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Trudeau Liberals’ appeal of Federal Court ruling ordering Lobbying Commissioner to investigate Aga Khan’s Bahamas trip gift to PM Trudeau in court today

Federal Court ruling also extended lobbying disclosure and ethics rules to many more business, union and organization board members, and expanded Lobbying Commissioner’s investigation mandate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, December 12, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, the Trudeau Liberals’ appeal of the Federal Court ruling that Democracy Watch won at the end of last March that ordered the federal Commissioner of Lobbying to investigate further the Aga Khan’s Bahamas trip gift to Prime Minister Trudeau is being heard by Federal Court of the Appeal in Ottawa. Sebastian Spano is representing Democracy Watch in the appeal, which is Court File #A-159-19.

The Lobbyists’ Code, which the Commissioner enforces, prohibits lobbyists registered under the Lobbying Act from doing anything for, or giving anything to, anyone they are lobbying, and requires compliance with several strongly worded principles.

Former Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd’s secret September 2017 ruling stated even though the Aga Khan was lobbying the PM, and is chair of the Aga Khan Foundation, which is registered to lobby the PM, because someone at the Foundation claimed the Aga Khan wasn’t paid to lobby for it, the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct were not violated.

The Federal Court ruling rejected Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling as “unreasonable” because it was “a narrow, technical, and targeted analysis that is lacking in transparency, justification, and intelligibility when considered in the context the Commissioner’s duties and functions” (para. 146). As a result, the court ordered the Commissioner of Lobbying (now Nancy Bélanger) to re-examine the actions of everyone at the Aga Khan Foundation with “a broad view of the circumstances.”

Democracy Watch is arguing that the Federal Court’s ruling properly required that the Commissioner investigate everyone at the Aga Khan Foundation, especially the senior officer who is required to ensure that everyone at the foundation complies with the lobbying law and code. Democracy Watch also supports the parts of the Federal Court ruling that extended the federal lobbying law and code to cover essentially all board members of businesses, unions and other organizations, and that strengthened the requirement that the Commissioner of Lobbying investigate any situation that raises questions about possible violations.

The Trudeau government, represented by the Attorney General of Canada, is arguing that Commissioner Shepherd’s decision to stop her investigation and clear the Aga Khan was reasonable, and that the Federal Court’s ruling should have respected the Commissioner’s authority and not overruled her decision. The Trudeau government also argues that parts of the Federal Court’s ruling were improper because they extended the lobbying law’s disclosure and enforcement requirements further than Parliament intended.

“By appealing the Federal Court’s ruling, the Trudeau Liberals are wasting taxpayers’ money on protecting Trudeau’s old family friend the Aga Khan from accountability for unethical lobbying,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Trudeau Liberals’ appeal of this case also supports allowing many board members of businesses, unions and other organizations to continue lobbying in secret, and allowing the Lobbying Commissioner to continue her negligently weak enforcement of the federal lobbying law and code.”

The Federal Court ruling also greatly broadened the scope of the Lobbying Act to cover board members of businesses and other organizations who are compensated in any way or receive “anything of value” – including even the value of being given a position as a member of board (paras. 134-143). Up to now, the Lobbying Commissioner has interpreted the Act as requiring board members to disclose their lobbying in the Registry of Lobbyists only if they were paid more than their expenses. The Federal Court rejected that narrow interpretation.

The Federal Court’s ruling also required the Commissioner of Lobbying to investigate and issue a public ruling whenever there are “potential compliance questions” (para. 133) concerning the actions of anyone, or any business or organization that relate to the requirements of the Lobbying Act or Lobbyists’ Code (paras. 127-134). In the past, the Lobbying Commissioner has regularly ignored situations that raised such questions.

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch calls on Alberta Ethics Commissioner to rule Minister Doug Schweitzer violated ethics law by appointing Steve Allan as inquiry commissioner

Steve Allan campaigned for Schweitzer, and donated to him directly, and courts and others have ruled that creates a conflict of interest

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, December 11, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to Alberta Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler calling on her to issue a public ruling on Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer recommending the appointment of Steve Allan to a $290,000 job as commissioner heading up the inquiry into foreign-funding of environmental groups, given Allan assisted Minister Schweitzer in his election campaign.

Subsection 2(1) and 3 of Alberta’s Conflicts of Interest Act prohibits a Minister from influencing or taking part in a decision when knowing that the decision might further the interests of a person directly associated with the Minister or improperly further someone else’s interests.

According to a recent CBC article, Steve Allan participated in the invitation for a nomination race campaign event for Minister Schweitzer in July 2018, which was distributed to invitees by Minister Schweitzer’s assistant at Denton’s law firm, where he was a lawyer at the time. Mr. Allan also sent an April 2019 email to several associates urging them to vote for Minister Schweitzer in the Alberta provincial election, an email that said, in part, “If the UCP wins, there is an excellent chance Doug will be in Cabinet.” Mr. Allan also donated $1,000 to Minister Schweitzer’s UCP leadership campaign.

By assisting Minister Schweitzer’s election efforts in these ways, Mr. Allan created a sense of obligation on the part of Minister Schweitzer to return the favour, which recommending Mr. Allan to a position that pay $290,000 definitely did. In this way, Minister Schweitzer improperly further Mr. Allan’s private interests.

As a result, as pages 3-9 of Democracy Watch’s complaint letter set out, based on a 1993 ruling by B.C.’s Conflict of Interest Commissioner about people assisting with a Minister’s election campaign (especially p. 31, and pp. 34-39), and the unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling Democracy Watch won in 2009 (paras. 52-53), and a related federal lobbying rule, and past rulings concerning what are improper actions are by politicians by the federal and Ontario ethics commissioners, Democracy Watch’s position is that Minister Schweitzer violated the Conflict of Interest Act by participating in the appointment of Steve Allan.

Ethics Commissioner Trussler is not required to investigate, but Democracy Watch’s position is that it would be simply negligent for her to fail to do so given the clear evidence that Minister Schweitzer and Mr. Allan are directly associated, and that Mr. Allan provided significant assistance to Minister Schweitzer’s election efforts.

“Given the clear evidence set out in Democracy Watch’s complaint, hopefully Ethics Commissioner Trussler will do the right thing and issue a public ruling very soon finding that Minister Schweitzer violated the provincial ethics law by participating in the decision to appoint Steve Allan as inquiry commissioner,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch calls on Ford Energy Minister Greg Rickford to disclose if he has investments in energy and mining companies, and calls on other ministers and Cabinet staff to disclose their secret investments

Rickford had energy company investments when he was federal natural resources minister – loopholes in Ontario’s ethics law allows such investments, in secret

Rickford cited a climate-change denial blog when defending $231 million cost of dismantling Ontario’s renewable energy sector

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, December 9, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it sent to Greg Rickford, Ontario’s Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, calling on him to disclose whether he has investments in energy and mining companies. When he was federal natural resources minister, Rickford had investments in an elite hedge fund that held shares in the energy companies he oversaw.

In his 2018 Public Disclosure Statement in the Integrity Commissioner’s Public Registry, Minister Rickford said he had received “Director’s Fees” from Noront Resources Ltd., a Canadian mining company that holds 72% of all claims in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire area. Minister Rickford was on the board of Noront in 2017.

Minister Rickford recently cited a climate-change denying blog when defending the $231-million cost to taxpayers of dismantling Ontario’s renewable energy sector by cancelling 758 government contracts. Ontario’s Auditor General recently concluded that the Ford government’s climate change emissions plan will fail, and “did not use best practices.”

Democracy Watch also called on Premier Ford and all his ministers and Cabinet staff to disclose any secret investments they hold in all mutual funds and other securities, as the public has a right to know all their financial conflicts of interest.

Ontario’s government ethics law has a huge loophole that allows Cabinet ministers, Cabinet staff, and MPPs to own shares in a mutual fund in secret, even if the fund invests in companies the minister and/or their staff oversee (See subsection 21(4), para. 9 of the Members’ Integrity Act and subsection 11(2), para. 1 of O.Reg. 382/07 under the Public Service of Ontario Act). The federal government’s ethics law has the same loophole.

“Energy and mines minister Greg Rickford needs to clear the air about whether he is still secretly invested in energy and mining companies, as he was on the board of an Ontario mining company, and he owned energy company stocks when he was federal natural resources ministers, and he recently cited a climate-change denying blog when defending dismantling Ontario’s renewable energy industry at a cost to taxpayers of $231 million,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Premier Ford, his Cabinet ministers, and Cabinet staff must also all come clean about whether they have secret investments in companies – the public has a right to know even though a huge loophole in Ontario’s government ethics law allows them to have secret investments.”

“Like Premier Ford’s trust, any ministers’ so-called blind trust doesn’t do anything to prevent them from helping the companies they are invested in because they know that they own the investments, and they choose their own trustee, and they receive annual updates from the trustee,” said Conacher. “To have an effective government ethics system, politicians, their staff and top government officials must be prohibited from having investments in businesses in any way, and if they can’t sell their investments for any reason they must be prohibited from participating in any decision-making process that affects their investments in any way.”

Democracy Watch recently sent a letter to Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake calling on him to confirm with a clear, strong, public statements that key rules set out in the Preamble of the Act are enforceable. The rules require all MPPs to perform their duties and arrange their private affairs “in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of each member” and to “to act with integrity and impartiality that will bear the closest scrutiny.”

Democracy Watch’s letter also called on Commissioner Wake to issue a clear, strong, public statement calling on the Ontario legislature to change the Act to ban so-called blind trusts because they are a charade (as the Parker Commission recommended in 1987), and to close a huge loophole that means the Act doesn’t apply to 99% of the decisions of MPPs and allows them, the Premier and Cabinet ministers to take part in decisions even when they will profit from the decision.

“Ontario’s ethics law for politicians has huge loopholes that must be closed or it will continue to be almost impossible to be in a conflict of interest that violates the law,” 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: info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch calls for investigation of whether firing of Election Commissioner was an attempt to obstruct justice

Ethics Commissioner has already concluded that Kenney Cabinet ministers with associates being investigated by Election Commissioner violated ethics law if they discussed or voted on Bill 22 firing

Election Commissioner’s investigations of UCP are judicial proceedings, and even an unsuccessful attempt to obstruct violates the Criminal Code

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, December 4, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to the Alberta RCMP through the Edmonton Police Service requesting an investigation, overseen by a special prosecutor, into whether the Kenney Cabinet obstructed justice by firing Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson.

Criminal Code subsection 139(2) prohibits attempting to obstruct, pervert or defeat a judicial proceeding, including by a tribunal like the Election Commissioner (as defined in section 118). The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2011 in the R. v. Barros case that that the prohibition is broad, and that an attempt does not have to succeed to be a violation (para. 46).

According to a Star Edmonton article, in August 2019 Election Commissioner Gibson was investigating Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign for the United Conservative Party (UCP) concerning alleged violations of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act (EFCDA). There has been no public indication from the Election Commissioner that this investigation has concluded. According to an Edmonton Journal article, there are currently 76 complaints to Alberta’s Election Commissioner awaiting assignment.

As of early November 2019, Election Commissioner Gibson had issued more than $188,000 in fines concerning violations of the law during the UCP leadership race, as summarized in this CBC article and this Global News article and this CTV News article.

On November 18, 2019, the Kenney Cabinet introduced Bill 22 which, among other changes, fired Election Commissioner Gibson. The Cabinet shoved the Bill through in only three days. While Premier Kenney and various Cabinet ministers claimed that the change would save money, in fact Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler confirmed that there will be no savings as he intended to appoint a new Election Commissioner, and was requesting more money for investigations in next year’s budget than Commissioner Gibson had proposed.

Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler ruled on November 21, 2019 that Kenney Cabinet ministers and UCP MLAs with associate(s) under investigation by the RCMP or Election Commissioner violated Alberta’s Conflicts of Interest Act if they discussed on voted on Bill 22, as that would further their private interest in escaping penalty by the Election Commissioner. This ruling is a clear indication that their actions warrant investigation, as helping someone escape a penalty for a violation fairly clearly amounts to an intentional obstruction of justice.

The firing of Election Commissioner Gibson was also a clear threat to CEO Resler that ruling against the UCP could cost him his job, as the Kenney Cabinet will decide by next April whether to re-appoint Mr. Resler for another term.

“The Kenney Cabinet firing the Election Commissioner was like firing a top police investigator and a judge to try to stop trials of people associated with the Cabinet,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “As a result, Democracy Watch’s opinion is that an obstruction of justice investigation is warranted because the Kenney Cabinet unethically made false claims about its reasons for firing the Election Commissioner who was investigating Premier Kenney’s leadership campaign for violations and had found several UCP members guilty of violating the law.”

“The Kenney Cabinet firing the Election Commissioner will likely change the outcome of some investigations as interim Commissioner and Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler knows that the Cabinet will be deciding by next April whether he keeps his job for another term,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch called on the RCMP to insist that a special prosecutor be appointed to oversee the investigation, as it is a clear conflict of interest for Attorney General Doug Schweitzer or his deputy minister (who serves at his pleasure) to oversee an investigation of the Kenney Cabinet. The special prosecutor should not be chosen by the Attorney General, his deputy minister, or any Kenney Cabinet minister or deputy minister, as they would all have a conflict of interest in making the appointment.

“A special prosecutor is needed to oversee the investigation of the Kenney Cabinet for possible obstruction of justice, and no Cabinet minister nor anyone who serves at the pleasure of the Cabinet can be involved in choosing the prosecutor as they all have a conflict of interest,” 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: info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Stop Unfair Law Enforcement Campaign

Democracy Watch calls on Ontario Integrity Commissioner to update Premier Ford’s financial interests disclosure, and to impose special measures to ensure the Premier doesn’t help his family companies

So-called “blind” trust is a sham as Premier Ford still knows he owns the companies, and he tried to help clients of his family company when he was a Toronto city councilor – strong fairness monitor and regular audits needed

DWatch also calls on Commissioner to issue public guidelines for key ethics rules, and to recommend strongly that key, unethical loopholes be closed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, November 27, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it sent to Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake calling on him to update Premier Ford’s financial interests disclosure statement immediately, and also impose further conditions on his trust for his family business, and call for key changes to close huge loopholes in the province government’s ethics law.

According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Premier Ford’s family company changed its name to Deco Flexible Packaging Ltd. on August 9, 2019. As well, Premier Ford’s June 7, 2018 Public Disclosure Statement says that he was earning a salary from Deco Adhesive Products (1985) Limited, and from Deco Labels & Tags Ltd.

The Premier is required by subsection 20(4) of the Members’ Integrity Act to update the Integrity Commissioner within 30 days after a change in his and his spouse’s and dependants’ financial interests, and the Integrity Commissioner is responsible for preparing and posting MPPs’ statements in the Public Registry. Accurate statements are key for government officials, the public and the media to be able to monitor for conflicts of interests.

“Premier Ford’s financial interests statement says he is receiving a salary from family businesses under their old company names, and if he failed to update the Integrity Commissioner about the name and any salary changes he should be found guilty of violating the provincial government’s ethics law,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “If Premier Ford did update the Integrity Commissioner about the name change and any salary changes, then the Integrity Commissioner should have updated Premier Ford’s statement immediately.”

Democracy Watch’s letter also calls on Commissioner Wake to use his powers under the Members’ Integrity Act (“Act”) to require Premier Ford to do much more than set up a so-called “blind” trust for his family companies in order to prevent conflicts of interest. Under subsection 12(2) of the Act (referring to clause 11(3)(1)), Commissioner Wake must approve the provisions of any trust to ensure it will actually prevent conflicts of interest.

“A so-called blind trust for Premier Ford doesn’t do anything to prevent him from helping his family companies because he knows that he owns the companies, and he receives updates from his family and trustee about the companies, and so the Integrity Commissioner must impose other strong enforcement measures to ensure Premier Ford and his family’s companies and their clients don’t profit from his or his Cabinet’s decisions,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch called on Commissioner Wake to require a fairness monitor as part of the provisions of Premier Ford’s trust for all government policy-making processes and transactions that directly or indirectly affect Premier Ford’s family companies and/or clients of the companies. Democracy Watch also called on Commissioner Wake, or the fairness monitor, to conduct regular audits of all communications of Premier Ford and staff in his office, to ensure they don’t try to influence decisions to favour his companies or their clients.

These measures are needed not only because Premier Ford’s conflicts of interest won’t be prevented without them, but also because Premier Ford was found guilty of violating Toronto’s ethics code for trying to help his company’s clients when he was a councilor.

“Premier Ford’s past record of violating government ethics rules makes it clear that strict and strong extra measures are needed to ensure he doesn’t try to profit from his decisions as premier,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch’s letter also calls on Commissioner Wake to confirm with a clear, strong, public statements that key rules set out in the Preamble of the Act are enforceable. The rules require all MPPs to perform their duties and arrange their private affairs “in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of each member” and to “to act with integrity and impartiality that will bear the closest scrutiny.”

Finally, Democracy Watch’s letter calls on Commissioner Wake to issue a clear, strong, public statement calling on the Ontario legislature to change the Act to ban so-called blind trusts because they are a charade (as the Parker Commission recommended in 1987), and to close a huge loophole that means the Act doesn’t apply to 99% of the decisions of MPPs and allows them, the Premier and Cabinet ministers to take part in decisions even when they will profit from the decision.

“Ontario’s ethics law for politicians has huge loopholes that must be closed or it will continue to be almost impossible to be in a conflict of interest that violates the law,” 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: info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch calls on Ontario Integrity Commissioner to issue public rulings on lobbyists who helped Ford campaign and fundraising and strategy and now lobby Ford’s Cabinet

Three years after rules changed, Integrity Commissioner has finally issued a guideline on the rule prohibiting lobbyists from lobbying after political activities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, November 14, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake to issue public rulings on lobbyists who worked in senior roles on Doug Ford’s and the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario’s (PC Party) election campaign and/or fundraised for or advised Ford and the PCs since the election, and are now lobbying Ford and/or his Cabinet ministers.

It has been illegal under Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) since July 1, 2016 (when a new rule was enacted) 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.

Sometime since last July when Democracy Watch publicly criticized his negligence in failing to issue a guideline on this rule for the past three years, and since Michelle Renaud, a spokesperson for the Integrity Commissioner was quoted in a Globe and Mail article claiming that the rule does “not lend itself to a generalized interpretation bulletin,” Integrity Commissioner Wake finally issued a Guidance for Lobbyists on Political Activity document.

However, the Guidance document is vague, especially concerning the time period lobbyists must stop lobbying after assisting an election candidate or politician. In contrast, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s Guidance document on lobbyist political activities states clearly that if a lobbyist does anything significant for a politician then they can’t lobby for four years – a “full election cycle.”

The only clue to Integrity Commissioner Wake’s standard for a cooling-off period for a lobbyist who assists a politician are that Chris Froggatt, who was vice-chair of Ford’s and the PC Party’s election campaign, told the Globe last July that he was advised by the Integrity Commissioner to refrain from lobbying for one year after the Ford government took power. And in that same Globe article Kory Teneycke, who also played a senior role in the PC’s election campaign, was paraphrased as saying the Integrity Commissioner had advised him not to lobby the Premier, his office or the Cabinet office. Both Froggatt and Teneycke also continue to serve as senior advisers to Premier Ford and the PC Party.

The Integrity Commissioner claimed in his 2018-2019 Annual Report (p. 47) that the advisory opinions he gives to lobbyists under section 15 of the LR Act are confidential, but there is nothing in that section or any other section of the LR Act that requires them to be kept secret. They are actually rulings by the Integrity Commissioner, and the public has a right to know how the Commissioner has ruled on lobbyists’ actions. The 2018-2019 Annual Report states that the Commissioner issued 16 advisory opinions to lobbyists who had been politically active before the election (see p. 46).

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, Democracy Watch’s position is that the conflict of interest created by playing a senior role in a politician’s or party’s election campaign or serving as an advisor afterwards does not magically disappear after one year – it lasts at least four years after the lobbyist has helped the politician or party, past the next election if the politician remains in power.

If the politician is the Premier, Democracy Watch’s position is that the conflict of interest lasts even longer because it is a very significant favour to help someone become Premier with all the power, pay and perks that position entails. Democracy Watch’s position is also that assisting a party leader with their election campaign, or providing ongoing assistance after the election, creates a conflict of interest that applies to the entire Cabinet, as the Premier chooses each Cabinet minister and they all serve at the pleasure of the Premier, so they all share the Premier’s conflict of interest.

As a result, Democracy Watch’s position is that anyone who worked on the PC Party campaign, or is serving in a senior position or advising the Premier or the PC Party now, is prohibited by the rule in the LR Act from lobbying the Premier and any of his Cabinet ministers.

Democracy Watch filed a complaint last June with Integrity Commissioner Wake about lobbyists Chris Benedetti, Paul Pellegrini and Matthew Gibson of Sussex Strategy Group violating the rule by being on the organizing committee for Premier Ford’s February “2019 Toronto Leader’s Dinner” fundraising event. And Democracy Watch also filed a complaint last July about lobbyist Melissa Lantsman, who is lobbying the Ford government after advising Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party (PC Party) during the spring 2018 provincial election campaign, serving on Ford’s transition team, and serving currently as Regional Vice President for Toronto for the PC Party.

Democracy Watch plans to file complaints with the Integrity Commissioner about Chris Froggatt and Kory Teneycke and the lobbyists they employ at their firms.

“Given the clear evidence set out in Democracy Watch’s complaints, hopefully Integrity Commissioner Wake will do the right thing and issue public rulings very soon finding that everyone who worked for Doug Ford or PC Party headquarters during the spring 2018 election campaign or continues to serve the party or Premier Ford as an adviser, fundraiser or representative, violates the conflict of interest rule in the lobbying law if they lobby Premier Ford or any of his Cabinet ministers,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The public has a clear right to know whether its watchdog has found lobbyists guilty of violating the rules when lobbying the public’s politicians, and government watchdogs must also issue public rulings so the public can be sure they are enforcing the law fairly and properly.”

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

Three key political finance questions for federal party leaders

Which financial institution gave them an election loan? For how much? What will their deficit/surplus be after election subsidies are received?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, November 6, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch and the Money in Politics Coalition (made up of 50 groups with a total of more than 3 million members), joined by almost 90,000 voters, called on the media to ask federal party leaders 3 key questions that will very likely effect the timing of the next election:

  1. Which financial institution gave them a loan to pay their election expenses?
  2. How much was the loan?
  3. What will their estimated deficit/surplus be in 4 months after they receive the subsidies the public pays for any candidate or party that wins 10% of the popular vote?

The parties know the details of their loans, and can now make fairly accurate projections, based on the election results and past fundraising patterns for November-January post-election periods, of what their financial position will be mid-February when they receive the post-election subsidies.

The public has a right to know this information, and shouldn’t have to wait and always be guessing the financial position of the parties, especially not in a minority government situation when the finances of each party is a big factor affecting when the next election will happen, given the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Bloc (and, possibly the Greens) all some power in making that decision. Unfortunately, due to unwritten rules, the Prime Minister still has the most power, and the ability to abuse that power.

“The public has a right to know which financial institutions bankrolled the parties’ election campaigns, and what the debt levels are of each party, as those are major factors in federal Cabinet ministers’ and MPs’ conflicts of interest concerning banking law decisions, and in the timing of the next election given the minority government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “Hopefully the media will ask the federal party leaders the key questions about the state of their party finances, and they will soon give the public the information they have a right to know.”

“Banks and other financial institutions should not be allowed to loan parties and candidates any more than individuals are allowed to donate, as it creates a real conflict of interest for federal ministers and MPs,” said Conacher. “Instead, any loans should come from a public fund, but only after parties can prove they actually need the money to reach voters and run election campaigns.”

The media hasn’t paid much attention to these key questions, and any coverage is always out of date by six months or more because of weak federal party finance disclosure rules. Looking over the past year, there is only this CBC article about the financial status of most of the main federal parties as of December 31, 2018, and then this follow-up CBC article about the NDP’s finances as of December 31, 2018. This Canadian Press article a couple of months later covered the same figures for 2018.

The CBC then did this article about the parties’ first-quarter fundraising totals, and this iPolitics article summarized the parties’ fundraising totals for 2019 up to June 30, 2019. However, neither of these articles contain any statistics on how much the parties spent up to June 30, 2019, or after.

As a result, no one except the parties knew how much money they had in the bank when the federal election began, nor how big their loans are, from which financial institution(s). Voters have a right to know before they vote who bankrolled each party’s, and each candidate’s, campaign, but this information is still hidden from them by weak disclosure rules.

Many commentators were saying at the beginning of the election that the Conservatives had tons of money for their campaign, the Liberals had an adequate amount of money, the Greens had some money, and that the NDP was in a lot of debt. But all of those comments were inaccurate guesses based on the information in the above articles, none of which took into account what the parties spent since Jan. 1, 2019.

For example, the Conservatives had $9.9 million in the bank at the end of 2018, and raised $16.5 million up June 30, 2019, and may have raised $5 million up to the beginning of the election. However, they may have spent $25 million from January to September 2019, which means they may have actually only had $6.4 million in the bank going into the election.

As a result, if the Conservatives planned to spend the full estimated $28 million allowed (under the election spending limit) on their campaign, they must have had a loan or loans of about $21 million from some financial institution or institutions.

The Liberals had $2.3 million in the bank at the end of 2018, and raised $8.85 million up to June 30, 2019, and may have raised $3.5 million up to the beginning of the election. However, they may have spent $10 million so far in 2019, which means they may have actually only had $4.65 million in the bank going into the election campaign, and likely needed a loan or loans of about $23 million in order to spend the maximum allowed during the election campaign.

The other parties have also likely gone into debt with a loan or loans from a financial institution(s). If any party’s loan(s) come from a bank, the bank is regulated by the federal government under the Bank Act, so the bank will have done a huge favour to the party by lending them millions for their election campaign.

Democracy Watch’s position is that loans to parties should be limited just like donations are, to prevent the conflict of interest created by the big banks lending so much money to the federal parties’ election campaigns. It would be much more democratic if election loans to parties came from a public fund, with the amount each party would be allowed to borrow based on the number of donors and members it has, combined with the average amount it has raised in the previous two years.

Many other changes are needed to make Canada’s political finance system democratic and ethical. See details on Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign page.

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign

Democracy Watch files application challenging Ontario Integrity Commissioner’s refusal to issue public rulings on Premier Ford’s staff and former deputy minister possibly violating provincial ethics rules

Integrity Commissioner’s ruling last March on OPP Commissioner appointment contained clear evidence Ford’s former Chief of Staff, deputy minister and possibly others gave preferential treatment to Ron Taverner and others

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the application it has filed in Ontario Divisional Court challenging Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake’s refusal to issue a public ruling on Premier Ford’s Chief of Staff Dean French (and possibly other Ford staff) providing preferential treatment to Ford’s friend Ron Taverner, and also to Mario Di Tommaso and Chris Froggatt, which Democracy Watch believes constitutes a violation of the provincial government’s ethics laws. Democracy Watch is represented by Rebecca Shoom of the law firm Lerners LLP.

On March 25, 2019, Democracy Watch sent a letter to Integrity Commissioner Wake and also then-Conflict of Interest Commissioner Sidney Linden calling on them to issue a public ruling on Ford’s staff, and also former Secretary to the Cabinet Steve Orsini, providing preferential treatment in violation of Public Service of Ontario Act (PSOA) ethics regulations.

Both commissioners refused to issue public rulings — then-Commissioner Linden in late March, and Commissioner Wake in early April. Commissioner Linden retired on May 1, 2019 when his office was merged into Integrity Commissioner Wake’s office.

On September 30, 2019, Democracy Watch sent another letter to Commissioner Wake requesting a public ruling. Commissioner Wake responded with the same position he had expressed in early April.

There is nothing in the PSOA that prohibits Commissioner Wake from issuing a public ruling, and the public has a clear right to know if these public servants violated the law.

“There is clear evidence in Integrity Commissioner Wake’s ruling on the OPP Commissioner appointment process that Premier Ford’s former Chief of Staff Dean French and his former deputy minister violated Ontario government ethics rules by giving preferential treatment to Ron Taverner more than once, and also to Mario Di Tommaso, and that French also gave preferential treatment to Chris Froggatt, and that other Ford staff may have violated the rules,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully Integrity Commissioner Wake will do the right thing and issue a public ruling finding Premier Ford’s staff guilty of violating provincial ethics rules.”

“The public has a clear right to know whether its watchdog has found its government employees guilty of wrongdoing, and government watchdogs must also issue public rulings so the public can be sure they are enforcing the law fairly and properly,” said Conacher.

Commissioner Wake’s March 20, 2019 ruling on Premier Ford’s actions concerning Ron Taverner’s proposed appointment contained clear evidence that Mr. French and Mr. Orsini provided preferential treatment to Mr. Taverner in the offer of an executive job with the government’s Ontario Cannabis store, and to him and Mario di Tommaso also throughout the OPP Commissioner appointment process.

The ruling also contained clear evidence that Mr. French also provided preferential treatment to Chris Froggatt by connecting him (and him only) to give communications advice to Mr. Taverner. There was also some evidence in Commissioner Wake’s ruling that Derek O’Toole, then-Senior Policy Advisor in Premier Ford’s office, and Greg Harrington, then-Policy Advisor to Mr. French, also provided preferential treatment to Mr. Taverner.

See the Evidence from the Integrity Commissioner’s Ruling on Premier Ford that, in Democracy Watch’s view, details the extent of this preferential treatment.

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…” See the Summary of the Ontario Government Ethics Law and Regulations for 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: info@democracywatch.ca

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

Bill C-76 weakened law making election more like 2016 U.S. Presidential election – full of false online election posts and ads, and false claims

Liberals ignored experts, House Committee, Chief Electoral Officer, Commissioner of Canada Elections, and tens of thousands of Canadians, who all called for changes to stop false claims

New bill needed as soon as possible to make these key changes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, October 28, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch highlighted key problems with the changes made by the Trudeau Liberals’ Bill C-76, and the federal government’s initiatives announced in January and last May, that ignored the call by all experts, a House Committee, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), the Commissioner of Canada Elections, and tens of thousands of Canadians, for more effective changes to the Canada Elections Act to actually stop fake online election posts and ads, false claims about candidates, and big money interest group ad campaigns, and to protect voters’ privacy.

Incredibly, Bill C-76 actually gutted the rule in the Act prohibiting on false claims about candidates, even though the CEO and Commissioner warned that the Bill would have that bad effect. The Bill also failed to strengthen the general rule in the law that prohibits false claims. The rule needs to be strengthened because the Commissioner negligently refuses to enforce it in some cases (For details of one of those cases, click here and click here).

Bill C-76 also increased the advertising spending limit for wealthy, big money third party interest groups by 250% (from about $200,000 to $511,700) — a really bad move in the wrong direction given social media advertising costs are only 10-20% of what traditional TV, radio and print media ads cost. In other words, the new limit multiplies the ad spending power of wealthy interests by 12-25 times, giving them much greater power to dominate election debates than they had in elections from 2006 to 2015.

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 doubled the spending limit for wealthy interest groups, and didn’t do enough to stop false, online election ads, false election promises or big money donations,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “As a result, the fall 2019 federal election was much like the 2016 U.S. presidential election – dishonest, unfair and driven by false claims of wealthy interest groups, party leaders and parties.”

“If the Trudeau Liberals actually want to ensure that the next election is fair and democratic, they should introduce a short, simple bill as soon as possible to reverse the bad, weak changes made by Bill C-76 and to strengthen other key rules,” said Conacher. “The bill should prohibit all false claims and false promises, lower donation limits, reverse the increase in interest group ad spending, require all media and social media companies to disclose to the Commissioner of Canada Elections all election-related ads, empower the Commissioner to delete any false post or ad from social media, and extend the privacy law to political parties with penalties high enough to actually discourage violations by social media companies that have tens of billions in annual profits.”

“All parties should support the introduction and quick passage of this bill as soon as possible to ensure the next election is fair and democratic, and to ensure the privacy of Canadians is protected,” said Conacher.

Instead of protecting the integrity of Canada’s elections, the Trudeau Liberals’ actions protected their friends at social media companies, and their own data mining of voters’ private information.

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 also detailed 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.

See Backgrounder for details about the key changes needed to:

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

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

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

Federal party leaders should agree on eight key rules for fair, democratic minority government

80%+ of Canadians, 78% of constitutional scholars surveyed, and former Governor General all say write down the rules, as the UK, Australia and New Zealand have done

Rules should make it clear when the legislature will open, what a vote of non-confidence is, what will trigger next election etc.

Should issue public statement of agreement on the rules, and then first bill passed by legislature should make the rules a law (as many other countries have)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, October 23, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on federal political party leaders to learn the lesson of the minority governments from 2004-2011 and agree this week on eight public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want. Agreeing on the rules now will help ensure the legislature runs fairly and democratically through to the next election. (See Backgrounder below for the eight rules)

The rules should make clear: when the legislature will open; when it can be closed; what a vote of non-confidence is; when and how the opposition parties may get a chance to govern; when and how the next election can be called before the fixed election date and; which party will get to try governing first after the next election.

The current rules are unclear because they are unwritten constitutional conventions – even constitutional scholars disagree what lines they draw. A large majority (78%) of constitutional scholars surveyed in fall 2012 supported writing down the conventions (See pp. 111-112). The vagueness in the rules effectively allows the elected Prime Minister and ruling party to abuse their powers and violate the rules, as the only way to stop violations is for the unelected, unaccountable Governor General to decide that a violation has occurred and to try to stop the elected Prime Minister from doing what they want.

The Governor General, and lieutenant governors in several provinces, have almost never stopped a Prime Minister or Premier from doing whatever they want, and have allowed premiers to abuse their powers by not opening the legislature after an election, shutting it down arbitrarily for months, and calling snap elections in violation of fixed-election-date laws. The Governor General allowed Prime Minister Harper to call a snap election in 2008 in violation of the (too vague) fixed-election-date law, to prorogue Parliament in a very questionable minority government situation, and to declare many votes in Parliament as confidence votes even though they were clearly not confidence votes.

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

As well, a survey of more than 2,000 Canadians by Harris-Decima in November-December 2012 showed that 84% of adult Canadians want enforceable rules to restrict key powers of the Prime Minister and provincial premiers.

The Governor General also said in August 2016 in an interview with the Hill Times that he thought these unwritten constitutional conventions should be written down.

“There are no legal or other justifiable reasons for Canada’s political party leaders and the Governor General to fail to approve eight key rules for a minority government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “It is clearly in the public interest that the rules be approved to stop unfair abuses of power by the Prime Minister and ruling party that violate the rights of Parliament and the democratic will of the majority of voters.”

After the eight rules are enacted into law, Parliament should, as the legislatures in England, Australia and New Zealand have, examine and enact other fairness rules to ensure the legislature and MLAs can hold the government accountable. The rules should cover the following key areas: what can be included in omnibus bills; the freedom and powers of individual politicians to vote how they want on resolutions and bills; how members of legislature committees are chosen, and; what a Cabinet can do during an election campaign period until the next Cabinet is chosen.

“As long as the federal rules for Parliament are unwritten and unclear, the Prime Minister and ruling party will be able to abuse their powers and Parliament’s ability to hold the government accountable will be undemocratically restricted,” said Conacher.

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign


BACKGROUNDER

8 Key Rules for Minority Government

  1. Until the Governor General has communicated directly with all the party leaders, the Governor General will not make a decision about which party or parties (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement) will be given the opportunity to govern first (i.e. to appoint a Cabinet and introduce a Speech from the Throne in Parliament);
  2. The party that wins the most seats in the election will be given the first opportunity to govern, including in partnership or coalition with another party, unless the leaders of other parties representing a majority of members of the legislature indicate clearly to the Governor General that they will not support that party and that they have agreed to form a coalition government or have agreed on a common legislative agenda;
  3. Within 30 days after the Governor General decides which party or parties will be given the first opportunity to govern, the Governor General and the governing party/parties will open Parliament with a Speech from the Throne;
  4. Even if the leaders of parties that represent a majority of members of the House of Commons do not indicate lack of support for the party that wins the most seats before that party’s Speech from the Throne, if they subsequently indicate lack of support for the Speech, the Governor General will not allow the Prime Minister-designate to prorogue the legislature before the Speech from the Throne is voted on by members of the House of Commons;
  5. If a majority of members in the House of Commons vote against the Speech from the Throne, the Governor General will give the opposition parties an opportunity to govern (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement) before agreeing to any request by the Prime Minister’s to call an election;
  6. After the vote on the Speech from the Throne, the only vote in House of Commons that shall be a vote of non-confidence is a vote on a motion that states: “The House of Commons does not have confidence in the government.”
  7. If opposition parties introduce a motion of non-confidence in the governing party at any time after election day, the Governor General will not allow the Prime Minister to prorogue the legislature before the motion is voted on by the House of Commons, and;
  8. If a majority in the House of Commons votes to approve a motion of non-confidence in the governing party before the next fixed-election date, the Governor General will give the opposition parties an opportunity to govern (through either a formal coalition or legislative agenda agreement) before agreeing to any request by the Prime Minister that the Governor General call an election.