interests running false ad campaigns aimed at trying to undermine the election.

“Bill C-76 weakens the rule that prohibits false claims about candidates, more than doubles the spending limit for wealthy interest groups and, even with the initiatives announced today, doesn’t do enough to stop secret, false, online election ads or big money donations,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law, and Political Studies, at the University of Ottawa. “As a result, the fall 2019 federal election will be more dishonest, unfair and driven by wealthy interest groups than any federal election since 1988.”

“The federal government’s new panel set up to watch for activities that disrupt the election lacks independence as it’s made up of five people that the Trudeau Cabinet handpicked,” said Conacher. “The government’s planned education campaign is a charade as it is impossible for any voter to be expert enough in every issue to know that any election ad makes a false claim.”

“If federal politicians actually want to ensure fair and democratic Canadian elections, the law must be changed to prohibit all false claims and false promises, lower donation limits, reverse the increase in interest group ad spending, require all media and social media companies to disclose to the Commissioner of Canada Elections all election-related ads from July on, and empower the Commissioner of Canada Elections to delete any false ad,” said Conacher. “The independence, effectiveness and accountability of election enforcement agencies also needs to be strengthened, and penalties for violations increased, to ensure everyone follows fair election rules,”

Democracy Watch is only calling for changes to key rules – none of the changes require any changes in Elections Canada’s election planning or operations – so there is no reason why the changes can’t be made between now and next June when Parliament closes and the pre-election period will begin.

See Backgrounder attached below for details about the key changes needed to:

  1. Stop secret, false, online election ads;
  2. Protect voters’ privacy;
  3. Require honesty during pre-election and election periods;
  4. Stop wealthy interests from dominating pre-election and election periods.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Honesty in Politics Campaign, Money in Politics Campaign, Stop Fake Online Election Ads Campaign, and Democratic Voting Systems Campaign


BACKGROUNDER ON KEY FAIR FEDERAL ELECTION CHANGES
(Democracy Watch, January 30, 2019)

The key changes needed to ensure honest, fair, democratic federal elections are as follows:

To stop secret, fake online election advertising by anyone (not just foreigners):

  1. Bill C-76 only prohibits big social media companies from knowingly running an ad paid for by a foreigner or foreign entity (section 190 of the Bill, adding new subsection 282.4(5) to the CEA), and requires them to publish a registry of election-related ads and maintain it for two years (section 208.1 of the Bill, adding new section 325.1 to the CEA). Those measures will do nothing to stop secret, fake online election ads paid for by Canadians or Canadian entities, and will do little to stop foreign-paid ads as the social media companies will just claim they didn’t know the ads were paid for by foreigners.

To see details of the key changes needed to actually stop secret, false, online election ads by foreigners and Canadians, click here.

Bill C-76 also doesn’t do enough to require political parties to protect the private, personal information they collect about voters, as it only requires that they publish their privacy protection policy on their website (sections 254-255 of the Bill, changing section 385 and adding section 385.1 to the CEA) instead of extending federal privacy laws to cover parties.

The House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics issued its report yesterday on stopping secret, false online election ads, and protecting voters’ privacy, and recommendations 1-3, 6-8, 10, 19, 22-24 match the changes that Democracy Watch has been calling for in these areas.

To require honesty by everyone during the pre-election and election periods:

  1. Bill C-76 does nothing to strengthen subsection 482(b)) of the Canada Elections Act, which prohibits false election promises by parties and candidates but needs to be strengthened because the Commissioner of Canada Elections negligently refuses to enforce it. The Commissioner responded to Democracy Watch’s complaint about Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau baiting voters with his false promise of electoral reform during the 2015 election with a decision refusing to enforce the rule;
  2. Bill C-76 also makes more false claims about candidates legal by narrowing the rule that prohibit false claims (section 91 of the Canada Elections Act). The current rule prohibits any false claim “in relation to the personal character or conduct of a candidate or prospective candidate.” Bill C-76 narrows the rule so it only covers false claims that these people (or a party leader or officials) violated the law or have been charged or investigated for a violation, and false claims about the citizenship, place of birth, education, professional qualifications or membership in a group or association of these people. Senators tried to amend Bill C-76 to restore the broader rule but the amendment was rejected.
  3. The words in section 91 requiring that to charge someone with making a false claim you have to prove they made the claim with the “intention of affecting the results of an election” also must be deleted because it is almost impossible in many cases that they had that intention (the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections both called for this change, and the change summarized above in #2, when testifying before the Senate Committee that review Bill C-76).

To stop wealthy interests from dominating pre-election and election campaigns:

  1. Bill C-76 more than doubles the spending limits for third party interest groups and individuals during election campaigns from approximately $200,000 up to $500,000 (section 224 of Bill C-76 changing subsections 350(1) to 350(4.1) of the Canada Elections Act (CEA)). The Trudeau Cabinet claims this increase is needed because the spending limit is being extended to cover election surveys and “partisan activities” such as door-knocking, phone calls and rallies. However, only citizen groups do those kinds of activities (businesses usually only spending money on ads). As a result, the limit should be increased only for citizen groups as the increase in the limit will more than double the amount of advertising businesses can do during an election campaign period.
  2. Bill C-76 also sets meaninglessly high limits of $1.5 million for party ad spending and $1 million for third-party (interest group) ad spending during the 60-75 days before the election campaign period begins (section 223 of Bill C-76, adding sections 349.1 to 349.94 to the CEA). The limits are meaningless because it is highly unlikely that any party or third-party will spend anywhere near those amounts during July and August – the only times the limits will apply (as the pre-campaign limits only apply when the election is held on the fixed election date of the third Monday in October). As well, the pre-campaign limit only applies to “partisan advertising” that promotes or opposes a party or a candidate, not to issue-based advertising.
  3. Bill C-76 also doesn’t lower the much too high donations limits that allow wealthy people to use money as a way to influence politicians, including the annual individual donation limits for 2019 of $1,600 to each party and another $1,600 to the riding associations of each party (both increase each year by $25). Bill C-76 also doesn’t lower the $5,000 amount an election candidate can give to their own campaign or the $25,000 a party leadership candidate can give to their campaign.

To see details, click here.

Democracy Watch testified at the Committee’s hearings on Bill C-76 in June and highlighted all these serious flaws in the bill, along with 20 or so other changes needed to ensure fair, democratic elections and strong enforcement that Democracy Watch submitted to Special Committee on Electoral Reform and to the government in fall 2016.

Democracy Watch calls on Ontario Integrity Commissioner to rule on appointment of Ford senior staffperson to Ontario Energy Board

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that Premier Ford’s appointment of Jenni Byrne to the OEB violated provincial government ethics law because Byrne was a senior adviser on Ford’s election campaign and his senior staffperson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, January 17, 2019

OTTAWA – Democracy Watch released the letter it sent yesterday to Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake calling on him to rule on the legality of Premier Ford’s participation in the appointment of his election campaign adviser and senior staffperson Jenni Byrne to a two-year term on the Ontario Energy Board that pays $197,000 a year.

The letter raises questions about whether the Premier’s appointment of Ms. Byrne violates the rules in the provincial Members’ Integrity Act that prohibit provincial politicians from participating in (section 2) or trying to influence (section 4) any decision that could further their own interests or improperly further another person’s interests.

“Democracy Watch hopes that the Integrity Commissioner will issue a strong ruling that finds Premier Ford and his Cabinet ministers violate the provincial ethics law when they give government jobs to Conservative election campaign advisers or ex-staff or other friends of the Conservative Party,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

The Premier and Cabinet ministers are allowed to hire anyone they want as their staff as it is considered acceptable that, despite the fact staff are paid for with the public’s money, Cabinet ministers would want them all to be loyal supporters of the ruling party.

However, Democracy Watch’s position is that, based on Part 3 of a key Cabinet policy, it is improper for the Premier or any other Cabinet minister to appoint party loyalists or friends to any other government position. It is especially improper when the government hasn’t done a public, merit-based search for qualified candidates, and when the position is quasi-judicial (as the OEB is) and the person appointed lacks expertise in the area.

Another improper aspect of Ms. Byrne’s appointment is that the OEB issues rulings that could affect the Premier’s and government’s interests in Hydro One, given that the Government of Ontario owns 47 percent of Hydro One, and Premier Ford has intervened in both staff and board positions at Hydro One since he was elected.

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

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

Democracy Watch files request with Elections Ontario to investigate Ontario Proud’s election ads, and any group with similar ads

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that Ontario Proud was required to identify on ads that 90% of cost of ads was paid for by donations from development and construction companies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, January 10, 2019

OTTAWA – Democracy Watch released the letter it sent today to Elections Ontario Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa calling on him to investigate whether Ontario Proud’s election ads before and during the Ontario provincial elections fully complied with the Election Finances Act.

According to the report it filed with Elections Ontario, Ontario Proud did not use any of its own funds to pay for the ads, and almost 90 percent of the donations that paid for the ads came from development and construction companies. Ontario Proud has claimed to be a grassroots group funded by small donations from voters.

The Act requires that ads identify who sponsored or paid for the ads (section 37.4 and subsection 22(9)), and so Democracy Watch’s opinion is that Ontario Proud’s ads were required, at least, to include a line that said something like “Funded almost entirely by a small group of home building and construction companies” with a link to a webpage listing the companies.

Given that Doug Ford was videotaped before the election promising to “open up a large chunk of the Greenbelt” to home building companies, and that almost 90% of Ontario Proud’s ad donors come from development and construction industry, and that Ontario Proud’s ads overwhelming favoured the Conservatives, and that its head has worked for the federal Conservatives in the past, Democracy Watch’s opinion is also that there is enough evidence to give Elections Ontario reason to investigate whether Ontario Proud’s ads were coordinated with the Conservatives.

“If Elections Ontario allows ads that do not identify who actually paid for the ad, it will undermine the fairness of Ontario elections by denying the legal right voters have to know who is bankrolling interest groups and others who run election ads, and encouraging businesses and others to set up front groups to run ad campaigns that secretly push their interests,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “

“Beyond Elections Ontario’s ruling in this case, a key step to preventing secretive front groups from running election ads is changing Ontario’s law to require parties, candidates and interest groups to disclose their donors before election day so voters have full information about who is bankrolling everyone before they vote,” said Conacher.

In its letter to Elections Ontario, Democracy Watch also calls for an investigation of the ads of any other organization that were similarly largely or entirely funded by one person or entity or a small group of people or entities, if the ads did not identify the donors.

The letter also calls for an investigation of the ads of any other organization that aligned with and connected to any other party’s election platform and interests.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign

Finance Minister Morneau’s Bill C-86 lets Scrooge-like Big Banks keep billions in record profits from gouging, doesn’t do enough to stop abuse

Ignores 60,000+ calling for creation of financial consumer group, changing FCAC and Ombudsman from lapdogs into watchdogs, audits of profits and lending, and increased penalties

Big Six Banks gouge out record profits of $45 billion in 2018 for the 8th record year in a row ($2.7 billion (6%) higher than in 2017, and more than double their 2010 profits) – higher than comparable banks in all other countries

Australia’s royal commission has found extensive bank gouging and abuse – Canada must do a similar examination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, December 20, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the Finance Minister to make the key changes needed to stop gouging and abuse by Canada’s big banks, as called for by its Bank Accountability letter-writing campaign that more than 60,000 Canadians have supported and Change.org petition that more than 32,000 people have signed.

The call comes as Canada’s Big 6 Banks have once again reported record profits based on gouging Canadians – the 8th year in a row, and at $45 billion total more than double their 2010 profits – in part by firing thousands of people, shifting jobs overseas (or using temporary foreign workers), cutting services, and hiking fees and credit card interest rates. The banks also hiked annual bonuses to $15.2 billion (6% higher than last year).

The call also comes as Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s budget Bill C-86 has been shoved through Parliament and become law. The Bill changes dozens of laws, including the Bank Act and other financial sector laws, but didn’t make any changes that will stop big bank gouging, and didn’t make enough changes to stop unfair treatment and abuse of consumers and big bank employees.

“The federal Conservatives and Liberals watched Canada’s big banks hike fees and keep credit card interest rates up to gouge Canadians and more than double their profits since 2010 to the highest levels of banks world-wide, and the Liberals should finally take action like Australia has to audit the banks’ excessive profits and gouging and abuse of consumers,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

Australia’s Royal Commission recently released its Interim Report, which found that banks encouraged gouging and abuse of customers based on pure “greed.”’

Meanwhile, Canada’s Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), which has been a lapdog since it was created in 2001, released its own report last March that most people view as a whitewash cover-up of wrongdoing in the big banks, in part because the FCAC announced its audit in advance. (See FCAC Backgrounder below)

“The federal Liberals know that because the big banks control more than 90 percent of the banking market in Canada they can hike fees and interest rates whenever they want, and yet they have done little to protect 30 million bank customers from gouging and abuse,” said Conacher. “Every dollar of excessive profit for the banks, and every person and business the banks unjustifiably cut off from credit, costs the Canadian economy because it means that the banks are overcharging for their essential services and loans, and choking off spending and job creation.” (See Canada’s Big Banks Backgrounder below)

“At little or no cost to the federal government or the financial services industry, financial consumers across Canada can be given a very easy way to band together to help and protect themselves through joining a national financial consumer organization they fund and run – all the federal government has to do is require the banks and insurance companies to inform their customers about the group,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch’s September 2017 submission to Finance Canada’s review of the Bank Act, and the letter-writing campaign and petition call for the following key changes to stop big bank gouging and abuse:

  1. Require banks, trust and insurance companies to promote in their mailings and emails to customers that they can join a national Financial Consumer Organization (FCO – as recommended in 1998 by the MacKay Task Force, and the House Finance and Senate Banking committees);
  2. Strengthen key consumer protection rules, and require the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) to do unannounced, mystery-shopper audits to find violations, and to identify violators and fine them (the FCAC hasn’t done unannounced audits since 2005, and tipped off the banks in March 2017 about the audit they did through the rest of 2017 on abuses);
  3. Require all banks to be covered by the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (Minister Morneau has done nothing to require TD, Royal, Scotiabank and National Bank to stop using their own complaint judges and return to OBSI);
  4. Require the FCAC, Auditor General or Competition Bureau to conduct regular independent audits of the profits in each banking division, and savings from withdrawal of services, and require banks to lower prices and interest rates wherever excessive profits are found (i.e. profits higher than 15% annually in any division);
  5. Require the banks to disclose detailed information annually about their service and lending records (as the U.S. has required banks to do for 30 years), and require corrective action whenever banks discriminate against customers, and;
  6. Given the big banks each make billions in profit annually, increase the meaningless maximum fine of $500,000 for violations to $50 million.

The only changes that Bill C-86 make from the above list are that the maximum fine has been increased from $500,000 to $1 million for a person who violates the law, and $10 million for a bank that breaks the law. This would be a meaningful change except that the FCAC is such a lapdog that there is only a 1 in a 1,000 chance of ever being caught violating the law, and an equally small chance of being fined. Bill C-86 gives the FCAC more powers, but it has never used the powers that it has had since 2003. The FCAC has only prosecuted a few financial institutions in the past 15 years, none of which were big banks (See FCAC Backgrounder below).

“The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and the Ombudsman will continue to be ineffective until the federal Liberals give them key powers and requires them to use those powers to audit banks and other financial institutions regularly and to penalize every violation with a high fine and public naming and shaming,” said Conacher.

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

Democracy Watch’s Bank Accountability Campaign



Canada’s Big Banks Backgrounder

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

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

Canada’s big banks also paid their CEOs about $10 million each in 2015, and gave them bonuses that totalled more than $10 million (51% higher than in 2008).

According to Fortune magazine’s Global 500 for 2017, three of Canada’s Big Six Banks ranked in the top 500 based on their revenues but are in the top 90 most profitable companies in the world: Royal Bank ($8.735 billion in 2017 profits; ranked #55 in total profits, #292 in revenue); TD Bank ($7.947 billion in 2016 profits; ranked #65 in profits, #37 in revenue); Scotiabank ($6.12 billion ranked #88 in profits, #430 in revenue). The profits of all three, and the other three Big Six Banks in Canada, all increased in 2018 so they will all very likely rank even higher in the Global 500 for 2018. The three banks were the most profitable of the 11 Canadian companies in the Global 500 for 2017.

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

“Instead of helping the banks promote a very small loan fund to help grow entrepreneurial businesses, the federal government should do what the U.S. government did 40 years ago and pass a community reinvestment law requiring the banks to disclose detailed information that will allow the public to judge whether they are discriminating against borrowers such as women entrepreneurs, and requiring the banks to take corrective action whenever discrimination is found,” said Conacher.



Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) Backgrounder

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has a very weak enforcement record since it was created in 2003. It has made only 125 compliance rulings, is prohibited from naming a law-violating bank unless it prosecutes the bank, and it has only prosecuted 2 banks (neither of them a Big Six bank). The FCAC not only lacks resources by comparison to the similar watchdog agencies in Britain and the U.S., it is also clearly a lapdog compared to these two other agencies.

According to an article by Reuter in March 2017, the FCAC had issued fines totaling just $1.7 million since 2001 (the maximum fine allowed under the Bank Act is $500,000, which is meaningless to the big banks who each make more than $10 billion in revenue annually). Since 2013 when it was created, Britain’s FCA has already issued penalties totalling more than US$3 billion, and since 2011 when it was created, the U.S. CFPB has already imposed fines of more than US$5 billion.

Democracy Watch calls on Ontario Integrity Commissioner to rule on appointment of Trade Representative in U.S.

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that Premier Ford’s participation in the appointment, and boosting of Todd’s salary, violated provincial government ethics law because Todd was a senior adviser on Ford’s election campaign

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, December 18, 2018

OTTAWA – Democracy Watch released the letter it sent today to Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake calling on him to rule on the legality of Premier Ford’s participation in the appointment of his election campaign adviser Ian Todd as Ontario’s Trade Representative in Washington, D.C., and the decision to increase Mr. Todd’s salary by $75,000 annually.

The letter raises questions about whether the Premier’s appointment of Mr. Todd violates the rules in the provincial Members’ Integrity Act that prohibit provincial politicians from participating in (section 2) or trying to influence (section 4) any decision that could further their own interests or improperly further another person’s interests.

The Premier and Cabinet ministers are allowed to hire anyone they want as their staff as it is considered acceptable that, despite the fact staff are paid for with the public’s money, Cabinet ministers would want them all to be loyal supporters of the ruling party.

However, Democracy Watch’s position is that, based on Part 3 of this Cabinet policy, it is improper for the Premier or any other Cabinet minister to appoint party loyalists or friends to any other government position, especially when the government hasn’t done a public, merit-based search for all qualified candidates and/or pays them more than the usual rate.

“Democracy Watch hopes that the Integrity Commissioner will issue a strong ruling that finds Premier Ford and his Cabinet ministers violate the provincial ethics law when they give government jobs to Conservative election campaign advisers and other friends of the Conservative Party,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

– 30 –

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

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

Key changes needed as Bill C-76 makes federal elections more dishonest and unfair, won’t stop secret, fake online election ads

Bill legalizes more false claims and false promises, increases the ad spending limit for wealthy interests, and maintains unfair donation limits

Yesterday’s House Committee report recommends many of the same changes as Democracy Watch, as Bill C-76 doesn’t do enough to stop secret, fake online election ads, and to protect voters’ privacy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wedesday, December 12, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, as Bill C-76 heads back from the Senate to the House of Commons with only one technical amendment, and is expected to become law soon, Democracy Watch highlighted key problems with the changes made by the Bill that will make the next federal election more dishonest and dominated by wealthy interests.

Democracy Watch called on federal parties to work together to reverse the changes before the next election, as well as strengthen measures to stop false promises, big money, and secret, fake online election ads, and to protect voters’ privacy. While Bill C-76 reduces some key barriers to voting, it does little else to address key undemocratic election problems.

Democracy Watch is only calling for changes to key rules – none of the changes require any changes in Elections Canada’s election planning or operations – so there is no reason why the changes can’t be made between now and next June when Parliament closes and the pre-election period will begin.

“Bill C-76 makes federal Canadian elections more dishonest and unfair because it allows more false claims about candidates, increases the spending limit for wealthy interest groups, and doesn’t do enough to stop secret, false, online election ads or big money donations,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law, and Political Studies, at the University of Ottawa. “If federal politicians actually want to ensure fair and democratic Canadian elections, the law must be changed to prohibit all false claims and false promises, lower donation limits, reverse the increase in interest group ad spending, and add new measures to stop secret, false online election ads. The independence, effectiveness and accountability of election enforcement agencies also needs to be strengthened, and penalties for violations increased, to ensure everyone follows fair election rules.”

The key changes needed are as follows:

To require honesty by everyone during the pre-election and election periods:

  1. Bill C-76 does nothing to strengthen subsection 482(b)) of the Canada Elections Act, which prohibits false election promises by parties and candidates but needs to be strengthened because the Commissioner of Canada Elections negligently refuses to enforce it. The Commissioner responded to Democracy Watch’s complaint about Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau baiting voters with his false promise of electoral reform during the 2015 election with a decision refusing to enforce the rule;
  2. Bill C-76 also makes more false claims about candidates legal by narrowing the rule that prohibit false claims (section 91 of the Canada Elections Act). The current rule prohibits any false claim “in relation to the personal character or conduct of a candidate or prospective candidate.” Bill C-76 narrows the rule so it only covers false claims that these people (or a party leader or officials) violated the law or have been charged or investigated for a violation, and false claims about the citizenship, place of birth, education, professional qualifications or membership in a group or association of these people. Senators tried to amend Bill C-76 to restore the broader rule but the amendment was rejected.
  3. The words in section 91 requiring that to charge someone with making a false claim you have to prove they made the claim with the “intention of affecting the results of an election” also must be deleted because it is almost impossible in many cases that they had that intention (the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections both called for this change, and the change summarized above in #2, when testifying before the Senate Committee that review Bill C-76).

To stop wealthy interests from dominating pre-election and election campaigns:

  1. Bill C-76 more than doubles the spending limits for third party interest groups and individuals during election campaigns from approximately $200,000 up to $500,000 (section 224 of Bill C-76 changing subsections 350(1) to 350(4.1) of the Canada Elections Act (CEA)). The Trudeau Cabinet claims this increase is needed because the spending limit is being extended to cover election surveys and “partisan activities” such as door-knocking, phone calls and rallies. However, only citizen groups do those kinds of activities (businesses usually only spending money on ads). As a result, the limit should be increased only for citizen groups as the increase in the limit will more than double the amount of advertising businesses can do during an election campaign period.
  2. Bill C-76 also sets meaninglessly high limits of $1.5 million for party ad spending and $1 million for third-party (interest group) ad spending during the 60-75 days before the election campaign period begins (section 223 of Bill C-76, adding sections 349.1 to 349.94 to the CEA). The limits are meaningless because it is highly unlikely that any party or third-party will spend anywhere near those amounts during July and August – the only times the limits will apply (as the pre-campaign limits only apply when the election is held on the fixed election date of the third Monday in October). As well, the pre-campaign limit only applies to “partisan advertising” that promotes or opposes a party or a candidate, not to issue-based advertising.
  3. Bill C-76 also doesn’t lower the much too high donations limits that allow wealthy people to use money as a way to influence politicians, including the annual individual donation limits for 2019 of $1,600 to each party and another $1,600 to the riding associations of each party (both increase each year by $25). Bill C-76 also doesn’t lower the $5,000 amount an election candidate can give to their own campaign or the $25,000 a party leadership candidate can give to their campaign

To see details, click here.

To stop secret, fake online election advertising by anyone (not just foreigners):

  1. Bill C-76 only prohibits big social media companies from knowingly running an ad paid for by a foreigner or foreign entity (section 190 of the Bill, adding new subsection 282.4(5) to the CEA), and requires them to publish a registry of election-related ads and maintain it for two years (section 208.1 of the Bill, adding new section 325.1 to the CEA). That will do nothing to stop secret, fake online election ads paid for by Canadians or Canadian entities, and will do little to stop foreign-paid ads as the social media companies will just claim they didn’t know the ads were paid for by foreigners.

To see details of the key changes needed to actually stop secret, false, online election ads by foreigners and Canadians, click here.

Bill C-76 also doesn’t do enough to require political parties to protect the private, personal information they collect about voters, as it only requires that they publish their privacy protection policy on their website (sections 254-255 of the Bill, changing section 385 and adding section 385.1 to the CEA) instead of extending federal privacy laws to cover parties.

The House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics issued its report yesterday on stopping secret, false online election ads, and protecting voters’ privacy, and recommendations 1-3, 6-8, 10, 19, 22-24 match the changes that Democracy Watch has been calling for in these areas.

Democracy Watch testified at the Committee’s hearings on Bill C-76 in June and highlighted all these serious flaws in the bill, along with 20 or so other changes needed to ensure fair, democratic elections and strong enforcement that Democracy Watch submitted to Special Committee on Electoral Reform and to the government in fall 2016.

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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 Honesty in Politics Campaign, Money in Politics Campaign, Stop Fake Online Election Ads Campaign, and Democratic Voting Systems Campaign

Democracy Watch calls on Ontario Integrity Commissioner to investigate appointment of new OPP Commissioner

If Premier Ford participated in or tried to influence any part of the appointment process, he violated the provincial government ethics law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

OTTAWA – Democracy Watch released the letter it sent today to Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake calling on him to investigate whether Premier Ford participated in or tried to influence any step of the process that led to the appointment of his close friend Ron Taverner as the new Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

The appointment raises questions about whether Premier Ford participated in or tried to influence: the choice or decisions of the executive search firm that searched for candidates for the position; the choice or decisions of civil servants who were on the selection committee that reviewed candidates, or; the Cabinet’s decision to approve Mr. Taverner as Commissioner.

The search firm’s contract could give the Cabinet the power to direct its search, and if any deputy ministers served on the selection committee then they, along with all Cabinet ministers, would share Premier Ford’s appearance of bias in favour of his close friend Mr. Taverner, given that they all serve at Premier Ford’s pleasure and could be fired or demoted by him at any time for any reason.

Sections 2 and 4 of the provincial Members’ Integrity Act prohibit provincial politicians from participating in or trying to influence any decision that could further their own interests or improperly further another person’s interests.

“If Premier Ford participated in any step of the process that led to his friend Mr. Taverner being appointed OPP Commissioner, then he violated the province’s government ethics law, and that’s why the Integrity Commissioner needs to investigate,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

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

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

DWatch files complaints with Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner about Trudeau Cabinet giving preferential access to “bundler” fundraisers, especially lobbyists

Commissioners should not rule on complaints because both were handpicked by Trudeau Cabinet – complaints should be referred to provincial commissioners

Political fundraising event disclosure Bill C-50, which comes into effect Dec. 21st, is a charade that won’t stop this cash-for-access because PM and ministers and other party leaders still allowed to sell access to themselves at exclusive events

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wedesday, November 28, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch filed a complaint with the federal Ethics Commissioner and a complaint with the federal Lobbying Commissioner calling for investigations into the preferential access that the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers have offered to fundraising “bundlers” who recruit 10 or more Laurier Club donors in a year, and into whether lobbyists are doing bundler fundraising for the Liberals.

The offer of preferential access was made through whatever communications with party members followed the establishment of the Leader’s Circle in the Liberal Party in the spring of 2016, and through the Liberal Party’s webpage about the Circle which was on the Party’s website from spring 2016 at least until the end of August 2016.

The Liberal Party’s webpage says the Leader’s Circle is “designed to recognize” people who raise money for the Party through “donor networking and bundling” which is “of utmost importance to growing the Party.” The webpage offers bundler fundraisers “recognition opportunities” including “an annual dinner with the Leader and invitations to events and discussions with leaders within the party.”

It is not known whether the Liberal Party is still operating the Leader’s Circle or any similar fundraising group – the letters to the commissioners ask for a comprehensive investigation into the Party’s fundraising activities.

Politicians are supposed to be the referees who decide what is in the public interest – so why do federal political party leaders continue to allow wealthy people to buy them off with huge donations and fundraising activities, including secret donations? In hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball and other sports, referees are not allowed to accept even small gifts from players,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “A full investigation of the fundraising activities of everyone involved in the Liberal Party in the past several years is needed by both the ethics and lobbying commissioners to determine how much preferential access has been given by the Prime Minister and other ministers to top donors and fundraisers, especially lobbyists.”

The letter to the Ethics Commissioner calls for an investigation into whether the PM, ministers, parliamentary secretaries or PMO/Cabinet staff violated the Conflict of Interest Act by giving preferential treatment to these bundler fundraisers by agreeing to attend events where the bundlers would have access to them. Giving preferential treatment to anyone is prohibited under section 7 of the Act.

The letter to the Lobbying Commissioner calls for an investigation into whether any registered lobbyists or people connected to lobbying businesses or organizations are members of the Leader’s Circle and have violated the Integrity and Professionalism Principles, and Rule 6, of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by doing bundler fundraising for the Liberal Party which put the Prime Minister or other ministers, staff or MPs into a conflict of interest. As well, if they lobbied the politician or public office holder after the fundraising, then they also violated one or more of Rules 7-9 of the Code.

The letters also refer to a complaint Democracy Watch filed in September, and another complaint filed at the end of October, and other complaints filed in November 2016 and March 2017, all of which relate to preferential treatment given by the Liberals to top donors and lobbyists at more than 162 events, or relate to lobbyists fundraising for the Liberal Party while lobbying Trudeau or other Cabinet ministers.

The federal Liberals also hold special events for donors who donate $1,500 or more annually (they become members of the exclusive Laurier Club).

Both complaint letters also call on Ethics Commissioner Dion and Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger to recuse themselves from investigating and ruling on the fundraising events, and to assign the investigations to people who are independent from them, because both are biased as they were chosen by the Trudeau Cabinet through a process controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Democracy Watch does not want either commissioner to rule on the complaints, and in its complaint letters requests that both commissioners refer the complaints to provincial ethics commissioners who are not tied to the Liberals or any federal political party. Democracy Watch has challenged the appointment of Ethics Commissioner, and the Lobbying Commissioner, in Federal Court. The cases were heard in Ottawa on November 14-15, 2018.

“The Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner are biased as they were both chosen by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive process controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office, and so the investigation of the Liberal fundraising events must be delegated to people who are fully independent from the Cabinet to ensure the integrity of the investigation,” said Conacher. “Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet essentially chose their own ethics and lobbying judges by choosing the commissioners, and so the commissioners shouldn’t be trusted to investigate and rule impartially on the Trudeau Liberals’ fundraising activities.”

The complaints are being filed as the Trudeau Liberals’ Bill C-50 is soon to come into effect, which will happen on December 21, 2018. Bill C-50 changes the Canada Elections Act to require fundraising events for a party, riding association, nomination race contestant, election candidate or leadership race contestant that:

  • take place outside of an election campaign period;
  • have with a ticket price of more than $200, and;
  • are attended by ministers, ministers of state, party leaders (or interim leaders) or party leadership contestants

to be disclosed five days before the event on the party’s website (subsections 384.1(1) to (3) and subsection 384.2), with the organizer and party required to file a report with Elections Canada within 30 days after the event disclosing: who benefited from the event; which ministers etc. attended the event; the identity of any adults who paid to attend the event; what the donation or ticket price was to attend, and; the name of each person who helped organized the event (subsections 384.3(1) to (7)). Bill C-50 also requires each party to file one report on all such events that occur during an election campaign period within 60 days after election day (subsections 384.3(8) to (13)).

However, Bill C-50 exempts from the public disclosure requirement donor appreciation events like a Liberal Party Leader’s Circle event if the event is held at a party convention (see subsection 384.1(4)), and does nothing to stop high-priced, exclusive, invite-only fundraising events attended by the Prime Minister and/or other ministers. As a result, Bill C-50 still allows cash-for-access fundraising activities.

“The Trudeau Liberals’ proposed Bill C-50 is a charade that increases transparency but doesn’t stop cash-for-access to Cabinet ministers, MPs or their staff or the unethical influence of big money in federal politics, and the only way to stop it is to lower the federal donation limit to $100 as in Quebec,” said Conacher. “The too-high federal donation limit of $3,100 not only continues to allow wealthy people to use money as an unethical way to influence politicians and parties, it also encourages funneling of donations from businesses and unions through their executives and employees and their families, as has happened in Quebec, at the federal level, and in Toronto.”

To actually stop big money and cash-for-access and other undemocratic, unethical fundraising activities in Canadian politics, Democracy Watch and the Money in Politics Coalition (made up of 50 groups with a total of more than 3 million members), joined by more than 11,000 voters who have signed a petition on Change.org, called on federal parties to pass another bill before the next federal election that:

  1. sets an individual donation limit of $100 per year (as in Quebec) and requires all donations of money, property and services to be disclosed (including volunteer services);
  2. sets a limit of what candidates can give to their own campaign of $100 per year;
  3. prohibits loans to parties and candidates except from a public fund (to stop allowing federally regulated banks to buy influence with their loans);
  4. only re-establishes per-vote annual public funding if the parties can prove they need it, and at a rate of at most $1 per vote annually, along with annual donation-matching public funding, and;
  5. strengthens enforcement and penalties for violations.

See more details about how inadequate Bill C-50 is for stopping the unethical influence of big money in federal politics here.

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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 Money in Politics Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch in court today challenging PM Trudeau’s biased, secretive appointment of new Lobbying Commissioner

Cases ask Federal Court to overturn the appointment because Trudeau was biased as Commissioner was investigating three situations involving him, and he also failed to consult with opposition parties as required by law

More than 15,000 Canadians have called for key changes to make the Cabinet appointment process actually open, independent and merit-based

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, November 15, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch is in Federal Court in Ottawa for the hearing of its case challenging the Trudeau Cabinet’s appointment in December 2017 of the new Lobbying Commissioner. Democracy Watch argues that the Cabinet was biased and in a conflict of interest because, at the time of the appointment, the Lobbying Commissioner was investigating three situations involving lobbyists’ putting Trudeau in a conflict of interest. See details about those situations here and here and here. The Commissioner was also investigating another situation involving Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Also, the Cabinet failed to consult with opposition party leaders as required by subsection 4.1(1) of the Lobbying Act before making the appointment. The Cabinet hid the fact that it had qualified candidates for Lobbying Commissioner in spring 2017, and controlled the partisan process in secret right through to the end of November 2017 when Prime Minister Trudeau made the unilateral decision to appoint Nancy Bélanger.

Democracy Watch is represented by Sebastian Spano.

“Prime Minister Trudeau failed to consult with opposition party leaders, as required by law, before appointing the new Lobbying Commissioner, and at the time the commissioner was investigating situations involving Trudeau and Minister Freeland so the PM was in a clear conflict of interest when making the appointment of this key democracy watchdog,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law and Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. “Given it is essential that Canada’s lobbying watchdog is independent and impartial, Democracy Watch hopes the court will overturn the appointment and establish high standards to prevent conflicts of interest, and also require the PM and Cabinet to consult meaningfully with opposition parties, before all future watchdog appointments.”

“It would be a clear conflict of interest if someone sued Prime Minister Trudeau or a Cabinet minister and he chose which judge would hear the case, and it is just as clearly a conflict of interest for the PM to choose the new Lobbying Commissioner to judge whether he and another Cabinet minister were in an unethical relationship with lobbyists,” said Conacher. “Given both opposition parties complained about Prime Minister Trudeau failing to consult with them before the Lobbying Commissioner appointment was made, it’s clear the PM also failed to consult as required by the law that sets out the appointment rules.”

Prime Minister Trudeau recused himself in mid-May 2017 from the Ethics Commissioner appointment process because the Commissioner was investigating him for accepting the Bahamas trip gift from the Aga Khan. In contrast, he didn’t recuse himself from appointing the Lobbying Commissioner.

After the May 2017 fiasco in which the Liberals tried to impose a blatantly partisan appointee for Official Languages Commissioner, the opposition leaders wrote a joint letter to the PM calling on the Cabinet to consult with them, as required by law, on all officer of Parliament appointments.

The NDP also proposed a resolution in June 2017 that a committee of MPs review nominees for Lobbying Commissioner and other watchdog positions but the Liberals rejected the proposal. Democracy Watch’s court case has revealed that Prime Minister Trudeau then sent a letter on June 20, 2017 that misled opposition leaders by claiming the Lobbying Commissioner appointment process was transparent and merit-based while failing to mention that the Liberals had already found qualified candidates for the position, and failing to consult the opposition on those candidates.

Then-NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair sent a letter back to Prime Minister Trudeau on July 4, 2017 saying the Cabinet’s appointment process was not independent, transparent or non-partisan, and again proposing it be changed to involve opposition parties.

Prime Minister Trudeau didn’t respond to Mulcair’s letter, and he and a Cabinet committee then controlled the partisan appointment process in secret right through to November 22, 2017 when he sent opposition leaders a letter saying that he had decided to appoint Nancy Bélanger as Lobbying Commissioner, and gave them only one week to respond.

The NDP sent a letter on November 29, 2017 to the Prime Minister saying very clearly that it’s position was that it was not consulted before the appointment of Ms. Bélanger was made, and requesting to see the shortlist of candidates.

The Conflict of Interest Act and PM Trudeau’s code for ministers and the law of bias all prohibit ministers from taking part in decisions when they appear to be biased or have an opportunity to further their own interests or improperly further another person’s private interests. Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet had a clear opportunity in appointing the Lobbying Commissioner to further his interest by choosing someone whom they thought would issue a ruling finding the lobbyists not guilty of putting him in a conflict of interest.

In fact, one month after Prime Minister Trudeau appointed Nancy Bélanger as Lobbying Commissioner, she issued a ruling letting Apotex Inc. off the hook even though its chairman, Barry Sherman, held a fundraising event Trudeau attended that raised $150,000 for the Liberal Party. Democracy Watch has challenged that ruling in court.

More than 15,000 Canadians have sent a letter through Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign calling on the federal Liberals to change the Cabinet appointment process from the current partisan system to ensure actually independent and merit-based appointments of all judges, officers of parliament, and members of agencies, boards, commissions and tribunals.

“The only way to stop the current dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for judges and government watchdogs is to establish a fully independent public appointment commission, as Ontario and Britain have, to conduct public, merit-based searches for nominees and send a short list to Cabinet, with Cabinet required to choose from the list,” said Conacher.

The independent commission, whose members would be approved by all federal party leaders (and entities such as the Canadian Judicial Council) should be mandated to do a public, non-partisan merit-based search for candidates for appointment as officers of Parliament and as members of the 32 federal administrative tribunals and 108 agencies/boards listed here. For all appointments, Cabinet should be required to choose appointees from a short-list of one to three candidates that the commission nominates.

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

The judicial advisory committees for appointments of all 1,123 federal and provincial superior court judicial appointments listed here should also be made more independent from the federal Cabinet (currently the Minister of Justice chooses all the members), and should provide only a short list of candidates (currently they send long lists to Cabinet).

Democracy Watch also called on the Liberals, and all governments, to change the law to ensure all Cabinet appointees who watch over government or oversee key democracy laws (especially every Officer of Parliament) serve only one term, so they don’t try to please the government in order to keep their job.

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

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