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Trudeau Liberal government continues to ignore key open government problems as it develops new national action plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, July 29, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, as the Trudeau Liberal government consults on its new National Action Plan for the international Open Government Partnership process, the nation-wide Open Government Coalition, Government Ethics Coalition and Money in Politics Coalition, made up of more than 70 citizen groups in total with more than three million members (all coordinated by Democracy Watch) called on the government to make commitments to strengthen open government in areas the Liberals have failed to act on since 2015.

Two years ago, during the Open Government Partnership Summit held in Ottawa, Democracy Watch gave an overall F grade in its report card on the Trudeau Liberal open government record. The Liberals haven’t improved since, as they continue to ignore many key loopholes in federal Canadian laws that allow for secret, unethical lobbying, secret donations, secret expenses, excessive secrecy overall, conflicts of interest and sole-source contracts. As well, enforcement of key democracy and good government laws is too weak, as is whistleblower protection and public consultation, and many key changes are clearly needed to ensure everyone in federal politics is effectively required to act honestly, openly, ethically, representatively and to prevent waste.

The Trudeau Cabinet has ignored its own MPs calling for key open government changes. The Cabinet’s Bill C-58 changing the federal Access to Information Act 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. And the Cabinet also ignored all of the recommendations made in the unanimous June 2017 House Committee report for key changes to strengthen the federal whistleblower protection system, an area in which Canada ranks below dozens of other countries.

Democracy Watch and its coalitions have 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 ethics rules. As well, opposition MPs and the Information Commissioner and the Open Government Coalition have been pushing to strengthen the Access to Information Act for years, including through a global coalition open letter in 2017.

“The Trudeau Liberals broke many of their promises to close loopholes in Canada’s open government law, and 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 political donations,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Trudeau Liberals’ plans, like the Harper Conservatives’ past plans, continue to focus more on making currently available information available online through open data systems than on real open government changes.”

“Secret, unethical lobbying, secret donations, secret expenses, excessive secrecy overall, and conflicts of interest and sole-source contracts are all currently legal, enforcement of key democracy and good government laws is too weak, as is whistleblower protection and public consultation, and many key changes are clearly needed to ensure everyone in federal politics is effectively required to act honestly, openly, ethically, representatively and to prevent waste,” said Conacher.

In all these ways, the Liberals’ proposed open government plan for the next five years violates the Open Government Partnership (OGP) requirements set out in the Open Government Declaration that all countries are required to sign. To fulfill the Declaration requirements, the Liberals’ Plan must commit to strengthening open government in every way. Their Action Plan should include measures to strengthen not only transparency laws and financial administration laws, but also federal ethics, lobbying, anti-corruption, political finance, whistleblower protection and public consultation laws, and enforcement of all these laws, in government and in the private sector.

As a result, the OGP Steering Committee should pressure the Liberals to ensure Canada’s Action Plan includes commitments to increase transparency in all these key areas of unethical, undemocratic government secrecy.

– 30 –

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 Money in Politics Campaign

Democracy Watch in court today vs. Integrity Commissioner rulings allowing Ford/PC Party-connected lobbyists to lobby Ford Cabinet secretly and unethically

9 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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, July 20, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, the Ontario Divisional Court is holding the first hearings on nine court cases Democracy Watch filed last December challenging nine rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake. Commissioner Wake is trying to stop all the cases, claiming his rulings can’t be challenged in court. DWatch is asking the court to allow the cases to proceed, and to order the Commissioner to disclose details about all his rulings that the Commissioner wants to keep secret. Nick Papageorge of Ross McBride LLP is representing Democracy Watch for the cases. See details about the nine cases below.

To register to watch the hearing on Zoom at 10 am Tuesday, 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 last December that said in part:

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

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).

“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.

– 30 –

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 Bad Government Appointments Campaign



Backgrounder on Democracy Watch’s 9 cases challenging Ontario Integrity Commissioner rulings on lobbyists in 2019-2020

Since April 2018, Commissioner Wake has issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions, closed 135 secret compliance reviews at the initial stage, and resolved 436 cases informally in secret (Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2020). At least some of those 763 secret decisions by Commissioner Wake have allowed dozens of other lobbyists to lobby unethically.

The first three cases challenge rulings #6 and 7 on page 52 of the Commissioner’s 2019-2020 Annual Report, and ruling #10 on page 53 of the Report. These are the first public Commissioner rulings enforcing section 3.4 of the 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 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.

To register to watch the hearing on Zoom at 10 am Tuesday, July 20, 2021, or to access the court files, email the Divisional Court registry office at: [email protected]

Final choice of Governor General should have been by all federal party leaders or, even better all party leaders across Canada

GG is a key guardian of Canada’s democracy – must be fully independent and impartial, should not have been handpicked by PM through biased process

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, July 6, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, as part of its Democratic Head Campaign which is supported by thousands of Canadians, Democracy Watch criticized Prime Minister Trudeau’s failure to send the shortlist of candidates for next Governor General (GG) to at least federal opposition party leaders or, even better, party leaders in all legislatures across Canada (given the GG appoints lieutenant governors), to ensure a fair choice for GG.

A survey of 1,601 Canadians in February 2021 found that 91% of people surveyed, of all types and from all political parties, support changing from the current system where the Prime Minister alone chooses the Governor General to having a committee of MPs choose the Governor General.

While the choice of Mary Simon may be good (although she is not fluent in French), like all the other Officers of Parliament, the Governor General (GG) must be independent of the PM because s/he makes many key decisions about the operations of Parliament and the government, and so the PM should not be choosing the GG alone because it taints the position with partisanship.

PM Trudeau rigged the selection of the Governor General (even more than Prime Minister Harper did) by setting up a façade of an Advisory Panel, co-chaired by his friend and Cabinet appointee Dominic LeBlanc, with every other member of the Panel also appointed by Trudeau. The Panel vetted a short list of candidates, and LeBlanc very likely ensuring that the candidate that Trudeau favoured was on the short list.

Instead, to democratize the selection of the GG, and every other federal good government watchdog, Trudeau should have used a fully independent committee (with members approved by all federal party leaders) to conduct a public, merit-based search for a shortlist of qualified candidates. Then, all federal party leaders should have reviewed the short list and approve the choice of GG.

Even better, given that the GG appoints the Lieutenant Governor of each province, Prime Minister Trudeau should have sent the shortlist of nominees to the party leaders of each legislature and have them rank the nominees. The GG would be the person who receives the most votes from this ranked ballot vote.

Prime Minister Trudeau also failed to take a step to Canadianize the selection of the Governor General by not requesting that Queen Elizabeth approve of the person chosen through the process. The Queen does have to approve the person formally, but if the PM had not requested the approval, and the Queen agreed to his nominee, then a new constitutional convention would have been established that Canada chooses its own Head of State. This would be a significant step toward full independence by Canada.

Both of these changes to the Governor General’s appointment process could have been made by the PM alone – no changes to any law, or Canada’s Constitution, were needed.

“Given how important it is for the Governor General to be independent of the Prime Minister and impartial, especially in a minority government situation, Prime Minister Trudeau should have involved opposition parties in choosing the Governor General,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, It would be even better to involve party leaders from across Canada given that the GG appoints the provincial lieutenant governors.

“Prime Minister Trudeau should have also told the Queen who Canada has chosen as Governor General, and not asked her approval, and if she had accepted that as the new protocol it would be clear that Canada chooses its own head of state,” said Conacher.

As well, Democracy Watch called on federal party leaders in the House of Commons to agree on public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want. In England, Australia and New Zealand, political party leaders and MPs agreed years ago to clear, public rules so what happens to call an election, and after and in-between elections, is fair for all the parties, and for voters. Most countries in the world also have clear, public rules.

“Nobody knows for sure what an unwritten rule says, and that’s why Britain, Australia, New Zealand and most other countries have written down their key constitutional rules,” said Conacher. “It’s clearly in the public interest that Canada’s rules be written down to stop abuses of power by the PM and Cabinet, including calling a snap election, that violate the rights of Parliament and the democratic will of the majority of voters.”

– 30 –

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 Democratic Head Campaign and Stop PM/Premier Abuses Campaign

Democracy Watch in court today vs. Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that let everyone off except PM Trudeau for pressuring Attorney General to stop SNC-Lavalin prosecution

Case also raises Ethics Commissioner Dion’s bias in ruling – Trudeau Cabinet chose him after secretive, biased process

RCMP and prosecutors must explain publicly what they have decided re: prosecuting PM Trudeau and others for obstruction of justice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, June 23, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch’s application is being heard virtually in the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) challenging federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s ruling that let everyone off the hook, except Prime Minister Trudeau, for pressuring former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC). Daniel Tucker-Simmons of Avant Law is representing Democracy Watch in the case, Federal Court of Appeal File #A-331-19.

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

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

“The Ethics Commissioner made the right ruling by finding Prime Minister Trudeau guilty of violating the ethics law for pressuring the Attorney General to drop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, but he should have also found other PMO and government officials guilty because they also pressured the Attorney General,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Ethics Commissioner’s ruling set a dangerous precedent because it says Cabinet ministers and staff can violate the ethics law as long as they are just following orders from the PM, or don’t have direct power over the government official they are trying to influence, and that’s why Democracy Watch is challenging the ruling.”

Democracy Watch is also arguing that Ethics Commissioner Dion should have delegated the investigation and ruling on the situation to a provincial ethics commissioner who had no ties to any federal party, given that he was chosen by the Trudeau Cabinet after a secretive, Cabinet-controlled process. The Federal Court of Appeal ruled the Trudeau Cabinet was biased when it appointed Ethics Commissioner Dion. Dion also had a record 8 unethical and questionable actions when he was federal Integrity Commissioner.

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

Given the evidence in the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling, Democracy Watch continues to call, including in an open letter in February 2021, on the RCMP and Crown prosecutors to issue a full, public explanation if they decide not to prosecute Prime Minister Trudeau and other government officials for obstruction of justice for trying to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

“Given the evidence, the public has a right to know the reasons if the RCMP and prosecutors decide not to prosecute Prime Minister Trudeau and others for obstruction of justice for trying to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin,” said Conacher.

– 30 –

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

35,000 voters call on Doug Ford not to use notwithstanding clause to overrule courts and arbitrarily extend third-party ad spending limits

Limits are needed for democratic, fair elections, but the democratic, reasonable way to determine democratic, reasonable limits is through an independent study

Bill 254 also doubled donation limit allowing wealthy donors to buy even more influence, likely helping Ford’s PC Party most – limit should be lowered to $100

Per-vote and all public funding should also be reviewed by independent commission to prove it is needed, and is democratic and fair

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, June 14, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, 35,000 voters joined with Democracy Watch in calling on Premier Doug Ford not to use the notwithstanding clause in Bill 307 to impose Ford’s arbitrary limits on third-party interest group ad spending that an Ontario Court ruling struck down as unconstitutional last Tuesday. Democracy Watch called on Premier Ford to back off and work with other parties to quickly establish an independent commission to determine reasonable, democratic spending limits by September, which could be enacted by year end.

The Ford government, without offering any real reason, imposed Bill 254 this spring, which increased from 6 to 12 months the pre-election period during which total ad spending by each third-party interest group or individual is limited to about $600,000.

It’s undemocratic and dictatorial, and likely illegal, for Doug Ford to invoke the notwithstanding clause to impose his arbitrary and unconstitutional spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “Restricting massive ad campaigns by wealthy interest groups is a good, democratic idea, as the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, but the reasonable, democratic way to set reasonable, democratic spending limits is through an independent, multi-partisan commission that will study the actual costs of reaching voters and other key factors.”

In its submission to the Ontario legislature committee reviewing the Ford government’s Bill 254, Democracy Watch called for changes to reverse the many undemocratic, unethical and unconstitutional political finance measures in Bill 254.

“All the measures in the Ford government’s Bill 254 that violate the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote must also be changed because they are unfair and tilt the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party,” said Conacher.

The Ford government’s Bill 254 also doubled the annual donation limit, which will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, and will likely benefit Ford’s PC Party the most. Democracy Watch’s analysis of 2020 party donations shows the PCs received almost 50% of their donations of more than $100 from only 20% of their donors who donated $1,000 or more. The other main parties’ top donors also provided disproportionate amount of funding.

Democracy Watch’s analysis also shows that the median donation to provincial parties of donations of more than $100, which is the most accurate indication of the amount an average voter can afford, is: PCs ($200), Liberals ($50); NDP ($25); Greens ($30).

“Doubling the donation limit as the Ford government’s Bill 254 did will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, especially given that the full identity and associations of donors are not disclosed, and will likely benefit 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, 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 (pp.10-12), 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 and, only if parties and candidates can prove they need it, public funding should then 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.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign

Doug Ford’s use of notwithstanding clause to overrule courts and extend third-party ad spending limits is dictatorial, and likely illegal

Limits are needed for democratic, fair elections, but the democratic, reasonable way to determine democratic, reasonable limits is through an independent study

Bill 254 also doubled donation limit allowing wealthy donors to buy even more influence, likely helping Ford’s PC Party most – limit should be lowered to $100

Per-vote and all public funding should also be reviewed by independent commission to prove it is needed, and is democratic and fair

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, June 10, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, in response to the Doug Ford government’s move to use the notwithstanding clause to make impose Ford’s arbitrary limits on third-party interest group ad spending that an Ontario Court ruling struck down as unconstitutional on Tuesday, Democracy Watch called on Premier Ford to back off and work with other parties to quickly establish an independent commission to determine reasonable, democratic spending limits by September, which could be enacted by year end.

The Ford government, without offering any real reason, imposed Bill 254 this spring, which increased from 6 to 12 months the pre-election period during which total ad spending by each third-party interest group or individual is limited to about $600,000.

It’s undemocratic and dictatorial, and likely illegal, for Doug Ford to invoke the notwithstanding clause to impose his arbitrary and unconstitutional spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election,” 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 the reasonable, democratic way to set reasonable, democratic spending limits is through an independent, multi-partisan commission that will study the actual costs of reaching voters and other key factors.”

In its submission to the Ontario legislature committee reviewing the Ford government’s Bill 254, Democracy Watch called for changes to reverse the many undemocratic, unethical and unconstitutional political finance measures in Bill 254.

“All the measures in the Ford government’s Bill 254 that violate the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote must also be changed because they are unfair and tilt the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party,” said Conacher.

The Ford government’s Bill 254 also doubled the annual donation limit, which will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, and will likely benefit Ford’s PC Party the most. Democracy Watch’s analysis of 2020 party donations shows the PCs received almost 50% of their donations of more than $100 from only 20% of their donors who donated $1,000 or more. The other main parties’ top donors also provided disproportionate amount of funding.

Democracy Watch’s analysis also shows that the median donation to provincial parties of donations of more than $100, which is the most accurate indication of the amount an average voter can afford, is: PCs ($200), Liberals ($50); NDP ($25); Greens ($30).

“Doubling the donation limit as the Ford government’s Bill 254 did will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, especially given that the full identity and associations of donors are not disclosed, and will likely benefit 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, 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 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 and, only if parties and candidates can prove they need it, public funding should then 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.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign

Part of Ford government’s Bill 254 that extended third-party ad spending limits ruled unconstitutional by Ontario court

Limits are needed for democratic, fair elections, but independent study needed of what reasonable limits are before any further changes made

Bill 254 also doubled donation limit allowing wealthy donors to buy even more influence, likely helping Ford’s PC Party most – limit should be lowered to $100

Per-vote and all public funding should also be reviewed by independent commission to prove it is needed, and is democratic and fair

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, June 8, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, in response to the Ontario court ruling striking down as unconstitutional the parts of Doug Ford government’s Bill 254 that extended the limits on third-party interest group ad spending, Democracy Watch called for an in-depth study of what reasonable, democratic limits on ad spending leading up to an election are before the government introduces another bill.

Bill 254 increased from 6 to 12 months the pre-election period during which total ad spending by third-party interest groups and individuals was limited to about $600,000.

Just as Democracy Watch predicted, the Ford government’s excessive spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election were ruled unconstitutional because they arbitrarily limited spending too much, and for too long,” 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 ad spending limit is realistic, and the limit should be higher for groups that have lots of supporters than it is for an individual voter.”

In its submission to the Ontario legislature committee reviewing the Ford government’s Bill 254, Democracy Watch called for changes to reverse the many undemocratic, unethical and unconstitutional political finance measures in the bill that make Ontario politics and elections unfair, tilting the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party.

“The other measures in the Ford government’s Bill 254 that violate the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote must also be changed because they are unfair and tilt the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party,” said Conacher.

The Ford government’s Bill 254 also doubled the annual donation limit, which will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, and will likely benefit Ford’s PC Party the most. Democracy Watch’s analysis of 2020 party donations shows the PCs received almost 50% of their donations of more than $100 from only 20% of their donors who donated $1,000 or more. The other main parties’ top donors also provided disproportionate amount of funding.

Democracy Watch’s analysis also shows that the median donation to provincial parties of donations of more than $100, which is the most accurate indication of the amount an average voter can afford, is: PCs ($200), Liberals ($50); NDP ($25); Greens ($30).

“Doubling the donation limit as the Ford government’s Bill 254 did will allow 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 will likely benefit 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, 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 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.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign


 

120,000 call on Finance Minister Freeland to make key changes to stop bank gouging and abuse

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

Big 6 Banks now gouging out very high profits double or more than 2020 profits – 4 of Big 6 are among top 50 most profitable banks in the world!

As PM Trudeau said last April 6th, the Big Banks can afford to help more

As England and Australia have, Canada must also close loopholes to ensure banks pay fair share of taxes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, June 2, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch, along with the 120,000 people from across Canada who have joined its letter-writing campaign and/or signed its Change.org petition, called on Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to work together with all federal parties in this minority government situation to stop gouging, racism in lending, and other abuses by Canada’s Big 6 Banks.

On April 6, 2020, after the Big 6 Banks announced temporary mortgage and loan payment deferrals, and credit card interest rate cuts, for some customers, Prime Minister Trudeau said “we need to see even more action like this going forward because this is a time to think about each other, not about the bottom line.”

However, the deferrals and cuts ended last fall, the banks have not given any breaks since, the Big 6 Banks all announced huge profit increases of 100% to 200% this past week (BMO, CIBC, RBC and TD, Scotiabank and National Bank, and 4 of the Big 6 Banks recently announced fee hikes.

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

Democracy Watch recently filed a submission with Finance Canada’s pre-budget consultation process calling, along with more than 120,000 Canadians, for Key Bank Accountability Changes needed to make Canada’s banks help Canadians more by cutting interest rates and fees, to stop racism and discrimination in lending and services, and stop other abuses.

Many of the key changes were enacted in the U.S. decades ago, and apply to the U.S. banks that 4 of Canada’s Big 6 Banks own. In contrast, the Trudeau Liberals have done nothing to stop gouging fees and interest rates, and have done very little to address discrimination in bank lending. Recently, associations representing Black and Indigenous business owners called for the U.S. measures to be enacted in Canada to stop discrimination in bank lending.

The Big 6 Banks also paid their CEOs a total of $75 million in 2019 in salary and bonuses (an average of $12.5 million each), and a total of $66.4 million in 2020 ($11 million each on average).

“The big banks can afford to do much more to help during this crisis, and must be required by law to disclose much more information about their profits in every part of their business, and how they treat customers and borrowers, to stop the rampant gouging, and ensure they are effectively required to serve everyone fairly and well with fair interest rates and fees, and to stop them from discriminating against or abusing anyone,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“As the U.S. did more than 40 years ago, the federal government must require the banks to disclose this information and more to ensure the banks don’t discriminate against anyone, and give everyone who needs it a real break in their loan and credit card payments during the crisis, and serve everyone fairly and well at fair interest rates and fees that give the banks a reasonable profit and not excessive gouging profit levels,” said Conacher.

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

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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 Big Banks Coronavirus Accountability Campaign

Shortlist of candidates for next Governor General should be reviewed by all federal party leaders or, even better all leaders across Canada

GG is a key guardian of Canada’s democracy – must be fully independent and impartial, not handpicked by PM through secretive, biased process

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, May 26, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, as part of its Democratic Head Campaign which is supported by thousands of Canadians, Democracy Watch called on Prime Minister Trudeau to submit the shortlist of candidates for next Governor General (GG) to at least opposition party leaders or, even better, party leaders in all legislatures across Canada (given the GG appoints lieutenant governors), to ensure a fair choice for Governor General.

Like all the other Officers of Parliament, the Governor General (GG) must be independent of the Prime Minister because s/he makes many key decisions about the operations of Parliament and the government, and so the Prime Minister should not be choosing the GG alone because it taints the position with partisanship.

PM Trudeau has already tried to rig the selection of the Governor General (even more than Prime Minister Harper did) by setting up a façade of an Advisory Panel, co-chaired by his friend and Cabinet appointee Dominic LeBlanc, with every other member of the Panel also appointed by Trudeau. The Panel is currently vetting a short list of candidates, and LeBlanc is very likely ensuring that the candidate that Trudeau favours is on the short list. Instead, to democratize the selection of the GG, and every other federal good government watchdog, Trudeau should have used a fully independent committee (with members approved by all federal party leaders) to conduct a public, merit-based search for a shortlist of qualified candidates.

However, it is not too late for Trudeau to have at least all federal party leaders review the short list and approve the choice of GG. Even better, given that the GG appoints the Lieutenant Governor of each province, Prime Minister Trudeau should send the shortlist of nominees to the party leaders of each legislature and have them rank the nominees. The GG would be the person who receives the most votes from this ranked ballot vote.

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

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

“Given how important it is for the Governor General to be independent of the Prime Minister and impartial, especially in a minority government situation, Prime Minister Trudeau must involve opposition parties in choosing the Governor General,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, It would be even better to involve party leaders from across Canada given that the GG appoints the Lieutenant Governors in each province.

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

As well, Democracy Watch called on federal party leaders in the House of Commons to agree on public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want. In England, Australia and New Zealand, political party leaders and MPs agreed years ago to clear, public rules so what happens before, after and in-between elections is fair for all the parties, and for voters. Most countries in the world also have clear, public rules. As well, the only way an election can occur before the fixed election date under Britain’s Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is if at least two-thirds of MPs vote in favour of a motion for an early election or if a resolution is passed that states the legislature has no confidence in the government and don’t reverse their decision within 14 days.

“Nobody knows for sure what an unwritten rule says, and that’s why Britain, Australia, New Zealand and most other countries have written down their key constitutional rules,” said Conacher. “It’s clearly in the public interest that Canada’s rules be written down to stop abuses of power by the PM and Cabinet, including calling a snap election, that violate the rights of Parliament and the democratic will of the majority of voters.”

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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 Democratic Head Campaign and Stop PM/Premier Abuses Campaign

DWatch calls on federal and Ontario governments to end fossil fuel financing by Canada’s banks and other financial institutions

Group joins launch of international campaign by 50+ organizations in 19 countries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, May 17, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch joined 50+ organizations in 19 countries in launching a new campaign call to stop fossil fuel financing by banks and other financial institutions. Already more than 7,000 Canadians have joined DWatch’s letter-writing campaign and/or signed its Change.org petition, calling on Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ontario Premier Doug Ford to work together with all parties and make three key changes that will expose, and end, fossil fuel financing by Canada’s Big Banks and other key financial institutions, and empower financial consumers and retail investors to have a much greater say in what financial institutions are doing with their money.

According to research by the Rainforest Action Network and other organizations, 3 of Canada’s Big 5 Banks are among the top 12 banks worldwide financing the fossil-fuel industry, and the other 2 are in the top 25 banks. Click here to see their report.

It was difficult for the organizations to find out this information, and Canada’s Big Banks are denying it is accurate. The information also doesn’t include other Canadian financial institutions, such as insurance companies, that support the industry, nor does it cover other major industries that create the pollution that is causing the climate crisis.

In April’s federal government budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland didn’t include any measures to require the Big Banks or other financial institutions to disclose their climate-related investments. The government only committed to talk to provincial and territorial governments about disclosure (p. 175). Canada’s Big Banks and other Canadian big businesses are resisting requirements to disclose these investments. When the UN’s Net-Zero Banking Alliance was launched on April 21 , VanCity Credit Union was the only Canadian financial institution signed on to the initiative.

The international Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) has recommended requiring disclosure, as did an Ontario government task force in January 2021 (Recommendation 41, pp. 68-71). Canada’s Big Banks and other financial institutions are not required to lend and invest in actually sustainable businesses that will create long-term jobs that don’t pollute or harm Canadians and their communities.

“Canada’s big banks and other financial institutions wouldn’t be able to operate without our money, and so they shouldn’t be allowed to keep details of their fossil fuel industry loans, investments and insurance secret from us,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch, which has led the bank accountability movement in Canada in the past 25 years. “The federal and Ontario governments must require all financial institutions to disclose their fossil fuel financing, to finance only actually sustainable big businesses, and establish two citizen groups that will empower financial consumers and retail investors to have more say over how financial institutions are using their money.”

Democracy Watch Stop Fossil Fuel Financing Campaign calls for 3 key changes which either the federal government (through federal laws) or the Ontario government (through securities laws) can make. The changes that would require disclosure of fossil-fuel investments by banks and other key financial institutions; require them to finance only actually sustainable big businesses, and empower financial consumers and investors to ensure their money is used to support sustainable, job-creating businesses:

  1. Require banks, insurance, trust and mutual fund companies, and other financial institutions, to disclose their lending, investments and insurance for the fossil fuel industry, and all other major carbon-producing industries (coal, heavy manufacturing), by company as recommended by the international Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD);
  2. Add the Equator Principles and other real sustainability rules to Canada’s and Ontario’s laws to require banks and other financial institutions to lend, invest and provide insurance only to actually sustainable big businesses, and;
  3. Establish a Financial Consumer Organization (FCO) using this innovative method that has been proven effective in the U.S., and an Individual Investor Organization (IIO) using the same method. Together these groups will exponentially increase the information available to financial institution customers and individual investors about how financial institutions use and invest their money, and will also exponentially increase the power of financial consumers and individual investors to have a say in the use of their money, and to push for actually responsible, sustainable investing.

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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 Fossil Fuel Financing Campaign and Bank Accountability Campaign and Corporate Responsibility Campaign