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Former Information Commissioner Legault rules Harper Conservatives violated policy by muzzling government scientists, and Trudeau Liberals ignoring recommendations needed to stop muzzling

Will new Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard continue pushing to stop muzzling of scientists, and for other key open government and whistleblower protection changes?

Senate should amend Bill C-58 as it fails to keep Liberals’ open government promises and ignores broad support over past 15 years for key, long overdue changes needed to change culture of excessive secrecy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, March 15, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch and the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic released former Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault’s investigation report on whether the Harper Conservatives muzzled government scientists. The report resulted from a complaint filed in February 2013 by Democracy Watch in collaboration with the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic.

Commissioner Legault’s report, released February 28, 2018 just before her term in office ended, found that six departments and agencies in the Conservative government violated the government’s Communications policy and “formal commitments to foster and promote Open Government” by muzzling scientists in ways that prevented them from “responding to the information needs of the public.”

The report also says that while the Trudeau Liberal government has made some changes that increase “the likelihood that members of the public can obtain timely access to complete, accurate and expert information,” the Liberals have failed to implement four recommendations Information Commissioner Legault made last September to ensure government scientists no longer feel a “chill” or “fear” when disclosing their research publicly, as follows:

  1. Ensure the Chief Science Advisor is independent from Cabinet and has the mandate to ensure government science is fully available to the public and scientists can speak freely about their work;
  2. Require government institutions to collect data and report on how the respond to requests for government science information;
  3. Change the Access to Information Act to require proactive public disclosure of information that could affect public safety, public health and environmental protection;
  4. Correct any weaknesses in the protections and supports provided to government scientists who disclose their research, and establish best practices and educate them about their rights, and evaluate whether they feel confident exercising their rights.

A recent survey of federal government scientists found that 53% of them still feel muzzled.

Democracy Watch and the Open Government Coalition it coordinates called on the Senate to make these and related changes during its review of Bill C-58 to strengthen the federal Access to Information Act and open government system (as called for by a unanimous House Committee report in June 2016 — SEE details below).

Democracy Watch and the Open Government Coalition also called on the Liberals to reverse their decision last October which rejected the changes recommended by the House Government Operations Committee last June to strengthen whistleblower protection (SEE details about the Committee’s report, and Treasury Board President Scott Brison’s response, here).

They also called on new federal Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard to continue pushing for key changes to strengthen the federal open government law, and whistleblower protection law, and enforcement systems to ensure openness by default (as the Liberals promised in their 2015 election platform).

“The Information Commissioner has not only reached the important conclusion that the Harper Conservatives violated federal policies by muzzling government scientists but also that the Trudeau Liberals have not done enough to unmuzzle them and ensure they don’t have anything to fear when they disclose their scientific research to the public,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “To protect government scientists, and all public servants, who disclose key information the public has a right to know, the Liberals must strengthen the federal open government law and enforcement system, and the federal whistleblower protection law and system. The Senate can make many of these key changes when it reviews Bill C-58.”

“Government scientists do research that both government and the public need to make policy decisions on things like climate change and oil spill risks. It is profoundly dangerous when government muzzles scientists and hides information from the public. Such muzzling threatens democracy because it deprives citizens of the information they need to make sound policy choices. Equally important, such muzzling endangers the environment, because it makes evidence-based environmental decision-making far less likely,” said Calvin Sandborn, Legal Director of University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic. “The law, enforcement system and culture of the federal government must all ensure that scientists feel no fear when they share government research with the people that own it – the citizens of Canada,” he concluded.

The Trudeau Liberals promised several changes not included in Bill C-58 in the Open Government section of their 2015 election platform, and in the specific Access to Information section of the platform. Bill C-58 also includes changes that were not promised in the Liberals’ platform, changes that are big steps backwards in access rights. The Liberals have also failed to keep their international Open Government Partnership commitments, weak as those commitments were. Bill C-58 also ignores many of the recommendations made in the unanimous June 2016 report of the House of Commons Access, Privacy and Ethics Committee.

Tens of thousands of voters have sent messages through Democracy Watch’s Open Government Campaign page calling on federal parties to make these key changes. Democracy Watch also signed the open letter issued recently by a global coalition of organizations and individuals calling for similar changes.

“Given that the federal Access to Information Act and open government system have been reviewed several times in the past 15 years, and that there is a consensus on key changes that must be made, there is no justifiable reason for any further delay in making the changes,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Part-time Professor of law and politics at the University of Ottawa. “If these key changes are finally made, and the Senate can make many of them when it reviews Bill C-58, the current federal ‘Guide to Keeping Secrets Act’ will finally become a real access to information act,” said Conacher.

The public was consulted on changes to the Act and system in 2000, and again in 2009 when a House Committee issued a unanimous report calling for changes, and again in 2011 and in 2013 (twice) through the international Open Government Partnership (OGP) process. The Information Commissioner issued a report in late March 2015 recommending many key changes. And, then, as mentioned above, the Liberals have consulted on their weak international Open Government Partnership 2016-2018 plan. Every consultation has resulted in a broad, strong call from the public and citizen groups to make the key changes listed below.

In addition to the changes the Liberals promised in their 2015, election campaign, the Conservatives promised several key changes in their 2006 election platform and federal Conservative Treasury Board minister Tony Clement agreed in 2014 that the Access to Information Act needs to be changed (as did Rob Nicholson in 2009). Also, the NDP and Liberals both introduced private member bills aimed at changing the Act when the Conservatives were in power.

The key changes that Democracy Watch and the Open Government Coalition have been advocating for more than 15 years are as follows:

  1. any type of record created by any entity that receives significant funding from or is connected to the government, or was created by the government and fulfills public interest functions, should be automatically covered by the access to information law and system (as in the United Kingdom);
  2. all exemptions under the access to information law should be discretionary, and limited by a proof of harm test and a public interest override (as in B.C. and Alberta);
  3. the access to information law and system should require every entity covered (as in the United Kingdom, U.S., Australia and New Zealand): to create detailed records for all decisions and actions and factual and policy research; to routinely disclose records that are required to be disclosed; to assign responsibility to individuals for the creation and maintenance of each record, and; to maintain each record so that it remains easily accessible;
  4. the access to information law and system should allow anyone who does factual or policy research for the government to speak to the media and publicly about the topic, findings and conclusions of their research without being required to seek approval first from anyone (including their superior, the Privy Council, the Prime Minister, a Cabinet minister, or any ministerial staff person);
  5. severe penalties should be created for not creating records, for not maintaining records properly, and for unjustifiable delays in responses to requests;
  6. the Information Commissioner should be given explicit powers under access to information: to order the release of a record (as in the United Kingdom, Ontario, B.C. and Quebec); to penalize violators of the law with high fines, jail terms, loss of any severance payment, and partial clawback of any pension payments, and; to require systemic changes in government departments to improve compliance (as in the United Kingdom)
  7. funding to the access to information system and enforcement should be increased to solve backlog problems instead of increasing administrative barriers such as limiting requests in any way, and fees for access should be lower overall and standardized for every entity covered by the access to information law and system; and
  8. Parliament must be required to review the ATI Act every 5 years to ensure that problem areas are corrected, and;
  9. establish a fully independent, non-partisan appointments commission (with members, appointed by non-governmental organizations like the Canadian Judicial Council, serving fixed terms of office) to conduct a merit-based search for nominees for Information Commissioner and all other officers of Parliament, and to present a short list to the Cabinet that the Cabinet has to choose from after at least consulting with all federal party leaders (even better, require that a majority of party leaders approve of the Cabinet’s choice).

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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

Calvin Sandborn, Legal Director of University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic
Tel: 250-472-5248
Email: csandbor@uvic.ca

Democracy Watch’s Open Government Campaign and Protect Whistleblowers Who Protect You Campaign

Democracy Watch expects response this week from Elections Ontario about whether its 2018 election ads will inform voters of right to decline their ballot – plans court challenge

Elections Ontario committed to responding within 10 days to Democracy Watch’s March 6th letter

Elections Ontario spent $4.83 million during 2014 election campaign on voter information and ads that all missed key messages to encourage voter turnout – turnout was second lowest level ever at 51.3%

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 14, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it expects a response from Elections Ontario this week to the lawyer’s letter it sent on March 6th to Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa demanding that he confirm that Elections Ontario will inform voters about their legal right to decline their ballot (in other words, to vote “none of the above”) in the likely more than $4.5 million it will spend on advertising and communications with voters leading up to Ontario’s provincial election day on June 7th.

Democracy Watch is represented by Andrew Spurgeon and Wade Poziomka of Ross McBride LLP, who sent the letter to CEO Essensa. The letter gave CEO Essensa 10 days to respond and commit to include the information in ads and voter education communications or Democracy Watch will apply for a court order. Democracy Watch hopes Elections Ontario will make the commitment and avoid a court case.

On March 7th, Elections Ontario sent a letter saying it would respond formally to Democracy Watch’s request within 10 days.

“Elections Ontario has a broad mandate that allows education on the right to vote and the electoral process. Elections Ontario has exercised their discretion to educate Ontarians and will spend approximately $4.5 million taxpayer dollars,” said Wade Poziomka. “That decision, and the content of that education, should be fair and reasonable. This includes not only education on the right to vote, but education on the right to decline a ballot and not be forced to vote for a listed candidate. A voter has the right to show their lack of support for any candidate or political party and still be counted as having cast a vote. It is our hope that a protracted and costly legal battle will not be necessary and Elections Ontario will exercise their statutory discretion in a fair and reasonable manner.”

“Democracy Watch calls on Elections Ontario to do the right thing and commit to informing voters in all its advertising and voter education information that they have the legal right to vote none of the above by declining their ballot in the provincial election, and if they don’t we will apply for a court order,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Some voters may not support any party that has a candidate in their riding or may not support any of the parties’ platforms, and they have the right to be informed by Elections Ontario that they have the right to vote for ‘none of the above’ by declining their ballot.”

Ontario voters have the legal right under section 53 of Ontario’s Election Act to decline their ballot (i.e. vote “none of the above”) and have it counted separately from a vote for a candidate or a spoiled ballot. This right has existed in the law since 1975. However, Elections Ontario has consistently failed to inform voters that they have this right in its communications to educate voters undertaken under subsection 114.1(2) and section 114.2 of the Election Act.

On January 8th, Democracy Watch sent a similar letter to CEO Essensa, and Elections Ontario immediately changed three pages of its website by adding information about the right to decline your ballot. On January 12, 2018, Kate Ward, Director of Communications and Strategic Services at Elections Ontario, sent a letter to Democracy Watch pointing to the changes to the website.

That same day Democracy Watch wrote back to Elections Ontario applauding the changes to the website but asking for a commitment to include information about the right to decline your ballot in all advertising and communications with voters, and requesting answers to the following questions:

  1. Will all Elections Ontario advertisements before and during the upcoming election campaign period that are about voter rights contain information about the right to decline your ballot?
  2. Will Election Ontario’s voter registration cards and any other materials Elections Ontario sends to Ontario voters in the lead up to the provincial election mention the right to decline your ballot?
  3. Will all of Elections Ontario’s online and print educational materials for teachers, youth, and new voters be changed to include information, in all sections concerning voting, that voters have the right to decline their ballot?

Elections Ontario did not respond to Democracy Watch’s January 12th message, forcing Democracy Watch to follow up with the demand letter it sent on Tuesday.

Despite Elections Ontario’s $4.5 million in advertising spending in 2011, voter turnout in the 2011 Ontario election was a record low 48.2% of eligible voters, the first time in history that turnout dropped below 50%. And despite Elections Ontario’s more than $4.8 million in ad spending in 2014, turnout in the 2014 election was the second-lowest ever at 51.3%. The 2007 turnout was only slightly better at 52.1%.

Elections Ontario currently mentions the right to decline your ballot only the few times on its website that were added on January 8th. In its 2011 and 2014 election advertising, website pages, new voter information package, and voter information card, Elections Ontario failed to mention the right to decline your ballot.

Democracy Watch sent a similar letter to Mr. Essensa in 2011 (after it was consulted by Elections Ontario concerning voter education), and again in 2014.

Democracy Watch has long called on the federal government, and every provincial and territorial government, to change their election laws (including the law for municipal elections in each jurisdiction) and add the right to vote “none of the above” and to give a reason to election and by-election ballots.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: 613-241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign

Democracy Watch demands response from Elections Ontario about whether its 2018 election ads will inform voters of right to decline their ballot – plans court challenge

Elections Ontario commits to responding within 10 days

Elections Ontario spent $4.83 million during 2014 election campaign on voter information and ads that all missed key messages to encourage voter turnout – turnout was second lowest level ever at 51.3%

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, March 8, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the lawyer’s letter it sent on Tuesday to Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa demanding that he confirm that Elections Ontario will inform voters about their legal right to decline their ballot (in other words, to vote “none of the above”) in the likely more than $4.5 million it will spend on advertising and communications with voters leading up to Ontario’s provincial election day on June 7th.

Democracy Watch is represented by Andrew Spurgeon and Wade Poziomka of Ross McBride LLP, who sent the letter to CEO Essensa yesterday. The letter gives CEO Essensa 10 days to respond and commit to include the information in ads and voter education communications or Democracy Watch will apply for a court order. Democracy Watch hopes Elections Ontario will make the commitment and avoid a court case.

On Wednesday, Elections Ontario sent a letter saying it will respond formally to Democracy Watch’s request within 10 days.

“Elections Ontario has a broad mandate that allows education on the right to vote and the electoral process. Elections Ontario has exercised their discretion to educate Ontarians and will spend approximately $4.5 million taxpayer dollars,” said Wade Poziomka. “That decision, and the content of that education, should be fair and reasonable. This includes not only education on the right to vote, but education on the right to decline a ballot and not be forced to vote for a listed candidate. A voter has the right to show their lack of support for any candidate or political party and still be counted as having cast a vote. It is our hope that a protracted and costly legal battle will not be necessary and Elections Ontario will exercise their statutory discretion in a fair and reasonable manner.”

“Democracy Watch calls on Elections Ontario to do the right thing and commit to informing voters in all its advertising and voter education information that they have the legal right to vote none of the above by declining their ballot in the provincial election, and if they don’t we will apply for a court order,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Some voters may not support any party that has a candidate in their riding or may not support any of the parties’ platforms, and they have the right to be informed by Elections Ontario that they have the right to vote for ‘none of the above’ by declining their ballot.”

Ontario voters have the legal right under section 53 of Ontario’s Election Act to decline their ballot (i.e. vote “none of the above”) and have it counted separately from a vote for a candidate or a spoiled ballot. This right has existed in the law since 1975. However, Elections Ontario has consistently failed to inform voters that they have this right in its communications to educate voters undertaken under subsection 114.1(2) and section 114.2 of the Election Act.

On January 8th, Democracy Watch sent a similar letter to CEO Essensa, and Elections Ontario immediately changed three pages of its website by adding information about the right to decline your ballot. On January 12, 2018, Kate Ward, Director of Communications and Strategic Services at Elections Ontario, sent a letter to Democracy Watch pointing to the changes to the website.

That same day Democracy Watch wrote back to Elections Ontario applauding the changes to the website but asking for a commitment to include information about the right to decline your ballot in all advertising and communications with voters, and requesting answers to the following questions:

  1. Will all Elections Ontario advertisements before and during the upcoming election campaign period that are about voter rights contain information about the right to decline your ballot?
  2. Will Election Ontario’s voter registration cards and any other materials Elections Ontario sends to Ontario voters in the lead up to the provincial election mention the right to decline your ballot?
  3. Will all of Elections Ontario’s online and print educational materials for teachers, youth, and new voters be changed to include information, in all sections concerning voting, that voters have the right to decline their ballot?

Elections Ontario did not respond to Democracy Watch’s January 12th message, forcing Democracy Watch to follow up with the demand letter it sent on Tuesday.

Despite Elections Ontario’s $4.5 million in advertising spending in 2011, voter turnout in the 2011 Ontario election was a record low 48.2% of eligible voters, the first time in history that turnout dropped below 50%. And despite Elections Ontario’s more than $4.8 million in ad spending in 2014, turnout in the 2014 election was the second-lowest ever at 51.3%. The 2007 turnout was only slightly better at 52.1%.

Elections Ontario currently mentions the right to decline your ballot only the few times on its website that were added on January 8th. In its 2011 and 2014 election advertising, website pages, new voter information package, and voter information card, Elections Ontario failed to mention the right to decline your ballot.

Democracy Watch sent a similar letter to Mr. Essensa in 2011 (after it was consulted by Elections Ontario concerning voter education), and again in 2014.

Democracy Watch has long called on the federal government, and every provincial and territorial government, to change their election laws (including the law for municipal elections in each jurisdiction) and add the right to vote “none of the above” and to give a reason to election and by-election ballots.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: 613-241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign

Democracy Watch’s lawsuit challenges Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling that investigation should not continue into former Apotex Chairman Barry Sherman’s fundraising for Trudeau Liberals

Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger ignored fact that Sherman lobbied for Apotex, and so his fundraising caused Apotex to violate the Lobbyists’ Code

Lobbying Commissioner also in a conflict of interest as she was handpicked by Trudeau through secretive, PMO-controlled process – should have referred investigation to person independent of her and all parties

Review of federal lobbying laws this year must close secret lobbying loopholes, strengthen enforcement, make Lobbying Commissioner actually independent by changing appointment process, and add high fines as penalties

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, March 6, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the application it recently filed in Federal Court challenging new Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger’s decision in January to discontinue the investigation into former Apotex Inc. Chairman Barry Sherman’s fundraising for the Trudeau Liberals.

Democracy Watch filed a complaint with the Lobbying Commissioner in November 2016 alleging that the fundraising event Barry Sherman organized for the Liberal Party in August 2015 (that Trudeau attended) caused Sherman and Apotex to be in violation of Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct rules that prohibit doing favours or giving gifts to politicians or government officials.

Commissioner Bélanger decision was that, because Mr. Sherman unfortunately passed away in December, she had a “valid reason for not dealing with the matter” (as allowed under subsection 10.4(1.1) of the Lobbying Act.

However, Democracy Watch’s complaint made it clear that Mr. Sherman’s fundraising for the Liberals also caused Apotex Inc. to be in violation of the Lobbyists’ Code, and that Apotex also violated the Code by letting Mr. Sherman do the fundraising. Mr. Sherman’s passing does not end the ongoing conflict of interest that his fundraising caused that taints Apotex’s ongoing lobbying of the federal government. As well, Mr. Sherman’s family has likely inherited Apotex, and actions that benefit one’s family clearly raise issues of conflict of interest.

In addition, Commissioner Bélanger was appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process that failed to consult with opposition party leaders as required by the Lobbying Act, and as a result she has an appearance of a conflict of interest and bias in favour of the Trudeau Cabinet.

Given her bias, Democracy Watch requested in January that Commissioner Bélanger not make any decisions concerning situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet until its court case challenging her appointment was ruled on by the Federal Court. The Commissioner’s office is investigating four other Democracy Watch complaints about situations involving Prime Minister Trudeau or other Cabinet ministers or Liberal MPs (See all four situations summarized under A.1 here).

“Democracy Watch is challenging new Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger’s ruling in court because it doesn’t take into account that Apotex violated the Lobbyists’ Code by letting Barry Sherman fundraise for the Liberals, and that Sherman’s fundraising tainted Apotex’s ongoing lobbying of the federal government, and also because Commissioner Bélanger was appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process that makes her biased in favour of the Trudeau Cabinet,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

Given her bias in favour of the Trudeau Cabinet, Commissioner Bélanger should have recused herself from making any decision concerning the situation and referred the matter to someone actually independent of the Cabinet. This process has been used at the provincial level by ethics commissioners. For example, in 2016 Marguerite Trussler, Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, recused herself from investigating and ruling on a complaint because she was friends with two people involved in the matter.

Among other rules, rules 6, 8 and 10 of the Lobbyists’ Code prohibit people who should be registered as lobbyists from doing anything significant for, or giving anything significant to, anyone they are lobbying. The Lobbyists’ Code also requires anyone who should be registered as a lobbyist to uphold the highest profession and ethical standards, and follow the spirit of the Code and the Act.

The legal error in Commissioner Bélanger’s ruling is that Barry Sherman lobbied the Prime Minister and federal government institutions not for himself but for Apotex. As well, as Chairman of Apotex, he was legally bound to advance the interests of the company.

As a result, the Commissioner’s ruling should be that Apotex violated the Code by failing to uphold high ethical standards when it allowed Mr. Sherman to do the fundraising for the Liberals, and that Mr. Sherman’s fundraising caused a conflict of interest for Prime Minister Trudeau that violates the Code as it affects Apotex’s ongoing lobbying of the federal government.

Democracy Watch also has an ongoing campaign to make the Cabinet appointment process actually independent, open and merit-based.

The Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code are required to be reviewed by the House Ethics Committee in 2018. The Conservatives rejected many key proposed changes when the laws were last reviewed by the Committee. See details about the changes needed to close loopholes and strengthen enforcement and penalties for the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct here.

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

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

Democracy Watch calls on Commissioner of Canada Elections to rule Prime Minister Trudeau violated federal elections law by baiting voters with false electoral reform election promise

Group’s webpage invites voters to send email to the Commissioner, especially if they were baited to vote for the Liberals by the PM’s false promise

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, February 22, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it sent this morning to federal Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté as it launched its new campaign – http://TrudeauBrokenPromise.ca – that calls on Commissioner Côté to investigate and initiate a prosecution of Prime Minister Trudeau’s dishonest electoral reform election promise made during the 2015 federal election.

Democracy Watch’s campaign page allows voters to send an email to the Commissioner supporting the call for an investigation and prosecution, and to add a line to the email if they were baited to vote for the Liberals by Mr. Trudeau’s false promise.

Set out in the letter to Commissioner Côté is the clear evidence that shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Prime Minister Trudeau’s statements and actions violate the rule in the Canada Elections Act that (among other things) prohibits anyone from making a false claim that attempts to convince voters to vote for an election candidate (subsection 482(b)).

In the 2015 federal election campaign, and for some time after, Prime Minister Trudeau promised unequivocally and unconditionally to end the first-past-the-post voting system and replace it with a system that would “Make Every Vote Count.”

“The rule in Canada’s election law makes it clearly illegal to bait voters like Prime Minister Trudeau did in the 2015 federal election with his false promise that the Liberals would change the voting system if they won no matter what, and we hope that the Commissioner of Canada Elections will hold the PM accountable for violating the law,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The rule prohibiting false promises is clearly intended to discourage people from making dishonest promises, and to penalize them in order to protect voters, and elections, from being undermined by unfair tricks.”

The rule prohibiting false promises has never been tested in the courts, and so Democracy Watch’s letter calls on Commissioner Côté, and Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel, to let the courts determine the legally correct interpretation and application of the subsection 482(b) rule.

“The courts are the proper place for a determination of whether Prime Minister Trudeau violated the rule prohibiting false promises, and so neither the Commissioner of Elections nor the Director of Public Prosecutions should prevent the prosecution from being heard by the courts,” said Conacher.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s promise to change the voting system was repeated more than 2,000 times and was a key plank in the Liberal Party’s election platform.

After the election, the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE Committee) was formed and, over a five-month period in 2016, MPs on the Committee heard overwhelming evidence and appeals from thousands of Canadians to change the voting system to one that would reflect proportional representation.

After hearing months of testimony from academics, experts and citizens, the ERRE Committee submitted a majority report based on the recommendations of 180 experts, 107 of whom expressed an opinion on keeping our current system vs. adopting a proportional system.  Fully 88% of these experts called for a proportional system, according to a detailed compilation undertaken by Fair Vote Canada.

This consultation process was the fifteenth of its kind in Canada on the issue of electoral reform.  All, including this consultation, recommended to make the system fairer and more representative by moving to a proportional voting system.

Prime Minister Trudeau ignored all of the evidence and decided arbitrarily that “all forms of proportional representation would be bad for Canada.”  He also made several false statements after breaking his promise.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s many false statements make it very clear that he made his false promise solely to attract voters, and that he never intended to honour it.

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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 Democratic Voting System Campaign and Honesty in Politics Campaign

Democracy Watch releases legal arguments in court challenge of Ethics Commissioner’s illegal screens

Prime Minister latest to set up a “smokescreen” – his covers up conflicts of interest with Aga Khan

Conservatives changed law to require disclosure when ministers and others recuse themselves from decision-making processes – Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson ignored the law and allowed screens that hide recusals

New Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, handpicked by Trudeau Cabinet through secretive process, continues to allow use of screens

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, February 9, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its legal arguments in its court challenge of the Ethics Commissioner’s illegal use of screens that hide whether Cabinet ministers or other government official recuse themselves from discussions or decisions when they have a conflict of interest. The first federal Ethics Commissioner, Bernard Shapiro, recommended in 2005 and 2006 that detailed public disclosure be required every time ministers or other officials recuse themselves. With the 2006 Federal Accountability Act, the Conservatives changed the federal ethics law to require public disclosure.

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson ignored the law through her entire 2007-2017 term, and instead she set up what she calls conflict of interest “screens” that are actually “smokescreens” as Commissioner Dawson claimed public declarations of recusals were not required by ministers and others with screens.

Prime Minister Trudeau is the latest of more than 20 ministers and top government officials to set up a screen (as new Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion continues to allow office holders to use them). Trudeau’s screen claims he will “abstain from any matter, discussion or decision, other than my participation in activities that are ceremonial in nature, specifically targeting the interests of the Aga Khan and his institutions.”

There is nothing in the federal ethics law, the Conflict of Interest Act, that allows the Ethics Commissioner to use the screens. Subsection 25(1) of the Act requires a public declaration detailing every recusal. In her January 2013 report to the House Ethics Committee, Ethics Commissioner Dawson acknowledged that the definition of “recusal” is broad and covers all the situations that the screens cover (page 35).

“The federal Ethics Commissioner’s smokescreens violate the federal ethics law as they allow Cabinet ministers and others to hide whether they are taking part in decisions when they have a conflict of interest,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Ethics Commissioner screen schemes ignore that the law was changed in 2006 to require public disclosure every time a minister or government official doesn’t participate in a discussion or decision because of a conflict of interest, as recommended by the first ethics commissioner in 2005 and 2006.”

Democracy Watch recently requested that Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion recuse himself from making any decisions about situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet as he was handpicked by the Cabinet through a secretive process that failed to consult with opposition party leaders as required by law. Democracy Watch has another court case challenging the legality of Dion’s appointment.

More than 11,000 Canadians have signed a petition supporting Democracy Watch’s campaign calling on federal parties to work together to change the appointment process for the Ethics Commissioner, and all officers of Parliament and judicial and watchdog positions, to make it actually merit-based and independent from Cabinet, and to prohibit reappointments.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch

and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition

Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

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

Democracy Watch’s lawsuit challenges former Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling that Aga Khan not covered by lobbying law and code so Bahamas trip gift to PM Trudeau was legal

Former Commissioner Karen Shepherd ignored fact that Aga Khan lobbies for his foundation, which is registered to lobby the federal government, and so his gift causes the foundation to violate the Lobbyists’ Code

New Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger in conflict of interest as she was handpicked by Trudeau through secretive, PMO-controlled process – must refer investigation to person independent of her and all parties or DWatch will also challenge her in court

Auditor General should also audit past Commissioner Shepherd’s extremely weak enforcement records – she let 85% of violators off the hook

Review of federal lobbying laws this year must close secret lobbying loopholes, strengthen enforcement, make Lobbying Commissioner actually independent by changing appointment process, and add high fines as penalties

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, February 6, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the application it recently filed in Federal Court challenging the ruling last September by former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd that the Aga Khan is not covered by the federal lobbying law or code, and so his Bahamas trip gift to Prime Minister Trudeau was legal.

Although Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling was made last September, it didn’t become public until CBC reported on December 22nd that someone had complained to the Lobbying Commissioner about the Aga Khan’s trip gift to Trudeau sometime in the past year, and had received the Commissioner’s letter containing the ruling on September 21st. The letter stated even though the Aga Khan is chair of the board of the Aga Khan Foundation, which is registered to lobby the federal government, because he wasn’t paid to lobby for them the Lobbying Act (“Act”) and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct (“Lobbyists’ Code”) do not apply to him.

Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling has still not been made public – Democracy Watch has requested in its lawsuit that the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying make the ruling public (while keeping the complainant’s identity anonymous as their identity is irrelevant to the case). Commissioner Shepherd made the ruling while serving on a six-month, sole-source, renewable contract handed to her by the Trudeau Cabinet – a contract that Democracy Watch challenged in court because it was illegal and made her biased (Democracy Watch has withdrawn that court case given that a new Lobbying Commissioner and Ethics Commissioner were appointed in December).

Among other rules, rules 6, 8 and 10 of the Lobbyists’ Code prohibit people who should be registered as lobbyists from doing anything significant for, or giving anything significant to, anyone they are lobbying. It also requires people who should be registered as lobbyists to follow the spirit of the Code and the Act.

The error of the Commissioner’s ruling is that the Aga Khan lobbies the Prime Minister and other federal government institutions and officials and politicians not for himself but for the Aga Khan Foundation. As well, as head of the board of the Foundation, he is legally bound to advance the interests of the Foundation, and likely at least some of his expenses are covered by the Foundation. As a result, whether he is paid or not, he should be considered by the Commissioner to be covered by the Act and the Lobbyists’ Code and his gift to the Prime Minister should have resulted in a ruling that the Foundation violated the rules in the Code that prohibit such gifts.

“Democracy Watch is challenging the Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling in court because it is legally incorrect, violates the spirit and purpose of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, and opens up a huge loophole that big businesses and other organizations will exploit by having their unregistered board members or staff do favours for, and give gifts to, politicians and government officials they are lobbying as a way of unethically influencing their policy making decisions,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Democracy Watch is also challenging Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling because she was on a six-month, sole-source, renewable contract handed to her by the Trudeau Cabinet at the time she made the ruling, and so she lacked independence and was biased in favour of the Cabinet.”

On December 20th, before it became public that Commissioner Shepherd had made the ruling last September, Democracy Watch filed a complaint with new Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger alleging the Aga Khan’s gift of the Bahamas trip given to Prime Minister Trudeau in December 2014 and December 2016, and to Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan in December 2016, violated the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. The office of the Lobbying Commissioner confirmed on December 28th that it was investigating Democracy Watch’s complaint.

Democracy Watch requested in its complaint letter that that the complaint be investigated and ruled on by someone completely independent of Commissioner Bélanger because she was handpicked by Prime Minister Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process and is therefore biased. In a separate court case, Democracy Watch is challenging Trudeau’s appointment of Commissioner Bélanger, and Democracy Watch also has an ongoing campaign to make the Cabinet appointment process actually independent, open and merit-based.

“An independent investigation about whether the Aga Khan a year ago violated the lobbyist ethics code by giving the trip gift to PM Trudeau and MP O’Regan should have been initiated a year ago,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given that she was handpicked by Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, the new Lobbying Commissioner is in a conflict of interest and so must delegate the investigation to a person who is independent of her and all federal political parties.”

Democracy Watch is also calling on the Auditor General to audit Lobbying Commissioner Shepherd and the RCMP because they let off the hook 84% of people who she caught since 2008 violating the Act or Lobbyists’ Code. Commissioner Shepherd finished her term in office on December 29th. Hundreds of Canadians have joined the call on the Auditor General to audit the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner and RCMP — see details here.

“Lobbying Commissioner Shepherd went out with a whimper by issuing only one public ruling in the past two years since the Liberals were elected, and she also let almost everyone off since 2008 so the Auditor General should also audit her negligently weak record,” said Conacher.

The Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code are required to be reviewed by the House Ethics Committee in 2018. The Conservatives rejected many key proposed changes when the laws were last reviewed by the Committee. See details about the changes needed to close loopholes and strengthen enforcement and penalties for the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct here.

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

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