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14 groups with 1 million+ supporters call on federal Lobbying Commissioner to stop gutting ethical lobbying rules

Commissioner’s proposed new Code would allow lobbyists to fundraise and campaign for politicians, and then lobby them soon after

Current lobbying cooling-off period is 5 years (which is still too short)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, June 23, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch and 13 other citizen organizations, and also David Suzuki and Alan Broadbent, called in a joint public letter on federal Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger to stop trying to gut the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by changing key rules in ways that will allow corrupt favour-trading in federal politics that has been illegal since 1997.

The letter is co-signed by DWatch and the following 13 groups with supporters totalling more than one million Canadians: B.C. Civil Liberties Association; Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies; Centre for Free Expression; Climate Action Network; Dogwood; Ecology Action Centre; Leadnow; MakeWay; OpenMedia; Prevent Cancer Now; Sierra Club B.C.; Stand.earth and; Unlock Democracy Canada.

A total of more than 17,000 voters have also signed on to Democracy Watch’s petition on Change.org or its letter-writing campaign calling on the Commissioner to stop gutting the Code, and also for key changes to stop all secret, unethical lobbying.

Democracy Watch has also filed separately its third submission in the Commissioner’s consultation process that addresses all of the Commissioner’s proposed changes to the Code. In addition to calling for all the changes in the joint letter, DWatch’s third submission also calls for an anti-avoidance rule to be put in the Code, and for a stronger honesty requirement to prevent all misinformation in lobbying, and a stronger rule to prevent multiple gifts and wining and dining of politicians by many lobbyists working at the same firm or on the same lobbying effort.

“Groups with more than one million supporters are jointly calling on the federal Commissioner of Lobbying to do the right thing and stop gutting key lobbying ethics rules in ways that will allow for corrupt favour-trading in federal politics that has been illegal since 1997,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Lobbying Commissioner is contradicting herself by proposing new rules to ban lobbyists from giving gifts and hospitality worth more than $30 annually, while gutting other rules to allow lobbyists to raise thousands of dollars and campaign for politicians and then lobby the politicians for return favours soon afterwards.”

Since 1997 when the Lobbyists’ Code became federal law, it has been illegal for a registered lobbyist to do anything for, or give anything to, a federal politician, political staff person, government official or employee that would create even the appearance of a conflict of interest, including fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party and then lobbying them soon afterwards. Huge loopholes in the federal Lobbying Act unfortunately allow for secret, unregistered lobbying that is not covered by the Code’s rules.

Former Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd, forced by a unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling won by Democracy Watch in 2009, set a five-year cooling-off period under the Code that prohibited lobbying after fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party (Click here to see archive doc re: the Commissioner’s five-year rule, in “The risk diminishes with time” subsection).

Five years is still much too short, as the appearance of a conflict of interest continues for much longer, but it at least prohibits registered lobbyists from lobbying politicians they had helped until after the next election. The Lobbying Act also prohibits former office holders from being a registered lobbyist for five years after they leave office (Click here to see the five-year rule in section 10.11 of the Act).

Now, in her proposed new Code made public a few weeks ago, Commissioner Bélanger is gutting that rule and proposing new rules that will allow lobbyists to lobby politicians and parties soon after they fundraise or campaign for them – right after or one or two years later, depending on how much they fundraise or help the politician or party, and possibly an even shorter cooling-off period if the Commissioner grants a reduction. Click here to see the Commissioner’s proposed new Code Rule 6 and, in the Appendix, the “Political Work” section which sets out specific rules related to Rule 6’s no time, and one- and two-year prohibitions.

Commissioner Bélanger’s proposed new Rule 6 blatantly contradicts the proposed new Objectives and Expectations sections, and proposed Rules 5, 7.1 and 7.2, in the new Code, all of which strictly prohibit lobbying when there is even an appearance of a conflict of interest. New Rule 6 also blatantly contradicts proposed new Rules 3 and 4 that prohibit lobbyists giving gifts or hospitality worth more than $30 annually.

Proposed new Rule 6 also blatantly contradicts the 5-year prohibition in the Lobbying Act on lobbying by ministers, their staff and MPs after they leave their position. By legalizing lobbyists lobbying politicians they have fundraised or campaigned for, proposed new Rule 6 will also make it legal under federal ethics rules for Cabinet ministers and MPs to make decisions that return the favours that lobbyists have done for them.

The joint letter from Democracy Watch and the 13 organizations calls on the Commissioner to do the right thing by:

  1. keeping in the Code the current rule that prohibits lobbying anytime there is an appearance of a conflict of interest;
  2. increasing the cooling-off period from 5 years up to 10 years during which a lobbyist is prohibited from lobbying after significant fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party (instead of lowering it to 1-2 years as the Commissioner proposes);
  3. creating a new category of lower-level political activity with a 5-year cooling-off period;
  4. allowing lobbying right away only if the lobbyist only canvasses or volunteers no more than a couple of times during a campaign, and;
  5. not allowing any reductions of the cooling-off periods.

See Backgrounder for more details.

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign

Appeal court should find Ford government’s third-party ad spending limits, and his notwithstanding clause, unconstitutional

DWatch intervening in this week’s appeal court hearing to argue that limits are needed for democratic, fair elections, but limits also need to be democratic

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, June 15, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it is intervening in the online court hearing today and tomorrow on whether the Ford government’s limits on third-party ad spending for 12 months before each election are unconstitutional.

Democracy Watch is scheduled to present its arguments today, Wednesday, June 15th, in the afternoon. The media and the public can obtain the Zoom link for the hearing by emailing [email protected], Appeals Scheduling Officer (Tel: 416-327-4217). The case is court file numbers C70178, C70197, C70212 – Working Families Coalition (Canada) Inc. v. Attorney General of Canada [LOLG-DMS.FID117928]. Crawford Smith of the law firm LOLG will present Democracy Watch’s intervention, assisted by Matthew Law and Patrick Wodhams.

Unlike the unions who filed the court case, and other intervenors, Democracy Watch is arguing that limits on third-party interest group ad spending between elections can be constitutional if the limits are democratic, established democratically, and based on the actual cost of reaching voters through advertising on any issue.

In contrast, the limits set by the Ford government Bill 307 allow a wealthy individual voter, or a private corporation with only a few shareholders, to spend $600,000 on issue ads – the same amount as a citizen group with tens of thousands of voters. That’s not democratic – individual voters and private corporations should have a much lower spending limit than broad-based citizen groups. Also, the Ford government did not study the actual cost of reaching voters on any issue – the government just imposed an arbitrary limit based on the arbitrary limit set in 2017 by the Wynne government.

The Ford government’s spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election should be ruled unconstitutional by the appeal court because they are undemocratic, arbitrary, and were rammed through the legislature without proper study or consultation,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “Restricting massive ad campaigns by wealthy interest groups and individuals in the months leading up to an election is a good, democratic idea, as the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, as is prohibiting huge ad campaigns by wealthy individuals and lobby groups all the time, but an independent commission should be set up to study the actual costs of reaching voters to ensure the spending limit is realistic, and the limit should be much higher for citizen groups that have lots of supporters than it is for an individual voter or private business.”

The court should also rule that it was undemocratic and illegal for Doug Ford to invoke the notwithstanding clause to impose his arbitrary restrictions,” said Conacher.

Ford first imposed the limits last April in Bill 254 which was introduced without any consultation with opposition parties or stakeholders. However, in a case filed by several unions, the limits were struck down by Ontario’s Superior Court in June for unreasonably restricting Charter free expression rights (Charter s. 2(b)).

Then, in just a few days, despite many calling for a re-consideration of the limits, including Democracy Watch backed by 35,000 Ontario voters, Ford’s PC Party introduced and passed Bill 307 to impose the limits again, and included the notwithstanding clause in the bill in an attempt to prevent anyone from challenging the limits in court. However, several unions again challenged the limits as a violation of the right of voters under Charter s. 3 to play a meaningful role in elections. The notwithstanding clause cannot be used to shield violations of s. 3 from court challenges. The court upheld the new rules last December, resulting in the current appeal.

Bill 254 rigged Ontario’s political finance system in favour of Ford’s PC Party

The Ford government’s Bill 254 also doubled the annual donation limit, allowing wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians. According to Democracy Watch’s analysis of preliminary data from Elections Ontario’s donations database, in 2021 Ford’s PC Party received 63% of its donations from only 25% of donors who each donated $1,000 or more. The other main parties’ top 2021 donors also provided disproportionate amount of funding, and all the parties’ top donors provided much higher amounts than in 2020.

“Doubling the donation limit as the Ford government’s Bill 254 did allows wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, especially given that the full identity and associations of donors is not disclosed, and benefits Ford’s party the most,” said Conacher. “The only way to stop the unethical, undemocratic influence of big money on Ontario politics is to limit donations to $100 or less, like Quebec has, which is an amount an average voter can afford.”

Bill 254 also extended and increased the annual per-vote funding for parties. Democracy Watch’s analysis, contained in its Bill 254 submission, revealed that the provincial per-vote funding system provides on average half to two-thirds of each of the four main parties’ annual funding. Combined with the tax credits that donors receive, it adds up to too high public funding for parties and candidates.

“An independent commission is needed to study the actual costs of running parties and riding associations are and then, only if parties and candidates can prove they need it, public funding should be adjusted to reflect those actual costs, and to ensure the funding is fair and based on actual voter support,” said Conacher.

The only good parts in Bill 254 were the measures allowing independent candidates to raise money before election campaigns begins (however, more disclosure must be required of donations and spending of such candidates), and the measures giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to fine violators of Ontario’s election law.

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign

Lobbying Commissioner gutting lobbying ethics rules to allow for corrupt favour-trading that has been illegal since 1997

Commissioner’s proposed new Code would allow lobbyists to fundraise and campaign for politicians, and then lobby them 1 to 2 years later

Current lobbying cooling-off period is 5 years (which is still too short) – Commissioner also backs off on clearly prohibiting lying by lobbyists

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, June 14, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on federal Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger to stop trying to gut the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by changing key rules in ways that will allow corrupt favour-trading in federal politics.

Since 1997 when the Lobbyists’ Code became federal law, it has been illegal for a registered lobbyist to do anything for, or give anything to, a federal politician, political staff person, government official or employee that would create even the appearance of a conflict of interest, including fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party and then lobbying them soon afterwards. Huge loopholes in the federal Lobbying Act unfortunately allow for secret, unregistered lobbying that is not covered by the Code’s rules.

Former Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd, forced by a unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling won by Democracy Watch in 2009, set a five-year cooling-off period under the Code that prohibited lobbying after fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party (Click here to see archive doc re: the Commissioner’s five-year rule, in “The risk diminishes with time” subsection).

Five years is still much too short, as the appearance of a conflict of interest continues for much longer, but it at least prohibits registered lobbyists from lobbying politicians they had helped until after the next election. The Lobbying Act also prohibits former office holders from being a registered lobbyist for five years after they leave office (Click here to see the five-year rule in section 10.11 of the Act).

Now, in her proposed new Code made public two weeks ago, Commissioner Bélanger is gutting that rule and proposing new rules that will allow lobbyists to lobby politicians and parties soon after they fundraise or campaign for them – one or two years after, depending on how much they fundraise or help the politician or party, and possibly an even shorter cooling-off period if the Commissioner grants a reduction. Click here to see the Commissioner’s proposed new Code Rule 6 and, in the Appendix, the “Political Work” section which sets out specific rules related to Rule 6’s one- and two-year prohibitions.

Commissioner Bélanger first proposed to shorten the cooling-off period to one to two years in her December 2021 draft of the new proposed Code. Big businesses and unions pushed for even shorter cooling-off periods, and Commissioner Bélanger has rolled over like a lapdog and given them what they want by adding to proposed Rule 6 in the new draft Code the possibility that she can reduce the cooling-off period.

Commissioner Bélanger’s proposed new Rule 6 blatantly contradicts the proposed new Objectives and Expectations sections, and proposed Rules 5, 7.1 and 7.2, in the new Code, all of which strictly prohibit lobbying when there is even an appearance of a conflict of interest. New Rule 6 also blatantly contradicts proposed new Rules 3 and 4 that prohibit lobbyists giving gifts or hospitality worth more than $30 annually.

Commissioner Bélanger has also backed off from requiring lobbyists to be honest always. In her December 2021 draft of the proposed new Code, Rule 2 clearly prohibited lobbyists making false claims to office holders and the public. In her latest draft, Rule 2 is much less clear.

“The federal Lobbying Commissioner is proposing to gut key lobbying ethics rules in ways that will allow for corrupt favour-trading in federal politics that has been illegal since 1997,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Lobbying Commissioner is also contradicting herself by proposing new rules to ban lobbyists from giving gifts and hospitality worth more than $30 annually, while gutting other rules to allow lobbyists to raise thousands of dollars and campaign for politicians and parties to help them win the priceless gift of power.”

By changing the rules, Commissioner Bélanger is also trying to negate the effect of an upcoming Federal Court ruling on two cases Democracy Watch filed in August 2020. The cases challenge the Commissioner’s rulings that let lobbyists Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) off even though they co-chaired Chrystia Freeland’s 2015 election campaign, and served in her riding association, and then lobbied her office. The ruling will determine whether the Commissioner failed to enforce the current Code rules.

“Commissioner Bélanger not only has an equally bad record as past lobbying lapdogs, she is now proposing to change some of the rules she enforces to try to avoid being found guilty of failing to enforce those rules,” said Conacher. “The lobbying law needs to be changed to close huge loopholes that allow for secret, unethical lobbying, and to require effective enforcement by the Commissioner.”

Commissioner Bélanger gave no hint in her initial consultation in December 2020 on possible Lobbyists’ Code changes that she was planning to gut these key rules in the Code to roll back ethics standards for federal lobbyists 25 years in ways that will, once again, allow for rampant unethical lobbying. Democracy Watch filed a submission in December 2020, and a second submission in February 2022, both calling for key changes to strengthen key Lobbyists’ Code rules, and enforcement.

“It is unfortunately not surprising that Commissioner Bélanger is trying to gut key federal ethics rules for lobbyists, given that she was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, dishonest process that the Federal Court of Appeal ruled was biased,” said Conacher.

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign

Ontarians should not be surprised at low voter turnout in provincial election

Voting system, dishonesty and lack of key democratic reform promises and measures, and failure of Elections Ontario to inform voters of right to decline their ballot, are likely reasons for lowest turnout in the province’s history

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, June 6, 2022

TORONTO – Today, Democracy Watch called for democratic changes to Ontario’s political system in response to the clear crisis of low voter turnout in the provincial election. Initial results show that the PC Party won a majority of 83 of 124 seats with the support of only 17.5% of eligible voters, and didn’t even release an election platform, which raises serious questions about their mandate to govern, let alone to implement any specific law or policy.

Only 43% of eligible voters cast a ballot, the lowest turnout ever, and 41% of the ballots cast were for the PC Party.

“With less than half of eligible voters casting ballots in the Ontario election, the lowest turnout ever, alarm bells should be going off and questions raised about the legitimacy of the provincial government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “More and more voters know from their experience of the past few decades of elections that they are not going to get what they vote for, and are likely to get dishonest, secretive, unethical, unrepresentative and wasteful government no matter who they vote for, and as a result no one should be surprised to see voter turnout at such a low level.”

“Voter turnout will go up significantly only if the voting system is changed, if the parties make changes to require everyone in politics to be honest, ethical, open and waste-preventing, and if Elections Ontario does its job properly and informs Ontarians of their right to decline their ballot,” said Conacher.

Ontario’s parties must work together to make the following changes if they want to increase voter turnout up to the past modern high of 65% (in 1990) let alone 73% (in 1971):

  • pass an honesty-in-politics law that gives voters an easy, low-cost way to file complaints to the Integrity Commissioner, and requires the Commissioner the power to penalize misleaders (and requires MPPs who switch parties in-between elections to resign and run in a by-election);
  • change the voting system to provide a more accurate representation of the popular vote in the seats held by each party in the legislature (as in many other countries) while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, voters in each riding/constituency (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with a low-level, narrow-base of support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in the legislature);
  • instead of having the right to decline your ballot (which Ontarians and voters in three other provinces have, but it has to be done verbally which violates the right to a secret ballot), voters should have the right to vote “none of the above” and to give a reason on election and by-election ballots (as was recommended 25 years ago by Elections Canada);
  • strengthen provincial political ethics, political finance, lobbying, open government, whistleblower protection, and government spending and accountability laws (the Green Party received only a C- as the best grade of overall bad grades in DWatch’s Report Card on the Parties’ Democracy and Accountability Platforms), and;
  • Mandate Elections Ontario to spend the $4 million or so it spends each election on voter education on ads that include the following two key messages – the real reasons to vote which DWatch’s partner organization Democracy Education Network includes in its VoteParty.ca and VotePromise.ca voter turnout initiatives:
    1. “You never know when your vote may count” — with examples from past elections, and from specific ridings in various elections, which show clearly that election results cannot be predicted in advance, and;
    2. “If you don’t vote, you don’t count” — making it clear that politicians don’t really care about you if you don’t vote because non-voters do not help them get elected or defeated.

As well, Elections Ontario again violated the provincial election law by failing to inform voters about their right to decline the ballot, and failing to include the total of declined ballots in its election results report. Democracy Watch is planning to file a court application asking for a declaration that Elections Ontario is required to inform voters of their right to decline their ballot.

These changes would give voters many more reasons to vote because they would know that voting for a specific party would mean their vote would count, and the party’s promises would be kept, and they would be more assured of democratic good government overall no matter which party won. As well, moving the fixed election date to the last Monday in October would make it easier for people with kids, and students, to follow and participate in the election campaign and have the identification needed to vote.

These problems exist in all the provinces and territories across Canada. All of these changes should be made by the federal and provincial and territorial governments, and for their municipalities, before mandatory voting is even considered because forcing voters to vote creates false legitimacy for political parties and politicians (and mandatory voting must never be implemented unless “none of the above” is one of the options on the ballot). Internet voting should also not even be considered currently given it would dangerously undermine the integrity of the voting system.

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

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting Systems Campaign

Democracy Watch again calls on RCMP and prosecutors to issue update on investigation into obstruction of SNC-Lavalin prosecution by Trudeau Cabinet officials

RCMP recently disclosed documents about investigation into Trudeau’s Aga Khan trip gift under Access to Information Act – must disclose same documents about SNC-Lavalin investigation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the second letter it has sent calling on the RCMP and Crown prosecutors to issue a full, public explanation of the state of the investigation into the allegation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Finance Minister Bill Morneau, some members of their staff, and former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick obstructed justice by pressuring then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. Democracy Watch sent a letter with the same request in February 2021.

The letter sets out several reasons why the public deserves, and has a right to, a public explanation of all decisions concerning the investigation, and any decisions concerning prosecutions. One of the main reasons is that three years have passed since the situation was first made public, and many of the facts of the situation have also been known for almost two years, and so an update is long overdue. As well, the RCMP recently disclosed documents under the Access to Information Act explaining its decisions concerning its investigation into the Aga Khan’s trip gift to Trudeau and his family.

“Given the evidence, and that three years have passed since the situation was made public, and almost two years since the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling revealed many of the facts concerning Prime Minister Trudeau and other government officials pressuring the Attorney General, the public has a right to an update on the RCMP’s investigation, and any decisions that have been made concerning prosecuting anyone involved in the situation,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. “The RCMP recently disclosed documents under federal access to information law about its investigation of the Aga Khan’s trip gift to Trudeau and his family, and so it can, and must, also disclose the same documents about its investigation of the SNC-Lavalin scandal.”

“Are the RCMP and prosecutors waiting for a third federal election to pass, or doing what often happens in Canada when powerful politicians and government officials are involved in alleged illegal activities – delaying with the hope that they can eventually bury the results of the investigation?” said Conacher.

Other reasons set out in the letter why the RCMP’s silence on the situation since August 2019 is unacceptable, include:

  1. Obstruction of justice is a serious criminal offence.
  2. Obstruction of justice is even more serious when committed behind closed doors by government politicians and officials, as it is then also an act of government corruption.
  3. As summarized in the letter, all of the elements needed to prove obstruction of justice (subsection 139(2) of the Criminal Code) are present in the actions of the Prime Minister and others as they pressured the Attorney General multiple times to stop the prosecution.
  4. Concerning intent, federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded in 284 of his August 2019 ruling that “Mr. Trudeau knowingly sought to influence Ms. Wilson-Raybould both directly and through the actions of his agents.”
  5. Many legal and political experts dispute the claim by the Clerk of the Privy Council, and Prime Minister Trudeau, that it is proper for Cabinet to refuse to waive Cabinet confidence and prohibit the RCMP (and the Ethics Commissioner) from seeing all documents and records concerning the actions of the Prime Minister and the other government officials in this situation, and prohibit all government witnesses to provide full testimony, as can be seen in a September 13, 2019 Globe article.
  6. Prosecutors in Canada have, in recent years, usually provided public explanations of investigation and prosecution decisions in such cases (for example, B.C. special prosecutors in several recent cases, and the Commissioner of Canada Elections concerning the robocalls situation).

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Unfair Law Enforcement Campaign

2021 donations show Ford PC Party supported most by wealthy donors – Ford made Ontario political finance system more undemocratic

Other main parties’ top donors also provided too-high amount of funding

Ford doubled donation limit in spring 2021, allowing wealthy donors to buy even more influence over parties and politicians, especially Ford’s PC Party

To make system democratic and ethical, donations and loans should be limited to $100 annually (as in Quebec) and per-vote funding should be reviewed to prove it is needed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, May 31, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its analysis showing that the Doug Ford PC Party’s doubling of Ontario’s political donation limit in spring 2021 (to $3,300 annually) has made the system even more undemocratic, especially because the PC Party is supported more now by wealthy donors than they were before, and more than the other three parties.

According to preliminary data from Elections Ontario’s donations database, in 2021 Ford’s PC Party received 63% of its donations from only 25% of donors who each donated $1,000 or more. In 2020 the amounts were lower, as the PCs received almost 50% of their donations from only 20% of their donors who each donated $1,000 or more.

The other main parties’ top 2021 donors also provided disproportionate amount of funding, and much higher amounts than in 2020. The Ontario Liberals received almost 50% of their donations from only 8% of their donors who donated $1,000 or more (in 2020 the figures were 15% and 5%); the Greens received 51% of their total from only 21.4% of their donors who each donated $1,000 or more (in 2020 the figures were 14.5% and 2.8%). The NDP received 30% of their total donations from only 2.7% of their donors (in 2020 the figures were 8% and 1.5%).

The Ford government’s Bill 254, enacted in May 2021, doubled the annual donation limit, which has allowed wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, including by having business executives and their family members all make donations.

“Ontario’s undemocratic, unethical donation limit is much higher than the average voter can afford and the parties are relying on wealthy donors for a lot of the money they raise, which gives those wealthy donors unethical influence over the parties,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “The Ford PC Party’s doubling of the donation limit has created a pay to play, cash-for-access system that allows wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians.”

Based on the donation patterns in 2020, Democracy Watch and the Money in Politics Coalition (made up of 50 groups with a total of more than 3 million members), joined by thousands of Ontario voters who support the call for these changes, called on Ontario’s political parties to make the following changes to get big money out of Ontario politics finally:

  1. set an individual donation limit of $100 per year (as in Quebec);
  2. set a limit of what candidates can give to their own campaign of $100 per year;
  3. prohibit loans to parties except from a public fund;
  4. review the per-vote annual public funding and, if the parties can actually prove they need it, set it at most $1 per vote (and instead use annual donation-matching public funding if parties prove it is needed as that is a better system), and;
  5. strengthen enforcement and penalties for violations.

Democracy Watch also called on Elections Ontario to conduct an audit to ensure that businesses are not funneling donations through their executives and family members, and to ensure that lobbyists are not holding fundraising events to be “bundlers” of donations as a way of having undue influence over parties or politicians.

To see a summary of donation funneling scandals across Canada, click here.

“Ontario’s too-high donation limit is also likely encouraging funneling of donations from businesses through their executives and employees and their families, and bundling of donations by lobbyists, both of which happened in Quebec and at the federal level, and Elections Ontario must conduct an audit to ensure these things are not happening,” said Conacher.

Years of experience and scandals across Canada show clearly that setting a donation limit that allows individuals to donate more than $1,000 each year allows the unethical influence of big money donations, and cash-for-access fundraising schemes, to continue.

“As donation scandals across Canada show clearly, the only way to stop the unethical, undemocratic influence of money in Ontario politics is to stop big money donations by allowing only individuals to donate only $100 a year,” said Conacher.

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign

Doug Ford’s PC Party has very unethical, undemocratic F fail record in past four years, Report Card

PC Party’s F fail grade for 2022 election platform shows voters should not get fooled again

Green Party receives overall C- best grade, Liberals and NDP both receive a D, in Report Card on parties’ 2022 election platforms

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, May 30, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch issued its Report Card on the Doug Ford PC Party’s seriously unethical and undemocratic record since it was elected in 2018, and its Report Card on the Ontario Parties’ 2022 Democracy and Accountability Platforms (To see the criteria and grading system used to assess the parties, click here).

Democracy Watch gives the Ford PC Party government an F fail grade for the past four years because of 25 seriously unethical and undemocratic actions (To see the list of 25 bad actions, click here).

The Ford PC Party’s 2022 platform also received an F fail grade overall, and in all five areas of the Report Card, as it doesn’t contain any promises for any changes to require Ontario and municipal politicians, lobbyists, government appointees and employees to be honest, ethical, open, representative and waste-preventing.

“Don’t get fooled again Ontario voters, as the Ford PC Party’s dozens of seriously unethical, secretive and undemocratic actions in the past four years, and negligently bad election platform, show clearly that if the PC Party wins the election we’re in for another four years of wasteful, dishonest, unethical, secretive, unrepresentative government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

The other three main Ontario parties have not promised nearly enough changes to reverse the Ford PC Party government’s bad record, or prevent ongoing unethical, secretive and undemocratic actions. The Green Party received a C- as the best grade of overall bad grades for all the parties, while the Liberals and NDP each received a D.

“While the Greens, Liberals and NDP have some key democracy and accountability reforms in their platforms, they unfortunately continue to fail to promise key changes,” said Conacher. “One can only hope that the parties will actually address these concerns when the Ontario legislature opens again so that everyone in Ontario politics will, finally after 155 years, be effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste.”

The lack of an honesty-in-politics law in Ontario means voters should be skeptical of all the parties’ promises, as it is legal for misleaders to bait voters with false election promises.

The three parties had their best grades in the areas of:

  1. Representative Government – as they all promise to change Ontario’s voting system and consult with the public in many policy areas (in contrast to the Ford government’s regular practice of imposing decisions on Ontarians without any consultation), and;
  2. General Accountability – as they all promise to increase the independence and strength of watchdogs over various Ontario industries and sectors (in contrast to the Ford government which has weakened accountability in many industries and sectors).

However, the three parties’ grades were not good in the areas of: Honest, Ethical Government; Open Government, and; Efficient Government.

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 key reforms to stop politicians from abusing their power. Tens of thousands of messages have been sent to Ontario party leaders and politicians through Democracy Watch’s campaigns calling for dozens of key changes needed to ensure fully democratic, ethical, open, representative, waste-preventing and accountable government and politics across Ontario.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Campaigns page


Democracy Watch’s Report Card on the Ontario Parties’ 2022 Democracy and Accountability Platforms


Sources

To see the criteria and grading system used to assess the parties’ platforms, click here

Doug Ford’s Ontario Progressive Conservative Party platform webpage

Mike Schreiner’s Green Party of Ontario platform webpage
(NOTE: See pages 20, 34, 42-43 and 54-55 (and re: General Accountability see pages 11-12, 14-15, 23-24, 26, 31-32, 48, 51 and 53-55 of platform PDF)

Steven Del Duca Ontario Liberal Party platform webpage
(NOTE: See pages 16 and 81 (and re: General Accountability see pages 12, 17, 24, 34, 39, 61, 72-73, 75, 78 and 80) of platform PDF)

Andrea Horwath’s Ontario NDP platform webpage
(NOTE: See pages 85-87 (and re: General Accountability see pages 6, 7, 11, 23, 26, 29-30, 39, 42-43, 61-62, 67, 69-70, 77, 81-82 and 94) of platform PDF)

Appeal of lawsuit against NB Premier’s snap election call in court today

UK Supreme Court set strong precedent by ruling in 2019 that PM Boris Johnson shutting down Parliament was illegal because it violated the sovereignty of Parliament

Case is not to overturn election results – just for ruling that future snap election calls will be illegal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, May 24, 2022

OTTAWA – Democracy Watch announced that its appeal of its lawsuit challenging Premier Blaine Higgs’ advice in August 2020 to the Lieutenant Governor to call the provincial snap election is being heard by the New Brunswick Court of Appeal today in Fredericton (File no. 126-21-CA – hearing at 10 am at: Courtroom #6, 427 Queen St). Jamie Simpson is providing legal counsel to Democracy Watch for the court case.

The case is not aimed at overturning the 2020 election results. Instead, Democracy Watch is arguing the court should declare that Premier Higgs’ action:

  1. violated the fixed election date measure in the Legislative Assembly Act (ss. 3(4));
  2. violated the constitutional principles of the sovereignty of parliament and responsible government (for this reason, the UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2019 that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prorogation of the British Parliament was illegal), and;
  3. violated the constitutional convention that has been created by premiers calling elections only on the fixed date in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

New Brunswick’s legislature enacted its fixed election date measures with Bill 75 in 2007. Then-House Leader Stuart Jamieson said at the time that: “It was thought by both parties in the legislature and by other provinces that it would be better to remove the political nuances and give everybody a fair and even playing field.” Bill 62 in 2017 changed the fixed election date from September to October. The fixed date for the next provincial election was set for the third Monday in October 2022.

“By calling a snap election during a pandemic instead of waiting for the fixed election date in 2022, Premier Higgs acted like an old-school power-hungry politician, not a leader committed to fair and democratic elections and inter-party cooperation,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Premier Higgs’ snap election call was self-interested and unfair, and it violated New Brunswick’s provincial law that fixed election dates, and the good democratic tradition of fixed elections every four years that had developed through the previous three provincial elections.”

“Hopefully the court will rule that the Premier violated the law when he called his self-interested and unfair snap election, which will prevent future snap elections,” said Conacher.

Calling a snap election in violation of a provincial law and a constitutional convention is bad – calling a snap election during a pandemic was even worse. Premier Higgs also used the completely invalid excuse that the three opposition parties refused to agree support the government in every vote until October 2022, or at least until after the pandemic. In a parliamentary system of government, or in any form of democratic government, opposition parties are not required to agree to support the government. In the 2020 election, Premier Higgs’ Progressive Conservative Party won 55% of the seats in the legislature with the support of only 39% of voters.

Snap elections are unfair not only to opposition parties (as they are usually called when having an election favours the ruling party), but also to people who want to run as a candidate but can’t afford to suddenly drop everything and run. That’s why the federal Parliament, and every province and territory, have enacted fixed election date measures. The UK Parliament also enacted such measures.

Justice Christie of New Brunswick’s Court of Queen’s Bench ruled against Democracy Watch’s case last October but, as set out in DWatch’s appeal arguments, the ruling made a false claim about what DWatch’s lawyer argued in the case; made a false claim about what the Federal Court ruled in DWatch’s case vs. Prime Minister Harper’s 2008 snap election call; ignored the UK Supreme Court’s ruling, and; ignored other key legal arguments.

An additional issue that the Court of Appeal will consider is that the Acadian Society of New Brunswick recently won a ruling, that is now being appealed, that the appointment of New Brunswick’s current Lieutenant Governor was unconstitutional because the Lt. Governor is unilingual. If the final ruling in that case nullifies all actions of the Lt. Gov., it would also nullify the 2020 provincial election call (a result that DWatch does not support as it is simply trying to prevent future snap elections). See Democracy Watch’s submission about this issue, as requested by the Court of Appeal.

Because they are illegal, dishonest and unfair, Democracy Watch and Wayne Crookes also went to court to challenge the snap election calls by B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan in September 2020 and by Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau in August 2021, both of which violated fixed election date laws.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign and the Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign

Lawsuit against B.C. Premier’s 2020 snap election call in court today

UK Supreme Court set strong precedent by ruling in 2019 that PM Boris Johnson shutting down Parliament was illegal because it violated the sovereignty of Parliament

Case is not to overturn election – just to have the court rule election call was illegal for same reason as in UK, and because snap election was called one year before the legal fixed election date

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, May 12, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that, after a long delay caused mainly by a backlog in the B.C. courts, the B.C. Supreme Court will hear today and tomorrow its court case filed together with Wayne Crookes, founder of IntegrityBC, challenging Premier John Horgan’s advice to the Lieutenant Governor to call the provincial snap election in September 2020 (B.C. Supreme Court file no. S2010710; the hearing is at the Vancouver courthouse at 800 Smithe St., and starts at 10 am both days).

Emily MacKinnon, Sergio Ortega and Brodie Noga at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP in Vancouver are providing legal counsel to Democracy Watch and Wayne Crookes for the court case.

The case is not aimed at overturning or voiding the election results. Instead, it is aimed at preventing future illegal, unfair snap elections and asks the court to declare that the Premier’s action:

  1. violated the fixed election date measure in B.C.’s Constitution Act;
  2. violated the constitutional principles of the sovereignty of parliament and responsible government (for this reason, the UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2019 that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prorogation of the British Parliament was illegal), and;
  3. violated the constitutional convention that has been created by premiers calling elections only on the fixed date in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017.

B.C. was the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact fixed election date measures with Bill 7 in 2001. The B.C. NDP showed it was in favour of fixed election dates when it introduced Bill 5 in 2017 to change the fixed election date from May to October. The fixed date for the next provincial election was set for the third Saturday in October 2021.

“By calling a snap election during a pandemic instead of waiting for the fixed election date, Premier Horgan acted like an old-school power-crazed politician, not a new democrat committed to fair and democratic elections,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The B.C. legislature wanted to keep operating when the Premier called the snap election, and no single MLA, not even the Premier, has the right to shut down the legislature for no good reason, as the UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2019.”

“Hopefully the B.C. courts will rule that the Premier violated the law when he called his self-interested, hypocritical and unfair snap election, which will prevent snap elections in the future,” said Conacher.

Calling a snap election in violation of B.C.’s constitution is bad – Premier Horgan calling a snap election during the COVID pandemic was even worse. Elections B.C. was forced by Premier Horgan’s cynical power grab-scheme to issue 16 emergency orders to change how polling stations will run and people will vote, and it will likely hurt voter turnout. Wayne Crookes filed an affidavit in support of the case setting out all the evidence about how bad the snap election call was.

Snap elections are unfair not only to opposition parties (as they are usually called when having an election favours the ruling party, as was the case in B.C.), but also to people who want to run as a candidate but can’t afford to suddenly drop everything and run. That’s why the federal Parliament, and every province and territory, followed B.C.’s lead and enacted fixed election date measures. The UK Parliament has also enacted fixed election date measures.

Because they are illegal, dishonest and unfair, Democracy Watch and Wayne Crookes also went to court to challenge the snap election calls by the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Premier in August 2020, and by Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau in August 2021, both of which violated fixed election date laws.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign and Stop PM/Premier Abuses Campaign

Pierre Poilievre’s investments in cryptocurrency highlight huge loophole in MP ethics code – MPs must ban secret investments

MPs voting today in secret on changes to their own unethical ethics rules

Current code is so full of loopholes it should be called the
“Almost Impossible to be in a Conflict of Interest Code”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, April 26, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch pointed to Pierre Poilievre’s investments in cryptocurrency mutual funds while he advocates for crypto in his Conservative Party leadership campaign, as reported in the media here and here, as highlighting #4 in the list of 10 huge loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons (“MP Code”). Under the MP Code, MPs are allowed to have secret investments in mutual funds (we only know about Poilievre’s investments because he disclosed them) and are allowed to lobby in secret for changes to laws, taxes, subsidies etc. that would increase the value of the companies the funds invest in so that the MP makes money.

“It’s clearly unethical for MPs, or party leadership candidates, to advocate for changes that will help businesses they are invested in, and the ethics rules for MPs, and disclosure rules for candidates, need to be changed to prohibit having secret investments,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

Democracy Watch called on Poilievre and all Conservative Party leadership candidates, all MPs (including Liberal Cabinet ministers – for example Prime Minister Trudeau has a trust with secret investments), and all top government officials, to disclose all their investments, and for MPs to change the MP Code to prohibit MPs from having investments and prohibit secret trusts that hide those investments from the public – the Parker Commission recommended both prohibitions way back in 1987. Investments and secret trusts also need to be prohibited under the Conflict of Interest Act (which covers Cabinet ministers and top government officials) and the Directive on Conflict of Interest for federal government employees.

Democracy Watch also called on MPs on the House Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) to come out from behind closed doors at their meeting today and discuss the 10 loopholes in public, invite further experts, and hold more open meetings, before they vote on changes to the MP Code. The public has a clear right to know how each party’s MPs are voting on Code changes, given the Code sets out key rules on all MPs’ decisions and interactions with voters.

The Committee is undertaking a secretive, rushed, superficial review of the Code for the first time in seven years (two years overdue). It held only three brief public meetings before it first went behind closed doors on Thursday, March 3rd to begin voting on proposed Code changes.

“The MP’s ethics code is so full of loopholes it should be called the Almost Impossible to be in a Conflict of Interest Code, the Ethics Commissioner doesn’t do basic enforcement actions like auditing MPs, and MPs decide whether to penalize other MPs which is a kangaroo court,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “MPs are rushing their first review of their ethics code in seven years behind closed doors and, unless they slow down and do their job properly and publicly, they will likely once again fail to close loopholes or strengthen enforcement or penalties, leaving it open for MPs to continue to corrupt federal politics by being inside lobbyists for their own interests, their investments in big businesses, and the interests of their families and friends.”

Democracy Watch and the Government Ethics Coalition it coordinates, made up of 30 citizen groups from across Canada, filed its submission to PROC on February 27th calling for changes to close huge loopholes in the MP Code that allow MPs to take part in most decisions even when they have a financial conflict of interest, and that allow MPs and their staff to accept unethical gifts and favours, and also calling for key measures to strengthen enforcement and for mandatory penalties to discourage violations.

The Code, which was enacted in 2004, is supposed to be reviewed every five years, but was last reviewed in 2015, and before that in 2008 to 2009, and before that in 2006-2007. The original version of the Code had loopholes in it, a weak enforcement system, and penalties that MPs themselves decide in a “kangaroo court” process, and past reviews by the Committee have added more loopholes, allowing for even more conflicts of interest and unethical favours, or have done nothing to close loopholes or strengthen penalties, and little to strengthen enforcement.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has made six recommendations for changes to the MP Code (and also for nine other technical changes), and while they will all somewhat improve the Code, they completely ignore huge loopholes that allow for unethical decision-making by MPs, and do nothing to strengthen enforcement. As well, Ethics Commissioner Dion has made the self-contradictory claim that the Code is working well and doesn’t need to be reviewed, and issued several highly questionable rulings since he began in January 2018 that allowed clear violations of federal ethics rules. Democracy Watch has an ongoing case in the Federal Court of Appeal challenging Commissioner Dion’s weak ruling that Prime Minister Trudeau didn’t violate the Conflict of Interest Act when he approved the grant in June 2020 to WE Charity, for which his wife served as an ambassador at the time.

All of this is not surprising given Mr. Dion had a record of eight unethical and questionable actions when he was the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, and was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, dishonest process that the Federal Court of Appeal ruled was biased, and given the sister-in-law of Trudeau’s old friend and Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc is the Ethics Commissioner’s senior lawyer (which may explain why the Ethics Commissioner has failed to issue a ruling on whether LeBlanc violated the ethics law by participating in the appointment process for judges in New Brunswick with financial and other connections to him).

“Ethics Commissioner Dion has failed to enforce federal ethics laws effectively, even when the law has been clearly violated, and also made self-contradictory, confusing and unclear statements about the rules,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “It’s clear that the only way to ensure federal ethics rules are enforced effectively is for MPs to require the Ethics Commissioner to issue a clear guideline for every rule, investigate and issue a public ruling on every situation and complaint, and to impose a penalty for every violation.”

Many other changes are needed to other federal laws, including: closing similarly huge loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Act (which applies to Cabinet ministers, staff and appointees) and the Senate Ethics Code; closing huge secret, unethical lobbying loopholes; decreasing the donation and loan limit in the Canada Elections Act to $75 (as the current donation and loan limit of $3,300 is essentially legalized bribery for those who can afford to make the maximum donation); closing huge excessive secrecy loopholes in the federal Access to Information Act; strengthening the whistleblower protection law, and; changing the appointment process for the Ethics Commissioner and other democratic good government watchdogs (given MPs currently have a clear conflict of interest as they choose their own watchdogs) and banning re-appointments (as that gives a watchdog an incentive to please MPs in order to secure a re-appointment).

– 30 –

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

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