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Democracy Watch calls on Ethics Commissioner to rule, finally, on Nigel Wright, Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin intervening in Senate committee’s audit of Senator Mike Duffy

Three months have passed since Ethics Commissioner Dawson resumed her investigation into Wright – what’s taking so long? And is she going to let Wright off the hook yet again, as well as the PMO officials who helped him?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

October 6, 2016

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch re-filed the letter it sent to federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson on December 10, 2013 and called on her to rule, finally, on whether the intervention into the Senate Committee’s audit of Senator Mike Duffy by Nigel Wright, Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin violated the Conflict of Interest Act (the “Act”). Democracy Watch’s December 2013 letter also requested an inquiry into Mr. Perrin’s actions of assisting Mr. Wright in making the payment of more than $90,000 to Senator Duffy.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson stated in her most recent annual report that she had resumed the investigation into Nigel Wright’s actions in early June. Three months have passed and the full record of what happened has already been revealed in the ruling in Senator Duffy’s court case – what’s taking her so long? And is she going to let the other PMO officials who assisted Wright off the hook?

Democracy Watch’s complaint letter is based on the provisions of the Act, publicly confirmed facts, and the evidence set out in the affidavit of RCMP Corporal Greg Horton.

Another big question is whether the Ethics Commissioner will once again let Nigel Wright off the hook as she has twice already (See Backgrounder below).

“Will Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson continue her weak lapdog enforcement record by letting Nigel Wright off the hook for a third time, and by failing, as she has more than 145 times, to rule publicly on a complaint about possible violations of the federal ethics law?” asked Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch. “Not only is an investigation of Benjamin Perrin helping Nigel Wright negotiate his payment to Senator Duffy warranted, but also investigations into the interventions by Mr. Perrin, Mr. Wright and Patrick Rogers and Chris Woodcock in the audit of Senator Duffy which were as bad as contacting a judge and trying to influence the judge’s ruling,” said Conacher.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson initiated an inquiry in 2013 into whether Nigel Wright’s payment to Senator Duffy of more than $90,000 violated the Act but she suspended that inquiry in July 2013. As a result, in Democracy Watch’s opinion there are justifiable reasons for the Ethics Commissioner to initiate an inquiry into Benjamin Perrin helping Mr. Wright negotiate the payment to Senator Duffy.

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that it seems improper for Nigel Wright, Patrick Rogers, Chris Woodcock and Benjamin Perrin to have intervened in the Senate Committee’s audit of Senator Duffy, and for Mr. Perrin to have assisted Mr. Wright in making the payment to Senator Duffy, for the following reasons:

  • It seems that they either violated sections 4 and 6(1) of the Act because they made a decision “related to the exercise of an official power, duty or function” (ss.6(1)) when they “reasonably should know that, in the making of the decision” he “would be in a conflict of interest” (ss. 6(1)) because the decision provided “an opportunity . . . to improperly further another person’s private interests” (s. 4) – namely Senator Duffy’s private interest in having the results of the audit, and recommended penalties, altered to protect his financial interests (and, concerning Mr. Perrin, his interest in having someone else pay the expenses he owed);
  • As well, given that they intervened in the audit in secret, it seems they also violated section 8 of the Act which prohibits using “information that is obtained in his or her position as a public office holder and that is not available to the public” to further the interest of a friend “or to improperly further or to seek to improperly further another person’s private interests”; and
  • And finally, it seems by intervening in the audit process they also violated section 9 of the Act because they used their “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.”

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that it was improper for Nigel Wright, Benjamin Perrin, Patrick Rogers and Chris Woodcock to intervene in the Senate committee’s audit process, and for all of them to obtain and convey information about the audit processes, simply because it is improper for anyone who is not involved in an audit to attempt to influence auditors.

A spokesperson for Deloitte has stated publicly that it is improper for any information about an audit to be given to anyone other than the people involved in the audit – therefore it was, by definition, improper to seek information about the audit, and to try to influence the audit. Democracy Watch’s opinion is that it is analogous to someone in government contacting a judge of a court or a tribunal in an attempt to influence the judge’s ruling.

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

BACKGROUNDER

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s weak enforcement record
Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has had a very weak enforcement record since 2007, including (as of June 2015) making 149 secret rulings, issuing only 25 public rulings, and letting 75 (94%) of people who clearly violated ethics rules off the hook.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s first cover-up for Nigel Wright
Commissioner Dawson’s first cover-up for Nigel Wright was her creation of an illegal, so-called ethics screen when Wright first took the job that violated the requirement in subsection 25(1) of the Conflict of Interest Act to make a public declaration within 60 days every time Wright recused himself from a decision-making process because of a conflict of interest. This “screen” was supposedly enforced by the Deputy Chief of Staff. As a result of this cover-up, all of Wright’s recusals were kept secret, and there is no way to tell if he ever failed to recuse himself as required by the Act.

Ethics Commissioner Dawson’s second cover-up for Nigel Wright
Commissioner Dawson’s second cover-up for Wright was when she abandoned her investigation in fall 2012 without issuing a notice, let alone a ruling, of whether Wright violated the Act by taking part in discussions of issues that affect Barrick Gold. The Ethics Commissioner is allowed to do this under s. 45 of the Act. The cover-up only came to light because Canadian Press journalist Joan Bryden pressed Commissioner Dawson to make a public statement about the case. Commissioner Dawson’s statement failed to set out any reasons why she concluded that Wright had not violated the Act.

Conflict of Interest Act missing key rules and accountability measures
The Conservatives broke a 2006 election promise (one of their many broken accountability promises) to include key ethics rules in the new Conflict of Interest Act prohibiting dishonesty and being in even an appearance of a conflict of interest, as Prime Minister Harper instead put those rules in his Accountable Government code for ministers and other senior officials so he could ignore the rules (as he did until the Conservatives were defeated in the 2015 election – see the rules in Annex A, Part 1 of the Guide).

The Liberals made no promises in their 2015 election platform to close the huge loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Act (and they also made no promises to close the huge loopholes in the Lobbying Act or the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act). Instead, Prime Minister Trudeau re-named and re-issued the Accountability Government code as his Open and Accountable Government code and has ignored the rules in his code just like Prime Minister Harper did.

Because of section 66 added to the new Act by the Conservatives in 2006, the Ethics Commissioner’s rulings cannot be challenged in court if she has factual or legal errors in her rulings. There are no mandatory penalties for violating the ethics rules in the Act. As well, if Prime Minister Harper approves it, Commissioner Dawson’s term in office can be renewed for another seven years in 2014 so she has an incentive to please him

Liberals’ new Senate appointment process has some good merit criteria but advisory board lacks independence and is partisan as only Liberals chose board members

To ensure advisory board is not a partisan facade, most party leaders must approve most board members, and PM must disclose whether senators he chooses come from board nominees

Senators appointed under new process will be just as partisan as past senators because board nominees secret, and Liberal PM allowed to ignore board and choose whomever he wants

Senators will still be appointed which is fundamentally undemocratic – and reforms won’t have full effect for decades – so abolition still the best long-term solution and it will happen someday

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, January 19, 2016

OTTAWA – Today, in response to the announcement of the members of the Liberals’ new Senate appointment advisory board, Democracy Watch called for changes to make the board actually independent and non-partisan.  And while some parts of the merit-based criteria for being nominated by the board are good, they still contain the discriminatory constitutional requirements that senators be at least 30 years old, and own property worth at least $4,000 and other assets worth at least $4,000.

Given the problems with the Liberals’ proposed reforms, and any other possible reforms, and given that senators will still be appointed which is fundamentally undemocratic, Democracy Watch’s position is still that abolition of the Senate is the best solution, and that this will become more and more clear over time to more and more Canadians and will eventually happen.

“As it is currently set up, the Liberals’ new Senate appointment advisory board is a partisan façade that will result in partisan Senate appointments.  To make the advisory board actually independent and non-partisan, not just the Liberals but also at least a majority of federal party leaders should approve at least a majority of the board members — and even better would be approval by all party leaders of all board members,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa. “Senators appointed under the new process will be just as tainted by partisanship as past senators because the board will provide a secret list of nominees to Prime Minister Trudeau who can then ignore the board and appoint whomever he wants to the Senate. Either the board or the Prime Minister must be required to disclose whether the Prime Minister appoints someone from the list of board nominees.”

The problem with the structure of the Liberals’ Senate appointment advisory board is that it is tainted by partisanship because all the members are chosen by only the federal Liberals, and as a result it lacks independence.  To be independent of the ruling party, and therefore non-partisan, at least a majority of members of the board should be approved by at least a majority of federal party leaders (and even better would be all board members approved by all federal party leaders).

The other big problem with Liberals’ new process is that the board will provide a secret list of nominees to Prime Minister Trudeau, who can then ignore the board’s suggestions and choose whomever he wants.  Either the board or the Prime Minister must be required to disclose whether the Prime Minister appointed someone from the list of board nominees.  This solution will protect the privacy of the board nominees who are not chosen while checking the partisanship of the process.

It will take 10 years before a majority of senators will be selected through the Liberals’ proposed system, and the system doesn’t guarantee that new senators will be any less partisan than current and past senators (some may retire early but 31 senators are required to retire by the end of 2019, and 31 more between 2020 and the end of 2024).  The pace of required retirements slows after 2024 to a few each year on average, and as a result it will take until the end of 2049 before all the current senators will be gone.

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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 Shut Down the Senate campaign page

Trudeau’s ethics talk is great, but more needed to ensure everyone walks the talk


The following op-ed, by Democracy Watch Co-founder Duff Conacher, was published in edited form by the Hill Times on November 23, 2015, and by the Waterloo Record on December 12, 2015, and by TroyMedia.com on December 14, 2015.


Prime Minister Trudeau’s mandate letters to ministers (which he thankfully made public for the first time ever) importantly remind them that the PM’s accountability guide says they must be honest, impartial and maintain the highest ethical standards, including avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

However, the guide is not legally binding and neither the letters nor the guide sets out any penalties for violations or says the Prime Minister will suspend or demote, let alone fire, any minister who violates the rules.

The federal Conflict of Interest Act (which covers ministers, ministerial staff and Cabinet appointees including Deputy Ministers) also contains no penalties for violating its ethics rules.  Even worse, the Act directly contradicts the accountability guide as it is full of loopholes that, among other things: allow ministers and the others to be dishonest; mean the Act doesn’t cover them when they make general policy decisions (which are 99% of the decisions they make).

As a result, the law actually allows them and their family members and friends to have an unethical financial stake in, and profit from, 99% of their decisions.  Combined with weak enforcement by the Ethics Commissioner, the law should really be called “The Almost Impossible to be in, or be penalized for, a Conflict of Interest Act.”

In contrast, the ethics codes for federal government employees (all of whom have less power than ministers and senior government officials) not only contain the same strict rules as the ministers’ accountability guide – without any loopholes – but also say violators can be penalized, including being fired.

Prime Minister Harper’s accountability guide for ministers contained the same strict rules but he kept several ministers in Cabinet who violated the rules or the Act.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s letters to his ministers say “you can count on me to support you every day in your role as Minister.”  This sends a mixed message.  To make it clear he will not support dishonest, unethical actions, he should add his accountability guide’s strict ethics rules to the Conflict of Interest Act as soon as possible, and add strong, clear, mandatory penalties (up to and including being removed from Cabinet).

He should also require Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to do regular, unannounced audits of minister’s activities and communications (she already has the power to do such audits but has negligently refused to do them).  This will ensure everyone knows there is a high chance of getting caught and definite legal consequences for violations – consequences the Prime Minister cannot stop the Ethics Commissioner from imposing.

The Prime Minister should also strengthen the federal whistleblower protection law and extend it to cover Cabinet minister’s and MPs’ staff.  Currently, only federal government employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing in government institutions can be protected from retaliation by the federal Integrity Commissioner (though the law is weak and the Commissioner has a weak enforcement record).

These changes would make the Canadian government’s ethics enforcement system meet international best-practice standards, and finally fulfill the commitments the government made a decade ago under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

If Prime Minister Trudeau doesn’t make these changes and/or protects rule violators as Prime Minister Harper did, it will encourage violations and break the trust he is trying to forge with voters.  Much of what is currently legal in federal politics is not viewed by the public as ethical – and as many scandals in the past decade have shown clearly, anyone who tries to excuse unethical actions will lose voter support faster than they can say “All the rules were followed.”

The most difficult ethics challenge most ministers and their staff will face is complying with the few strong rules in the Conflict of Interest Act that prohibit accepting gifts from people trying to influence them, and giving preferential treatment to anyone.  Some of their supporters, especially lobbyists, will both want to wine and dine them and want quick access and special treatment for their cause, government contract bid or grant application.  It will be difficult to say to them, as is required by the Act — first come, first serve in terms of communicating and meeting with me; no I can’t help you any more than I help anyone else, and; thank you but no I can’t accept anything from you.

Ministers are allowed to hire whomever they want as their staff (including, under the Conflict of Interest Act, their extended family members and any relatives of other ministers – which should be clearly prohibited).  They are each given a budget to hire about 15 central office staff, and about five staff in each regional office, and the Prime Minister’s Office hires an additional 50-80 staff people.  However, after these jobs are handed out, often to people who helped them win office, it is illegal for them to give any other preferential treatment to any of their supporters.

The Liberals should also strengthen the Lobbying Act and the very weak enforcement by the Commissioner of Lobbying and the RCMP to ensure no minister or their staff can get away with doing secret deals with any of the many Liberal supporters who will be lobbying them for favours.  The Liberals have been out of power for 10 years, so some of their supporters (especially those that helped with campaigns) will be expecting to be handed a ticket back on the government gravy train right away.

As it is illegal for ministers and staff to help Liberal supporters in any preferential way, and a hot-button issue for many voters, any scandals will destroy the trust the Liberals have finally won back after a decade.

Finally, Prime Minister Trudeau would also be wise to make public similar mandate letters for the Deputy Ministers he appoints.  His mandate letters to ministers say that the role of their Deputy Minister is “to support you in the performance of your responsibilities.”  In fact, their role is to support their minister only if the minister follows honesty, ethics, transparency and waste-prevention rules and laws (and all other rules and laws) and they are required to report any wrongdoing to the proper authorities.  His letters should remind Deputy Ministers that loyalty to the rule of law comes before loyalty to their minister, and that they will also be penalized for violations.

These changes by Prime Minister Trudeau would be good first steps to ensure his government keeps its commitment to “an open, honest government that is accountable to Canadians, lives up to the highest ethical standards, and applies the utmost care and prudence in the handling of public funds.”

Those are big words, and many big changes will be needed to ensure everyone walks Prime Minister Trudeau’s ethics talk.


Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

Liberals’ new Senate appointment process has some good merit criteria but advisory board lacks independence and is tainted as Liberals will choose majority of members

To be independent and non-partisan, at least a majority of all party leaders must approve at least a majority of members of appointment advisory board

Senators will still be appointed which is fundamentally undemocratic – and reforms won’t have full effect for decades – so abolition still the best long-term solution and it will happen someday

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, December 3, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, in response to the announcement of the Liberals’ new Senate appointment advisory board, Democracy Watch called for changes to make the board actually independent and non-partisan.  And while some parts of the merit-based criteria for being nominated by the board are good, they still contain the discriminatory constitutional requirements that senators be at least 30 years old, and own property worth at least $4,000 and other assets worth at least $4,000.

Given the problems with the Liberals’ proposed reforms, and any other possible reforms, and given that senators will still be appointed which is fundamentally undemocratic, Democracy Watch’s position is still that abolition of the Senate is the best solution, and that this will become more and more clear over time to more and more Canadians and will eventually happen.

It will take 10 years before a majority of senators will be selected through the Liberals’ proposed system and the system doesn’t guarantee that new senators will be any less partisan than current and past senators (some may retire early but 31 senators are required to retire by the end of 2019, and 31 more between 2020 and the end of 2024).  The pace of required retirements slows after 2024 to a few each year on average, and as a result it will take until the end of 2049 before all the current senators will be gone.

The problem with the structure of the Liberals’ proposed Senate appointment board is that it is tainted by partisanship because all five members will be selected by only the federal Liberals, and as a result it will lack independence.

“To make the proposed Senate appointment advisory board actually independent and non-partisan not just the Liberals but also at least a majority of federal party leaders must approve a majority of the members of the board — and it would be even better if approval by all party leaders was required for all board members,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa. “Just calling the board independent and non-partisan does not make it independent and non-partisan and unless changes are made Liberal-dominated nature of the board will taint it and make the people it nominates to be senators also partisan and very likely Liberal-dominated.”

– 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 Shut Down the Senate campaign page


Liberals should walk on ethical egg-shells with their minority miracle majority


The following op-ed by Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher was published in edited form by the Globe and Mail on October 27, 2015; by TroyMedia.com on October 30, 2015; by the Waterloo Record on November 4, 2015, and by the Hill Times on November 9, 2015.


 “Last a while, you’ll have a chance to, I think, change a bit in politics, some good laws.”
Pierre Trudeau on the day he became Prime Minister

Data on how the Liberals won

You wouldn’t know it from the headlines, but the federal Liberals just received the lowest percentage of votes in the federal election to win the largest percentage of seats since 1867.  As a result, the Liberals should act like they are fully aware their minority miracle majority is very unlikely to happen again.

Jean Chretien’s Liberals were close in 1997 winning 51.5% of the seats with 38.46% of the popular vote, and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives even closer in 2011 winning 53.9% of the seats with 39.62% of the vote, but Justin Trudeau’s Liberals set the record by winning 54.4% of the seats with just 39.5% voter support.

And while it may seem like they have a comfortable 14-seat majority, with 14 seats won by a margin of 2.5% of total votes cast or less, and another 18 seats won by 2.6% to 5%, the Liberals should walk on egg-shells over the next four years.

Even a small percentage of NDP supporters who may have voted Liberal to stop the Conservatives switching back to the NDP, or Conservative voters who may have stayed home voting again, will change the results of the next election significantly.  The Conservatives still received 31.9% of the popular vote, and given the Liberals moved left in most policies in their platform, the NDP is likely to benefit from any erosion of support for the Liberals over the next four years.

The Liberals can take comfort in knowing they came second in 13 of the 22 closest races (all of which were won by 1.5% or fewer of votes cast), but a counterpoint is that the Conservatives came second in 6, and the NDP in 3, of those 22 ridings.  In those 13 ridings they came in second, the Liberals lost to the NDP in 8 ridings, the Conservatives in 4 ridings, and the Bloc in one riding.

The news is better for the Liberals in 20 other close races won by other parties by 1.5% to 5% of votes cast, as the Liberals came second in 19 of those races (and the NDP in 2).  In those 19 ridings, the Liberals lost to the Conservatives in 11, the NDP in 5, and the Bloc in 3 ridings.

Of the 71 races won by 5% or less of votes cast, the Liberals won 32 and came second in 32.  While it could happen, they would be bold to a fault to assume they will definitely offset losses in those 32 ridings in the next election with gains in those other 32 ridings.

According to Elections Canada, voter turnout increased 8% compared to 2011 – from 61.1% to 69.1% (the highest turnout since 1993).  That’s the largest change in voter turnout from federal election to federal election (positive or negative) since Canada became a country in 1867 (the next largest change was the 1917 to 1921 elections when voter turnout decreased 7.3% from 75% to 67.7%; the next largest positive change was the 1953 to 1957 elections when turnout increased 6.6% from 67.5% to 74.1%).

While the Liberals received many more votes than in 2011 – up from 18.9% of the popular vote to 39.5% — and seats, it will likely remain unknown exactly why.  Elections Canada should be able to provide an exact number of how many people registered to vote for the first time, but even if first-time registrants added up to 8% of all registered voters (the percentage that voter turnout increased) it would not mean they all voted.  Determining how many people voted for the first time would involve comparing all polling station registration sheets to sheets from past elections (as those sheets (along with mail-in ballots) are the only record of who actually voted) to figure out how many of the 8% were people voting again after not voting in the past few elections vs. people voting for the first time.

It would be great if Elections Canada examined these records as it is key to knowing whether youth voter turnout initiatives had any effect in the recent election.  If it determines the list of how many and who voted for the first time, Elections Canada could then survey those people to determine which new voters voted for which parties (although the results of that survey would still be questionable as some respondents would likely say they voted Liberal even if they didn’t in order to be seen to have supported the winning party).

In any case, no survey will accurately show how many NDP or Bloc or Green supporters voted for the Liberals strategically only (or mainly) to ensure the Conservatives lost vs. how many are now solid Liberal supporters.  Nor will any survey accurately reveal how many Conservative supporters voted for the Liberals (or didn’t vote) to ensure Stephen Harper would be pushed out as party leader vs. how many have switched to being Liberal supporters.

What is known is that given how slim the Liberals’ victory was, even a small percentage swinging back to those parties (or to one of those parties) or Liberal supporters staying home, will change the results of the next election significantly.

Where are the Liberals most vulnerable?  Of the 21 ridings the Liberals won by less than 3% of the popular vote, 10 are in Ontario, 4 in Quebec, 3 in Alberta, 2 in B.C., and 1 each in Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador.  Of the 11 ridings the Liberals won by 3%-5% of the popular vote, 7 are in Ontario, 2 in Quebec, 1 in B.C., and 1 in New Brunswick.

While those 32 ridings are clearly vulnerable, some provincial vote-split totals also indicate areas where the Liberals could lose even more seats from relatively small shifts in voting patterns.  In B.C. where the Liberals won 17 seats, they received 35.3% of the popular vote compared to the Conservatives 30% and the NDP’s 26%.  In Ontario where the Liberals won 80 seats, and in Manitoba where they won 7 seats, they received about 44.5% of the popular vote compared to 35-37% for the Conservatives and 14-16.5% for the NDP.  And in Quebec where they won 40 seats, they received 35.7% vs. 25.4% for the NDP, 19.3% for the Bloc and 16.7% for the Conservatives.

So what should the Liberals do?

So what should the Liberals do?  First, act like they have a minority government – as happened with the Conservatives since 2011, nothing will motivate supporters of other parties more in the next election than being ignored by the Liberals for the next four years.

Second, democratize and clean up federal politics – nothing will turn off Liberal MPs and supporters more than being ignored by the Prime Minister’s office, and nothing will hurt the Liberals overall more than a series of ethics, secrecy and waste scandals.

The Liberals have promised 75 changes in 32 areas in the “Open, Honest Government” section of their platform, including changes: to decrease voter ID requirements; to strengthen the access to information system by making disclosure the priority and giving the Information Commissioner the power to order disclosure; to ensure merit-based Cabinet appointments including to the Supreme Court and Senate; to free and empower MPs and committees in a few ways; to restrict government advertising and party spending in between elections; to reform Parliament in a few ways, and; to ensure gender-based analysis of the effects of government policies.

Those promises, some of which lack key details, will make the federal government more open and democratic, but not more honest and ethical.  The Liberals made no promises in the areas in the key areas of honesty-in-politics, ethics, lobbying disclosure and restrictions, whistleblower protection or strengthening enforcement by watchdogs (such as the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner) or strengthening citizen group watching of government and big businesses.  And there is only a vague promise to close political financing loopholes.

The Liberal platform quotes the old saying that “sunlight is the world’s best disinfectant.”  However, the Liberals’ promised open government changes are also vague and, even if kept or strengthened, will likely not let enough light in to prevent major ethics or waste scandals.

What is currently legal is not considered by the public to be at all ethical – and trying to explain away future scandals won’t work as shown by the Liberals’ initial unsuccessful claim that it was just fine for their election campaign co-chair Dan Gagnier to send an email to TransCanada about how to position itself to lobby on pipelines after the election.

Only strong honesty, ethics and lobbying disclosure requirements and restrictions, that many surveys over the past 15 years have shown a large majority of voters want, will prevent this unethical virus that ruined the Conservatives from infecting the Liberals early and often.

Finally, the Liberals should keep one of their strongest and most significant democratic reform promises by changing the voting system – and ensure the committee that consults on the change is evenly split between Liberals and opposition party members to avoid the charge that they are trying to rig the system in their favour.

The Liberals might as well change the system now while they can control what will replace our current first-past-the-post system.  I am of course guessing the future, but the past 10 years of election results show that the current system could easily return the Conservatives to power four years from now or leave the Liberals with a minority of seats and the NDP only agreeing to support them if the voting system is changed in a way that helps the NDP.

Changing to a ranked ballot system, which Justin Trudeau said he favoured during the Liberal leadership race, likely favours the Liberals too much and could cause a strong reaction from supporters of other parties.  As a result, including some form of proportional representation in a new system would likely help Liberals, and the system overall.

If they act like they have a comfortable majority or dash the hopes they fostered and encouraged for real change, especially change in how politics is done, the Liberals will likely quickly lose the support they have finally won back after 10 years.

Duff Conacher is Co-founder of Democracy Watch and a Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa

Liberals and NDP tie with B, Greens get a B- and Conservatives get a D in Report Card on the Federal Parties’ 2015 Democratic Reform Platforms

All parties do best in Representative Government reforms, and worst in Honest, Ethical Government reforms – Greens lose marks for vague promises, Conservatives fail in two of five categories

Honesty, lobbying and whistleblower protection reforms missing in all party platforms

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, October 19, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its Report Card on the Federal Parties’ 2015 Democratic Reform Platforms (See the Report Card below).

The Liberals and NDP tied with a B – matching the best mark Democracy Watch has ever given in its Report Card – as they each promised about 75 democracy changes.  The Greens lost marks for vague promises in a couple of areas and so ended up with a B- grade.

The Conservatives failed to make any promises in two of the five categories measured by the Report, and had overall poor marks and ended up with a D grade.  This is a big change from their 2006 election platform when they were first elected – in that platform the Conservatives promised 60 democratic reform and government accountability changes in their so-called “Federal Accountability Act”, and earned them a B grade.

However, the Conservative’s weak platform is consistent with their weak performance in the area of democratic reform in the past few years – they only kept 29 of their original 60 promises, and weakened ethics and open government rules in 2006, and they have been involved in many secrecy and ethics scandals.

All parties did best in the area of promised Representative Government reforms, and worst in the area of promised Honest, Ethical Government reforms.

Clear and strong honesty-in-politics, ethics, lobbying, whistleblower protection reforms, and reforms to strengthen enforcement by watchdogs (such as the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner) and citizen group watching of government and big businesses, were missing from all the parties’ platforms.

“While the federal Liberal and NDP democracy and government accountability promises resulted in a B grade, some of their promises lack details and promises are missing in key areas of honesty, ethics, lobbying, whistleblower protection and overall enforcement and penalties,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa. “They will have to keep all their promises, and also do more, to make the key changes needed to give Canadians the fully democratic and accountable federal government they deserve, and that many surveys over the past 15 years have shown voters want.”

“Voters should be skeptical of politicians’ promises, and even if the Liberals and NDP made all the changes they promised everyone in politics and government would still be allowed to lie to voters, politicians would still be allowed to make money from their decisions, secret lobbying would still be legal, wealthy individuals would still be allowed to use money to have unethical influence, whistleblowers would still not be effectively protected, and enforcement and penalties would still be too weak to stop wrongdoing,” said Conacher.

Many surveys over the past 15 years have shown that a large majority of voters do not trust politicians, and want honesty, ethics, lobbying, open government and other reforms to stop politicians from abusing their power.  Hundreds of thousands of messages have been sent to federal party leaders and politicians through Democracy Watch’s campaigns calling for the 100 changes needed to ensure fully democratic and accountable federal government and politics.

Democracy Watch and the coalitions it leads will continue to push for all 100 key changes.

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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 Campaigns page


Democracy Watch’s

Report Card on the Federal Parties’ 2015 Democratic Reform Platforms


Conservative

Green

Liberal

NDP

 

Overall

 

 

D

 

 

B-

 

 

B

 

 

B

 

 

Honest, Ethical Government

Reforms

 

F

 

C

 

C+

 

C+

 

Open Government

Reforms

 

F

 

 

C+

 

B+

 

B+

 

Efficient Government

Reforms

 

C

 

C-

 

C

 

C

 

Representative Government

Reforms

 

C

 

A

 

A

 

A

 

General Government Accountability

Reforms

 

C-

 

C+

 

B+

 

A-

Group calls on Governor General and federal party leaders to publicly approve clear, fair post-election rules before election day

Unclear, unwritten “constitutional conventions” caused crisis in 2008 – another crisis can be prevented by media asking GG and leaders where they stand now

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, October 13, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch launched its Stop Unfair Post-Election Actions letter-writing campaign that calls on Governor General David Johnston and federal political party leaders to issue public statements before election day agreeing to 7 fair post-election rules that will prevent a crisis like the one that happened after the 2008 election.

Governor General Johnston, unelected and unaccountable, has the very important powers to decide after the election:

  • which party will be given the opportunity to try to govern first;
  • when Parliament will open and can be shut down;
  • whether MPs support the government or whether a vote of non-confidence has occurred, and;
  • whether and when another election will happen.

However, especially if no party wins a majority of seats in Parliament in the election, Governor General Johnston — who was chosen by Prime Minister Harper and has in the past protected PM Harper and protected the Conservatives has no clear, public rules that he has to follow when he makes these key post-election decisions. Instead, Canada has unwritten constitutional “conventions” that can easily be abused.

The 7 fair post-election rules Democracy Watch proposes are clear and broadly supported by constitutional scholars. Public approval of the rules by the Governor General and party leaders will ensure clear, fair decisions by all after the election.

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

“The Governor General and party leaders can prevent post-election constitutional crises by publicly approving key rules before election day,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa School of Political Studies. “The post-federal-election situation is potentially doubly dangerous because we don’t have clear, public rules for the Governor General and party leaders to follow, and the Governor General was chosen by Prime Minister Harper and has worked for and made very questionable decisions in the past that protected the federal Conservatives.”

There are no legal or other justifiable reasons for the Governor General and the party leaders to refuse to approve the 7 fair post-election rules, and it is clearly in the public interest that the rules be approved to prevent unfair post-election shenanigans that abuse powers and violate the public trust and the democratic will of a majority of voters,” said Conacher.

Before he became Governor General, David Johnston was chosen by Prime Minister Harper to review the corruption scandal involving former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and German arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber. Johnston made a very questionable recommendation that a very serious and important part of the Mulroney-Schreiber scandal should not be investigated in a public inquiry (and, as a result, the Oliphant Commission did not investigate that part of the scandal).

With his recommendation, David Johnston protected Prime Minister Harper’s mentor, Brian Mulroney, from investigation, and protected PM Harper and the Conservatives from being even more tainted by the scandal.

– 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 Stop Unfair Post-Election Actions campaign page

Group plans private prosecution of Conservative Party officials for 2011 election fraud robocalls because government lawyers won’t prosecute

Commissioner of Canada Elections and Director of Public Prosecutions have made it clear they won’t prosecute despite clear evidence Conservative Party made misleading calls to voters in many ridings across Canada

Thursday, July 23, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that, given the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Director of Public Prosecutions have made it clear that they are going to ignore clear evidence, it will launch a private prosecution of the Conservative Party officials who arranged the robocalls to voters in many ridings across Canada that misled them concerning the location of their polling station.

The Commissioner of Canada Elections concluded in April 2014 after investigating that officials in the Conservative Party, after being warned not to do so by Elections Canada, booked robocalls to voters in many ridings across Canada that misled them about the location of their polling station, which is a clear violation of federal elections law.  The Commissioner did not even refer his findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions for review and possible prosecution.

Since then, Democracy Watch and others have appealed to the Commissioner and Director to prosecute the officials who booked the fraud robocalls.  They have refused, even though former Conservative staffer Michael Sona has been charged, prosecuted and sentenced to jail for misleading voters during the 2011 election with fraud robocalls in a Guelph, Ontario riding – even though the evidence that he was involved was much less clear than the evidence that the Conservative Party booked robocalls that misled voters in many ridings across Canada.

“The Commissioner of Canada Elections and Director of Public Prosecutions have clear evidence that the Conservatives made election robocalls that misled voters, which is a clear violation of the federal elections law, but they won’t prosecute so Democracy Watch will to ensure the violators are held accountable for their wrongdoing,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa.  “There is no way the Commissioner or Director can justify refusing to prosecute the Conservatives given that the only case on record for misleading voters with fraud robocalls, Michael Sona’s case, resulted in a conviction based on relatively weak evidence.  In such a situation, and given the clear evidence the Conservatives intentionally made misleading robocalls to many voters, neither the Commissioner nor the Director can claim they know for sure that prosecuting the Conservatives will not be successful, and so they should be prosecuting and letting the courts decide if the Conservatives crossed the line and should be convicted.”

Democracy Watch was the first to notice the huge number of complaints from voters about the 2011 election and it called for transparency from Elections Canada about what they were doing with the complaints (and complaints back to the 1997 election) in a November 2011 news release.

After digging by Ottawa Citizen/Postmedia reporters Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor, and leaks, Elections Canada finally disclosed details in spring 2012 about the election fraud robocalls investigation underway by the Commissioner of Canada Elections (who enforces the Canada Elections Act).  Democracy Watch continued to push for transparency about the Commissioner’s rulings on all past election complaints.

Democracy Watch launched a national letter-writing campaign and petition drive calling for proper enforcement of the federal election law, and for key changes to ensure fraud robocalls would be effectively stopped, a campaign that continued through to June 2014 pushing for changes to the Conservatives’ unfair so-called “Fair Elections Act.”

Not only did the Commissioner keep rulings on past complaints secret, he also refused to clarify a clearly flawed ruling he made on a complaint filed by a voter about a clear violation of the law during the 2011 election, and an audit of the 2011 election found other enforcement problems.

In response to the Commissioner’s secrecy, Democracy Watch filed a complaint with the federal Information Commissioner about the refusal of the Commissioner to disclose his rulings on past election complaints (he refused because some of the rulings might make him look bad).

The Commissioner of Canada Elections finally ruled on the fraud robocalls scandal in April 2014, letting the Conservative Party off the hook even though the Commissioner found that it deliberately made robocalls in many ridings across Canada during the 2011 federal election that misled voters about the location of polling stations (which is a clear violation of the Canada Elections Act).

Democracy Watch criticized the Commissioner’s ruling announced that it would launch a private prosecution of the Conservatives if government lawyers didn’t overturn the ruling and launch a prosecution.

Since then, former Conservative staffer Michael Sona has been prosecuted and found guilty and sentenced to 9 months in jail for misleading voters during the 2011 election with fraud robocalls in a Guelph, Ontario riding – even though the evidence that he was involved was much less clear than the evidence that the Conservative Party booked robocalls that misled voters in many ridings across Canada.

The Criminal Code allows anyone to launch a private prosecution for certain offences, and Democracy Watch continues to gather evidence and legal support to take those Conservatives responsible for the 2011 election fraud robocalls to court — because government lawyers won’t.

– 30 –

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


Democracy Watch’s Robocalls Prosecution Campaign page

Senate should stop playing games on Monday and pass ‘Hope for Reform Act’

Unjustifiable and undemocratic for unelected senators to change or fail to pass bill

Large majority of voters support empowering MPs and large majority of MPs passed Bill C-586 (which only gives MPs and parties votes on some ways to empower MPs)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, June 22, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the Senate to stop playing games and pass the Reform Act (Bill C-586) this week.  On Friday two Conservative senators – David Wells backed by Denise Batters – proposed an amendment to the Reform Act that will likely be voted on late Monday.  If the change passes it will effectively stop the bill because the House of Commons has adjourned and very likely won’t open again to consider the change before an election call stops all outstanding bills.

Even if the amendment fails to pass, the Senate could still stop the Reform Act simply by failing to pass it before the Senate adjourns (which is expected to happen at the end of the week).

The House of Commons passed the Reform Act by a vote of 260-17 on February 25th.  It only requires MPs to vote behind closed doors after each election on rules that govern some of their rights and powers in relation to their party leader and caucus, and they are allowed to vote to keep the rules the same as they are now.  The only actual change it makes is to remove the power of party leaders to approve election candidates – but it gives parties the right to decide to give that power back to their leader (or to anyone else).

In other words, it is in effect only a ‘Hope for Reform Act’ – it only creates a formal opportunity after each election for discussion and reform of some of the rights and powers of MPs.  A national survey in May 2013 found that 71% of adult Canadians want restrictions on the powers of leaders to choose their party’s election candidates, to choose which MPs sit on committees, and to penalize politicians who don’t vote with their party (only 20% were opposed; 9% did not answer).  Another national survey in November 2014 found that 61% want local riding associations to choose election candidates (only 24% want the leader to do this), and 73% want a majority of MPs to decide whether to expel an MP from the party (only 17% want the leader to decide).

For all these reasons, it is unjustifiable, undemocratic and simply ridiculous that unelected senators have taken so long to review the Reform Act and are even considering changing or stopping it.

“The Hope for Reform Act passed in the House of Commons by a huge majority and it only gives parties the opportunity to democratize the selection of all their election candidates, and MPs the opportunity to decide some of their rights and powers concerning their party leader and caucus,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa. “It is completely unjustifiable, undemocratic and ridiculous that unelected senators have taken so long to review the Reform Act, and they should stop playing games and pass it before the Senate adjourns.”

The initial version of the Reform Act (Bill C-586) took away each federal party leader’s power to approve their party’s election candidates and gave it to a riding-association elected nomination officer in each province (and one for all the territories).  It also took away each leader’s power to: choose the party’s caucus chair; kick an MP out of caucus (and re-admit them), and choose an interim leader if the leader resigns. Instead, the bill required a secret-ballot vote approved of by a majority of MPs in each party to make these decisions, and it also gave 20% of any party’s MPs the power to initiate a secret-ballot vote of all the party’s MPs that, if passed by a majority of the party MPs, would either endorse or fire the party’s leader.

Last December, Conservative MPs introduced amendments in committee that effectively changed it into the “Hope for Reform Act” – changes that meant the bill allows parties to decide (however they want) who will approve candidates (so leaders could end up keeping this power), and changes that meant each party’s MPs would only be required to vote after each election behind closed doors on the rule changes summarized above concerning choosing their caucus chair, expelling or re-admitting an MP, and reviewing their leader.

The November 2014 national survey indicated that voters wanted the Reform Act changed in only one way, with 68% saying they want the members of the party to decide whether to fire the party leader (only 26% want the party’s MPs to decide).  Senator Wells’ proposed amendment removes from the Reform Act the measure that allows MPs to vote in a rule that gives them the power to remove a party leader.

Democracy Watch’s position is the rule should be that a majority of each party’s MPs could initiate a review of the party leader but then all members of the party would vote on whether to remove the party leader.  However, even though Democracy Watch thinks the proposed rules concerning MP rights and powers in the Reform Act should be changed and strengthened and expanded to cover other key rights and powers, it still supports passing the bill as it is a step forward in the movement to free and empower MPs in ways that balance their rights with restrictions on the powers of party leaders.

– 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 Stop Muzzling MPs Campaign page