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Democracy Watch comments on Ethics Commissioner ruling that agreed with its complaint that PM Trudeau violated the federal ethics law by pressuring Attorney General to drop SNC-Lavalin prosecution

DWatch considering court challenge of part of Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that actions of other Trudeau PMO and Cabinet ministers and staff not covered by the ethics law as they were directed by Trudeau

RCMP must issue public explanation if they decide not to prosecute PM for obstruction of justice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, August 14, 2019

OTTAWA — Today, Democracy Watch applauded the part of the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that found Prime Minister Trudeau violated section 9 the Conflict of Interest Act by improperly trying to influence the Attorney General to drop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. The ruling agreed completely with the points argued in the complaint Democracy Watch filed on February 8, 2019, which can be seen here.

The Ethics Commissioner’s ruling can be seen here.

Democracy Watch filed a follow-up complaint on March 5, 2019 about other PMO officials, Cabinet ministers and their staff also pressuring the Attorney General. That complaint can be seen here.

Unfortunately, in paragraphs 262-281 of his ruling (pages 41-44), the Ethics Commissioner summarizes the actions of PMO officials, Cabinet ministers and their staff that put pressure on the Attorney General. However, in paragraphs 282-286, the Ethics Commissioner 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…”

Attempting to influence the Attorney General violates Rule 9, and these officials attempted to influence the Attorney General — it is irrelevant whether they had the same power over the PM as the PM has. For this reason, DWatch is considering challenging this part of the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling in court.

“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. “Democracy Watch is considering challenging in court the part of the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that lets the other PMO and government officials off the hook given they, like the Prime Minister, clearly violated the federal ethics law.”

Given the evidence in the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling, Democracy Watch also called on the RCMP to issue a full, public explanation before the election if they decide not to prosecute the PM for obstruction of justice.

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

More than a year later, where is Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling on Facebook’s lobbying and favours for Liberal Cabinet?

Voters have a right to know before they vote this fall if Facebook violated federal lobbying law and ethics code

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, August 1, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch sent a letter to federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger calling on her to ensure an independent ruling, before Parliament is shut down for the fall election, on the complaint letter it filed in late April 2018 about unregistered lobbying and doing favours for Cabinet and federal politicians by Facebook employees, and employees of its subsidiary Instagram.

“More than a year ago Democracy Watch filed a complaint calling for an investigation of Facebook’s unregistered lobbying and favours for Liberal Cabinet ministers and MPs, and the Lobbying Commissioner has negligently failed to issue a ruling on the complaint,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Voters have a right to know before they vote this fall if Facebook violated federal lobbying rules, and given that Democracy Watch’s April 2018 complaint provided detailed evidence to the Lobbying Commissioner, there is no justifiable reason for any further delay by the Commissioner in issuing a ruling.”

The federal Lobbying Act requires businesses to register if its employees spent more than 20% of their collective time lobbying during any 6-month period, including arranging meetings, and Some communications are also required to be disclosed in monthly reports. The Professionalism principle in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct requires that lobbyists follow the spirit of the registration requirements of the Act.

The Lobbyists’ Code prohibits anyone from lobbying a Cabinet minister or their officials for four years after doing favours for them (former Rule 8 and, since December 2015, Rules 6-9).

The question posed in Democracy Watch’s April 2018 complaint was whether Facebook’s employees had ever crossed the 20% line from 2010 to 2018 and violated the Act by failing to register, and whether any of Facebook’s employees violated the Code by doing favours for Cabinet ministers or MPs and then lobbying them afterwards.

As Maclean’s magazine first reported, Facebook was not registered as a company in the Registry of Lobbyists to lobby the federal government from 2010 on, until it announced in spring 2018 it would register (while still maintaining that it is not required to register). Facebook also has several consultant lobbyists on contract but they have reported only one communication with federal government politicians and officials since 2014.

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

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

Democracy Watch also recently requested that the Lobbying Commissioner rule on another two-year-old complaint involving Liberal Cabinet ministers.

Democracy Watch requested in its April 2018 letter that Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger recuse herself from ruling on the situation because she was handpicked by Trudeau, and has also made statements that show a bias in favour of lobbyists.

Democracy Watch is challenging Commissioner Bélanger’s appointment in the Federal Court of Appeal as part of its Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign.

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

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

Two years later, where is Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling on Council of Canadian Innovators lobbying of Liberal Cabinet?

Voters have a right to know before they vote this fall if top people at CCI, who were Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland’s 2015 election campaign managers, violated lobbying rules

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, July 17, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch sent a letter with federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger calling on her to ensure an independent ruling, before Parliament is shut down for the fall election, on the complaint letter it filed in July 2017 about the relationship and meetings between representatives of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) and Liberal Cabinet officials. The Lobbying Commissioner confirmed that the complaint was being investigated in a July 20, 2017 letter.

“Two years ago Democracy Watch filed a complaint calling for an investigation of former election campaign managers for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland heading up the Council of Canadian Innovators, and the Lobbying Commissioner has negligently failed to issue a ruling on the complaint,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Voters have a right to know before they vote this fall if Minister Freeland’s former election campaign managers violated federal lobbying rules, and given that Democracy Watch’s July 2017 complaint provided detailed evidence to the Lobbying Commissioner, there is no justifiable reason for any further delay by the Commissioner in issuing a ruling.”

The federal Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct prohibits anyone from lobbying a Cabinet minister or their officials for four years after helping them get elected (former Rule 8 and, since December 2015, Rules 6-9 (see especially Rule 9)). The question posed in Democracy Watch’s July 2017 complaint was whether Minister Freeland’s former campaign managers violated the Code given that they headed up CCI, and CCI had lobbied the foreign affairs and trade departments.

Since March 2016, the CCI’s Executive Director has been Benjamin Bergen, who according to the Globe and Mail article, and this CanTechLetter.com article, played a senior management role in the 2015 federal election campaign of former International Trade Minister and, since January 2017, Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland. And Dana O’Born was CCI’s Director of Policy and is now its Director of Strategic Initiatives. According to Mr. Bergen (as cited in this Globe and Mail article), Ms. O’Born was Ms. Freeland’s 2015 campaign manager.

According to the Registry of Lobbyists, CCI has been registered to lobby the federal government (including Ms. Freeland’s Global Affairs ministry) with Mr. Bergen as the listed senior official since April 4, 2016 and as of July 2017 had 202 registered communications with government officials (although many more could have occurred as only oral, pre-arranged communications initiated by the lobbyist are required to be disclosed (unless the communication is about a financial benefit and then even if the government official initiates the communication it must be disclosed)).

The CCI’s monthly communications reports in the registry show that on the following dates (and, again, possibly many more) CCI communicated with Global Affairs Canada officials (when Ms. Freeland was Minister of Foreign Affairs or Minister of International Trade) including deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers, special assistants, and the minister’s Parliamentary Secretary: April 21, 2017; April 10, 2017; March 30, 2017; March 24, 2017; March 1, 2017; February 8, 2017; November 4, 2016; November 2, 2016; October 21, 2017; October 20, 2017 (two meetings); October 17, 2016, and; October 13, 2016.

Democracy Watch requested in July 2017 that the former Lobbying Commissioner recuse herself from ruling on the situation because she had been handpicked by Trudeau, and Democracy Watch’s letter sent today requests that current Commissioner Bélanger also recuse herself because she also was handpicked by Trudeau.

Democracy Watch is challenging Commissioner Bélanger’s appointment in the Federal Court of Appeal as part of its Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign.

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

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

Democracy Watch calls on Ontario Integrity Commissioner to rule lobbyist who advised on Premier Ford’s campaign, and serves as PC Party Regional VP, violating lobbying law

Law prohibits doing anything that makes it improper for Premier or Cabinet ministers to participate in decisions that affect the lobbyists’ clients

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, July 11, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake calling on him to issue a public ruling on lobbyist Melissa Lantsman, who advised Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party (PC Party) during the spring 2018 provincial election campaign, and was on Ford’s transition team, and is currently Regional Vice President for Toronto for the PC Party.

Ms. Lantsman was hired as Vice-President of Public Affairs at Hill & Knowlton Strategies after the election in June 2018 and is now registered to lobby Premier Ford and various Cabinet ministers on specific issues for 13 clients (as well as other clients on general issues).

It has been illegal under Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) since June 2014 for an Ontario lobbyist to do anything for a politician or government official that caused them to be in a real or potential conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients.

Incredibly, as Democracy Watch’s letter summarizes (pp. 6-7), the Integrity Commissioner has not issued any guideline or interpretation bulletin in the past five years concerning what the rules in the LR Act mean.

Based on what the LR Act (section 3.4) and the Members’ Integrity Act (sections 2, 3, 4 and 6(1)) say, and the unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling Democracy Watch won in 2009 (paras. 52-53), and a similar federal lobbying rule, and past rulings concerning what are improper actions are by politicians (see pages 6-16 of Democracy Watch’s letter), Democracy Watch’s position is that it is a violation of section 3.4 of the LR Act for a lobbyist to do anything significant for, or give anything significant to, a politician they are registered to lobby (or the politician’s political party), as it creates a potential conflict of interest that makes it improper for the politician to participate in any decision, or try to influence any decision that affects the interests of the lobbyist or their clients.

Integrity Commissioner Wake is not required to investigate or issue a public ruling, but Democracy Watch’s position is that it would be simply negligent for him to fail to do both given the ruling will be the first time he has publicly enforced section 3.4 of the LR Act and, therefore, the ruling will make it finally clear what actions by lobbyists that section prohibits.

“The Integrity Commissioner has been negligent in not issuing a ruling the past five years setting out what actions by lobbyists are prohibited by the conflict of interest rule in the lobbying law,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given the clear evidence set out in Democracy Watch’s complaint, hopefully Integrity Commissioner Wake will do the right thing and issue a public ruling very soon finding that anyone who worked for Doug Ford or PC Party headquarters during the spring 2018 campaign, or is serving in a senior position of the party, violates the conflict of interest rule in the lobbying law if they lobby Premier Ford or any of his Cabinet ministers.”

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

DWatch calls on Ethics Commissioner to ensure independent investigation of Dominic LeBlanc-connected appointments of judges

Federal Liberals should suspend judicial and watchdog appointments until appointment process is changed to be actually independent and merit-based

Ontario and United Kingdom judicial appointment processes are world-leading models, and federal politicians must make changes to match them

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, July 4, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch sent a letter federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion calling on him to ensure an independent investigation and ruling on recent Trudeau Cabinet appointments of judges who have connections to Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc. DWatch also called on the federal Liberals to suspend the appointment of all judicial and watchdog appointments until the appointment process is changed to be actually independent and merit-based.

As first reported by CBC New Brunswick, Justice Charles LeBlond who was appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, and Justice Arthur Doyle and Justice Robert Dysart who were appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench all donated to help Minister LeBlanc pay off his debt from his 2008 Liberal Party leadership race campaign. GlobalNews.ca reported other donations made by these three justices to Minister LeBlanc’s riding association, and to the Liberal Party.

These outlets also reported that Jacques Pinet, the husband of Tracey DeWare, who was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench by Prime Minister Trudeau in June, also donated to Minister LeBlanc’s campaign, among other donations to the Liberal Party. CBC also reported that the couple purchased a seaside home from Minister LeBlanc in 2013 for $430,000, located next to Minister LeBlanc’s summerhouse.

Democracy Watch also revealed that, according to Minister LeBlanc’s federal ethics disclosure registration, sometime in 2017, a Jacques Pinet, Vice-President, Assumption Life Insurance Co. of New Brunswick, gave Minister LeBlanc a gift of 3 days hospitality at Ledges Lodge, Doarktown, New Brunswick. If this is the same Jacques Pinet who is married to Chief Justice DeWare, it would only compound the appearance of conflict of interest for Minister LeBlanc.

The Globe and Mail reported that Minister LeBlanc participated in the decisions for all of these appointments, while recusing himself from the appointment of one other judge who is a relative of his.

“Dominic LeBlanc should be investigated to determine if he violated the federal ethics law by participating in the decisions to appoint these judges,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Ethics Commissioner Dion cannot do the investigation as he was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, dishonest process that is being challenged in courts, and his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law. Commissioner Dion must delegate the investigation to someone independent of his office and all political parties.”

Section 4 and subsection 6(1) of the COIA together prohibit public office holders like Cabinet ministers from making or taking part in decisions when they have an opportunity to further their own, their family’s or their friends private interests, or improperly furthering another person’s interests (and section 9 prohibits trying to influence such decision). Democracy Watch’s position is that appointing someone as a judge furthers their private interest, and that “friends” should be defined by the Ethics Commissioner as including political friends such as significant supporters of the governing party.

In any case, donations and gifts and friend relationships make it improper for a minister to take part in a decision that affects someone.

While the Trudeau Liberals added the goal of diversity for appointments, and reduced the number of members chosen by the Minister of Justice from four to three out of seven judicial advisory committee members, the committees still produce long lists of candidates which allow the Minister and Cabinet to appoint essentially whomever they want as a judge.

For quasi-judicial positions like key government watchdogs, Liberal Cabinet ministers still choose all advisory committee members and control the appointment process completely.

“The Trudeau Liberal Cabinet appointment system is essentially the same as the Harper Conservatives used, and it allows Cabinet ministers to choose their own Liberal party cronies as judges, and to choose lapdogs instead of watchdogs,” said Conacher. “To stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for judges and watchdogs, the appointment process should be suspended until, as in the UK and Ontario, a fully independent public appointment commission is created to conduct public, merit-based searches for nominees and send a short list to Cabinet, with Cabinet required to choose from the list.”

Federal NDP MP Charlie Angus issued a statement that criticized the LeBlanc-related appointments and said “It is time for this patronage to end” but the NDP’s 2019 federal election platform does not include any promise to change the appointment process to prevent patronage and crony appointments (See pp. 100-102 for the very few, vague democratic reform promises the NDP has made).

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer was also quoted criticizing the appointments, but said nothing in 2009 when the Harper Conservatives appointed several donors as judges nor in 2006 they broke their election promise to establish an independent Public Appointments Commission.

Also, Democracy Watch filed a complaint in April 2017 about former Conservative Minister of Justice Peter MacKay appointing some of his friends as judges, including his former Cabinet colleague Vic Toews (Toews was finally found guilty in April 2017 by the Ethics Commissioner of violating the federal ethics law). The Scheer Conservatives have not issued their 2019 federal election platform.

Democracy Watch also called on federal politicians to change the law to ensure all Cabinet appointees who watch over the government or oversee key democracy laws and processes (especially every Officer of Parliament) be only allowed to serve one term.

“Like judges, all government and democracy watchdogs must only serve one term, with no possibility that the government can reappoint them, to ensure watchdogs don’t try to please the government in order to keep their job,” said Conacher.

See Backgrounder below for more details concerning the current appointment process, and needed 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 Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign



Details on the Current Federal Cabinet Appointments Process, and Needed Changes to ensure Independence and Integrity

Democracy Watch is currently challenging the appointment of the new Ethics Commissioner and the new Lobbying Commissioner – who judge whether the federal ethics law and lobbying law have been violated – in the Federal Court of Appeal as both commissioners were investigating situations involving Prime Minister Trudeau and other Cabinet ministers at the time the Trudeau Cabinet handpicked them through a secretive, biased, dishonest process. The case file numbers are A-142-19 and A-143-19, and the cases have been consolidated and will be heard together by the FCA this fall.

Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign proposes that the way to ensure the appointment of fully independent, merit-based judges and watchdogs is to have a fully independent commission whose members are approved by all federal party leaders (along with entities such as the Canadian Judicial Council) do a public, non-partisan merit-based search for candidates, and to require the Trudeau Cabinet to choose from a short-list of 1-3 candidates that the commission nominates.

The new appointment process, and a prohibition on being reappointed, should apply to the judicial advisory committees and appointments of all 1,123 federal and provincial superior court judicial appointments listed here, and to the new public appointments commission that must be established to ensure a merit-based selection process for a short list of candidates for appointment to the 32 federal administrative tribunals and 108 agencies/boards listed here.

Ontario uses this kind of independent appointment system to appoint provincial judges (the advisory committee provides a shortlist of three candidates to the Cabinet). The United Kingdom uses it to appoint judges and judicial tribunal members (like the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner are). The UK advisory committee provides only one candidate to the Cabinet, and the Cabinet has to accept the candidate or reject the candidate and provide written reasons.

Democracy Watch calls on Ontario Integrity Commissioner to issue public rulings on Dean French violating provincial ethics law with appointments of family members and friends

If Integrity Commissioner’s investigation finds Premier Ford participated in appointments, should issue ruling that he also violated the law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, June 27, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake calling on him to issue a public ruling on Premier Ford’s former Chief of Staff Dean French providing preferential treatment to family members, friends, and friends of Premier Ford and the PC Party, in government appointment processes, which would violate the provincial government ethics law.

Democracy Watch’s letter also calls on Commissioner Wake to investigate whether Ford violated the ethics law by participating in the appointment processes, and by failing to promote ethical conduct by Mr. French.

As reported recently in the media (here, here and here), two of Mr. French’s family members, three of his family’s friends, and Rob Ford’s former chief of staff, and the former president of the PC Party, were all appointed in the past several months to Ontario government jobs.

Dean French resigned last Friday, two of the appointments were withdrawn, and one of the other appointees resigned. However, Dean French is still covered by the ethics law that the Integrity Commissioner enforces as some rules apply to former staff of ministers, and it would be a travesty to let him off the hook just because he has left his position.

“It will be simply negligent if the Integrity Commissioner refuses to issue a public ruling on these appointments just because Dean French has resigned and a couple of appointments have been withdrawn. A full investigation and public ruling is needed to determine whether Mr. French was acting on his own or with the approval of Premier Ford, said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. Hopefully, the Integrity Commissioner will do the right thing and issue a public ruling on all the appointments of people connected to Dean French to make it clear to the Premier’s staff and the staff of all Cabinet ministers that even if they leave their position they will not escape accountability for violating government ethics rules.”

All public servants in the Ontario government, including ministers’ staff and the Secretary to the Cabinet, are prohibited by regulations under the Public Service of Ontario Act from giving preferential treatment to any person or entity, and are required to “endeavour to avoid creating the appearance that preferential treatment is being given to a person or entity…”

Premier Ford, like all ministers, is prohibited from taking part in decisions when he could “improperly” further another person’s interests, and is required to ensure his staff are informed about the ethics law, and to promote ethical conduct by his staff.

See the Details on the Ontario Government Ethics Law and Regulations set out below.

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

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



Details on the Ontario Government Ethics Law and Regulations

As summarized on the website of Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake, ministers’ staff, including the Secretary to the Cabinet who is the Premier’s deputy minister, are subject to various ethics measures by the Public Service of Ontario Act (the “Act” – sections 2, 4, 66 to 69 and 94 to 98) and a regulation under that Act (O.Reg. 382/07).

Section 6 of the regulation prohibits giving “preferential treatment to any person or entity” and requires ministers’ staff to “endeavour to avoid creating the appearance that preferential treatment is being given to a person or entity…”

Part II of the regulation applies to public servants even if they resign or are fired, and so the Integrity Commissioner is a watchdog over them even after they are no longer in their government job.

Section 67 of the Act requires Premier Ford and other ministers to ensure their staff are familiar with the ethics rules, and to promote ethical conduct by his staff.

Premier Ford has the power to penalize his staff for violations of the ethics rules under section 70 of the Act.

As well, the Preamble (in conjunction with parliamentary conventions), along with sections 2 and 4 of the Members’ Integrity Act, prohibit Premier Ford from making or influencing a decision that “improperly” furthers another person’s private interest.

This is the eighth complaint Democracy Watch has filed about Premier Ford’s appointments. It was the first to file a complaint about Ford’s attempt to appoint his close friend Ron Taverner as head of the OPP, and also filed a complaint to the Integrity Commissioner about Dean French’s preferential treatment of Taverner and others (and filed another complaint to the Ontario Ombudsman about this same preferential treatment by French) and a complaint about Premier Ford trying to hand an Ontario Cannabis Store executive job to Taverner. Democracy Watch has also filed complaints with the Integrity Commissioner about Ford’s appointment of Conservative campaign adviser Ian Todd as Ontario’s Trade Representative in Washington, and about Ford’s appointment of his campaign adviser and senior staffperson Jenni Byrne as a member of the Ontario Energy Board, and a complaint about Ford’s appointment of his family lawyer Gavin Tighe to the Public Accountants Council.
 

Democracy Watch calls on Ontario Integrity Commissioner to rule lobbyists who helped organize Premier Ford’s fundraising dinner violated lobbying law

Law prohibits doing anything that makes it improper for Premier to participate in decisions that affect the lobbyists’ clients

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, June 13, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake calling on him to issue a public ruling on three lobbyists who helped organize, and sold tickets for, Premier Ford’s February “2019 Toronto Leader’s Dinner” fundraising event. The lobbyists, Chris Benedetti, Paul Pellegrini and Matthew Gibson of Sussex Strategy Group, were revealed to be on the organizing committee for the event in an email from Mr. Benedetti that was cited in articles in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail.

According to the articles, several other lobbyists were pressured by the Progressive Conservative Party to sell tickets to the event, with some saying that they were told their access to the government would be restricted if they did not sell tickets. However, these lobbyists were not identified in the articles – although Democracy Watch’s position is that the Integrity Commissioner should conduct a broad investigation to find all the lobbyists involved in ticket selling.

It has been illegal under Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) since June 2014 for an Ontario lobbyist to do anything for a politician or government official that caused them to be in a conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients or organization.

Incredibly, as Democracy Watch’s letter summarizes (pp. 6-7), the Integrity Commissioner has not issued any guideline or interpretation bulletin in the past five years concerning what the rules in the LR Act mean.

Based on what the LR Act (section 3.4) and the Members’ Integrity Act (sections 2, 3, 4 and 6(1)) say, and the unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling Democracy Watch won in 2009 (paras. 52-53), and past rulings concerning what are improper actions are by politicians (see pages 12-15 of Democracy Watch’s letter), Democracy Watch’s position is that it is a violation of section 3.4 of the LR Act for a lobbyist to do anything significant for, or give anything significant to, a politician they are registered to lobby, as it creates a potential conflict of interest that makes it improper for the politician to participate in any decision, or try to influence any decision that affects the interests of the lobbyist or their clients or organization.

According to Democracy Watch’s analysis of the provincial lobbying registry, set out in the letter (pages 2-4), Mr. Benedetti was registered to lobby Premier Ford for at least 28 client businesses at the time he would have been helping organize the event, while Mr. Gibson was registered for 7 clients, and Mr. Pellegrini for one client (although, as President of Sussex Strategy Group, Mr. Pellegrini is connected and benefits from the activities of all of the firm’s lobbyists and the revenue they generate).

Integrity Commissioner Wake is not required to investigate or issue a public ruling, but Democracy Watch’s position is that it would be simply negligent for him to fail to do both given the ruling will be the first time he has publicly enforced section 3.4 of the LR Act and, therefore, the ruling will make it finally clear what actions by lobbyists that section prohibits.

“The Integrity Commissioner has been negligent in not issuing a ruling the past five years setting out what actions by lobbyists are prohibited by the conflict of interest rule in the lobbying law,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given the clear evidence set out in Democracy Watch’s complaint, hopefully Integrity Commissioner Wake will do the right thing and issue a public ruling very soon finding that lobbyists who helped organize Premier Ford’s fundraising dinner violated the conflict of interest rule in the lobbying law.”

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Money in Politics Campaign

 

New report on possibly funneled donations to Trudeau Liberals shows need to lower donation limit to $100, as Quebec did

Elections Canada must expand the audit it promised in 2013 (which it didn’t do) to cover donations to all parties and riding associations back to 2007 (similar to the audit Elections Quebec did in 2011)

Almost 90,000 call for changes to stop the unethical influence of big money in federal politics, finally

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, June 12, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, after a new report revealed that the Trudeau Liberals have received almost $1.5 million in donations from staff, executives and lobbyists at more than 110 companies, law and accounting firms and interest groups since 2015, Democracy Watch and the Money in Politics Coalition, joined by almost 90,000 voters, called on federal parties to pass a short, simple bill before Parliament closes at the end of June to lower the donation limit to $100 (as Quebec did in 2013).

The Trudeau Liberals’ Bill C-76, which became law last December, did nothing to stop big money in federal politics, and actually made things worse by more than doubling the amount that third-party interest groups can spend during elections. To see details, click here.

Democracy Watch also re-affirmed the request it sent recently to Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, Commissioner of Canada Elections, and Commissioner of Lobbying calling for an audit of individual donations to federal political parties back to 2007 to find all possibly funneled donations, and any lobbyist fundraisers. Elections Canada has not even done the limited donations audit it promised to do in 2013.

“This new report, and the many examples across Canada of companies funneling donations through their executives or employees, or having their board members fundraise for political parties, show clearly that the only way to stop the unethical influence of big money in politics is to stop big money donations by lowering the donation limit to $100 as Quebec did in 2013,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “As well, a full audit by Canada’s election and lobbying watchdogs is needed to determine just how much funneling of donations to federal political parties has happened since 2007. Elections Canada should have been doing annual audits since then – it hasn’t even done the one audit it promised to do in 2013.”

Along with the donations revealed in the Bloc Quebecois’ new report, the following situations point to clear problems the current federal donation and fundraising system:

  1. SNC-Lavalin illegally funneled almost $118,000 to the Liberal and Conservative parties, riding associations and candidates through its executives and employees from 2004 to 2011, with CBC recently revealing the list of donors;
  2. As the Globe and Mail revealed, lobbyists attended approximately 90 high-priced, exclusive events the Liberals held from January to October 2016, and another 72 events held since April 2017;
  3. The Liberals also offered special access to “bundler” fundraisers;
  4. Clearwater Seafoods lobbies the federal government, and board member Mickey MacDonald held a fundraising event in August 2014 that raised about $80,000 for the Liberal Party, an event Justin Trudeau attended.
  5. Apotex Inc. lobbied the federal government at the time its then-Chair Barry Sherman held a fundraising event in August 2015 that raised about $150,000 for the Liberal Party, an event Justin Trudeau also attended.

Democracy Watch’s research also shows that the Liberal Party (and likely other federal parties) rely on wealthy donors for a significant portion of total donations. Top federal Liberal Party donors (to the Party only, not its riding associations) who gave $1,100 or more in 2015 were only 4.37% of total donors (4,084 donors out of 93,426 donors total) but they gave the Party 22.87% of total donations raised ($4,866,373.76 out of the $21,276,897.57 total raised).

The following situations at the provincial and municipal level provide further evidence that funneling donations happens in every jurisdiction that has banned donations from companies, unions and other organizations but continued to allow individuals to donate a high amount:

  1. An Elections Quebec audit found $12.8 million in likely illegally funneled donations from 2006-2011.
  2. A recent CBC analysis found New Brunswick company executives and their families now donating the maximum after the province banned corporate and union donations.
  3. In B.C. in 2017, provincial parties returned more than $260,000 in donations that had been funneled through lobbyists for companies, and people affiliated with unions.
  4. In Ontario, lobbyists sold tickets for Premier Ford’s recent fundraising dinner and, in 2016, executives at a bank involved in bidding on a government contract organized a fundraising event for the ruling party that was attended by Liberal Cabinet ministers.
  5. When Elections Alberta did an audit in 2012 it found dozens of illegal donations. As well, in a 2013 scandal in Alberta, a coalition of construction companies made it clear that their big money donations were conditional on the Alberta government changing the labour law.
  6. Donations from corporations, unions and other organizations were banned in Toronto elections in 2009, and individual donations limited to $750 annually, but a 2016 analysis by the Toronto Star found that big business and other special interest group executives and their families continue to give large amounts to city councillors.

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign page and Government Ethics Campaign page

 

Report card gives Trudeau Liberal open government record an F as international summit held in Ottawa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, May 30, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, as the Open Government Partnership Global Summit is being held in Ottawa, Democracy Watch issued its report card on the Trudeau Liberal open government record. The report card gives the Liberals an overall F grade.

The excessive secrecy problems with the Trudeau Liberal government include:

  1. Liberals promised several changes not included in Bill C-58 in the Open Government section of their 2015 election platform, and in the specific Access to Information section of the platform;
  2. Bill C-58 also proposed changes that were not promised in the Liberals’ platform, changes that were big steps backwards in access rights;
  3. The Liberals have also failed to keep their international Open Government Partnership commitments, weak as those commitments were.
  4. Bill C-58 also ignored many of the recommendations made in the unanimous June 2016 report of the House of Commons Access, Privacy and Ethics Committee;
  5. The Liberals violated the legal requirement in the Lobbying Act (section 14.1) to review the Act every five years (the review should have happened in 2017) so they didn’t even try to close secret lobbying loopholes;
  6. The Trudeau government has appealed a Federal Court ruling that that closed secret lobbying loophole, made Trudeau’s family friend the Aga Khan accountable for secret lobbying, and increased enforcement of the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct;
  7. The Liberals ignored all of the recommendations made in the unanimous June 2017 House Committee report for key changes to strengthen the federal whistleblower protection system, and;
  8. PM Trudeau and his Cabinet used a secretive, dishonest, Cabinet-controlled process to appoint the new Ethics Commissioner, and the new Lobbying Commissioner, and;
  9. As former Information Commissioner concluded at the end of her term, the Trudeau Liberals have made the federal government more secretive.

As well, PM Trudeau and his Cabinet ministers have been involved in the following scandals, all marked by excessive secrecy:

  1. The secret trips to the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas;
  2. Finance Minister Bill Morneau secretly owning $30 million in shares in his family’s company Morneau Shepell Inc.;
  3. Keeping it secret how many lobbyists have helped organize fundraising events for the Liberals (Barry Sherman of Apotex Inc., and Mickey MacDonald of Clearwater Seafoods, are not likely the only ones);
  4. Giving preferential access to the PM and Cabinet ministers to secret “bundler” fundraisers;
  5. The secret effort to influence the Attorney General’s decision concerning the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin;
  6. Failing to prevent Kevin Lynch from secretly lobbying Michael Wernick;
  7. Keeping the identities secret of executives and others connected to SNC-Lavalin who donated to the Liberals through an illegal scheme, and;
  8. Keeping it a secret that the Ethics Commissioner’s senior lawyer is the sister-in-law of Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

Tens of thousands of voters have sent letters through Democracy Watch’s Open Government Campaign and Protect Whistleblowers Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign calling on the Liberals to make many key changes to stop excessive government secrecy, protect whistleblowers, and stop secret lobbying. Democracy Watch also signed the open letter issued in 2017 by a global coalition of organizations and individuals calling for open government changes.

The only positive changes the Trudeau government has made are mainly in the area of open data by making information that was already public easier to access; making MPs’ expense reports more accessible; making it easier to file and track access to information requests, and; making details about some fundraising events public through Bill C-50 that came into force last December.

“The Trudeau Liberals have broken most of their open government promises, made the federal government more secretive, failed to make key changes to protect whistleblowers and stop secret lobbying, and been involved in many scandals marked by excessive secrecy, and that’s why they deserve a failing grade in the area of open government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Part-time Professor of law and politics at the University of Ottawa. “Given that the federal open government, whistleblower protection and lobbying laws have been reviewed several times in the past 15 years, and that there is a consensus on key changes that must be made, the Liberals have no excuses for failing to make these 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 Open Government Campaign, Protect Whistleblowers Campaign, Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign

 

Failure by Liberals to strengthen laws mean next election will be full of false online election ads and claims, privacy invasions will continue

Liberals could make election and privacy laws stronger before fall if they introduced a bill right away, but likely will continue protecting their friends at social media companies and their own data mining of voters’ personal information

Tens of thousands of Canadians have called for key legal changes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, as the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy meets in Ottawa, Democracy Watch highlighted key problems with the changes made by Bill C-76 (which became law in December), and the federal government’s initiatives announced in January and earlier this week, that together don’t do enough to stop fake online election ads or false claims about candidates, or to protect voters’ privacy. Bill C-76 actually weakened the rule on false claims about candidates.

The Trudeau Liberals’ actions so far protect their friends at social media companies, and their own data mining of voters’ private information, and will make the fall 2019 federal election more like the 2016 U.S. Presidential election – more dishonest and dominated by wealthy interests running false ad campaigns aimed at trying to undermine the election.

Almost 90,000 Canadians have supported Democracy Watch’s campaign to stop big money in Canadian politics, and more than 17,000 Canadians have either signed Democracy Watch’s online petition on Change.org or its letter-writing campaign calling for changes to stop secret, false online election ads or signed its online petition calling for political parties to be covered by the federal privacy law, and other key privacy protection changes.

“Bill C-76 severely weakened the rule that prohibits false claims about candidates, more than doubles the spending limit for wealthy interest groups and doesn’t do enough to stop false, online election ads, false election promises or big money donations,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law, and Political Studies, at the University of Ottawa. “As a result, the fall 2019 federal election will be more dishonest, unfair and driven by wealthy interest groups, much like the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

“The federal government’s panel set up in January to watch for activities that disrupt the election lacks independence as it’s made up of five people that the Trudeau Cabinet handpicked,” said Conacher. “The government’s planned education campaign is a charade as it is impossible for any voter to be expert enough in every issue to know that any election ad makes a false claim, and the Liberals keep saying they expect good behaviour from social media companies instead of laws to require good behaviour.”

As CTV detailed in March 2017, the Liberal Party uses Data Sciences Inc., run by Prime Minister Trudeau’s friend Tom Pitfield, for its data management of the private, personal information it gathered on Canadian voters. And as CTV in that article, and also Maclean’s magazine detailed in October 2017, Mr. Pitfield also heads up the think tank Canada 2020, which has Facebook and Google as partners (see logos at bottom of page) and executives from Facebook Canada and Google Canada as advisers.

As the Ottawa Citizen detailed in May 2018, Liberal Party-connected lobbyists and executives work for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, while their friends and/or former colleagues worked for Trudeau Cabinet ministers.

“If the Trudeau Liberals actually want to ensure that the fall election is fair and democratic, they should introduce a short, simple bill next week to reverse the bad, weak changes made by Bill C-76 – the bill should prohibits all false claims and false promises, lower donation limits, reverse the increase in interest group ad spending, require all media and social media companies to disclose to the Commissioner of Canada Elections all election-related ads from July on, and empower the Commissioner to delete any false ad from social media,” said Conacher. “A separate short, simple bill could also be easily passed in the next month to extend the privacy law to political parties, and increase penalties for privacy invasions to levels that will actually discourage violations by the parties and social media companies with tens of billions in annual profits.”

“All parties should support the introduction and quick passage of these two simple, short bills by the end of June to ensure the fall election is fair and democratic, and to ensure the privacy of Canadians is protected,” said Conacher.

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

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

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

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

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



Backgrounder on Key Fair Federal Election Changes

(Democracy Watch, May 29, 2019)

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

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

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

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

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

The House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics issued its report in December 2018 on stopping secret, false online election ads, and protecting voters’ privacy, and recommendations 1-3, 6-8, 10, 19, 22-24 match the changes that Democracy Watch has been calling for in these areas.

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

  1. Bill C-76 does nothing to strengthen subsection 482(b) of the Canada Elections Act, which prohibits false election promises by parties and candidates but needs to be strengthened because the Commissioner of Canada Elections negligently refuses to enforce it. The Commissioner responded to Democracy Watch’s complaint about Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau baiting voters with his false promise of electoral reform during the 2015 election with a decision refusing to enforce the rule;
  2. Bill C-76 also makes more false claims about candidates legal by narrowing the rule that prohibit false claims (section 91 of the Canada Elections Act). The current rule prohibits any false claim “in relation to the personal character or conduct of a candidate or prospective candidate.” Bill C-76 narrows the rule so it only covers false claims that these people (or a party leader or officials) violated the law or have been charged or investigated for a violation, and false claims about the citizenship, place of birth, education, professional qualifications or membership in a group or association of these people. Senators tried to amend Bill C-76 to restore the broader rule but the amendment was rejected.

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

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

To see details, click here.

Democracy Watch testified at the Committee’s hearings on Bill C-76 in June 2018 and highlighted all these serious flaws in the bill, along with 20 or so other changes needed to ensure fair, democratic elections and strong enforcement that Democracy Watch submitted to Special Committee on Electoral Reform and to the government in fall 2016.