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After more than 145 years, more than 200 recent cases across Canada show that strong, clear, transparent ethics rules and enforcement, and penalties, must finally be established for all politicians and public officials

At least 50 federal Cabinet ministers have been let off the hook in the past 20 years, along with dozens of MPs, senators, political staff, Cabinet appointees and government officials – and more than 80 secret rulings since 2007 by the federal Ethics Commissioner are likely hiding other serious violations

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

OTTAWA – Today, to end the dangerously unethical fiasco that has played out across Canada for more than 145 years, including more than 200 recent cases across the country, Democracy Watch and the Government Ethics Coalition called on all governments to finally pass strong, clear, transparent ethics rules for all politicians, political staff, Cabinet appointees and government officials, along with strengthening enforcement, and establishing mandatory high penalties for violations.  Federal ethics rules are being reviewed right now by House of Commons committees, and an Alberta legislative committee will also soon reviewing its rules – will they and other politicians across the country finally push to clean things up?

Democracy Watch’s and the Coalition’s submission to the federal House Ethics Committee, prepared by Duff Conacher, Founding Director of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of ethics law at the University of Toronto, sets out 30 key changes to federal ethics rules, enforcement and penalties that are also needed for every government in Canada.

Not one Canadian politician has pushed for strong ethics rules, enforcement and penalties in the past 20 years.  Jean Chretien lied to get into power in 1993, and Stephen Harper lied to get into power in 2006, both by making false promises that they would strengthen federal ethics rules and penalties, and then both ignored ethics rules almost every time they or their Cabinet ministers violated them.  This is only slightly worse than all the other party leaders who never even made significant promises to clean up politics, as Democracy Watch’s 2011 Report Card on the federal parties’ election platform shows (and parties in Ontario and Quebec, for example, haven’t addressed ethics issues any better recently).

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is so ineffective that the media, not her, have revealed all of the ethics violations the public has learned about in the past five years.  She has also let many politicians off the hook for breaking ethics rules and has rejected more than 80 cases since 2007 with secret rulings that hide the details and reasons for her decisions.

“Canadians are justifiably outraged that politicians across Canada for the past 145 years have failed to pass strong, clear, transparent ethics rules that are well-enforced with mandatory high penalties, and that this failure has allowed dozens of politicians and public officials to be let off the hook when they have clearly violated the rules or done something that most people find unethical, including at least 50 federal Cabinet ministers in the past 20 years, and many other politicians just in the past month,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. “The committees reviewing ethics rules for the federal and Alberta governments must, finally, take a much-needed step forward and set a new national standard with strong reports calling for changes to close loopholes, clear up rules, strengthen transparency and enforcement, and increase penalties.”

“Dishonesty, unethical fundraising and unethical decision-making in politics are all legal across Canada, and Canadians are more likely to get caught parking their car illegally than politicians are likely to get caught violating key ethics rules, and the penalties for illegal parking are often higher than for being an unethical politician or government official,” said Duff Conacher.  “This dangerously undemocratic fiasco must finally be stopped with clear, strong rules and enforcement and penalties.”

The following more than 200 current and recent cases reveal all the problems with ethics rules and enforcement across Canada, and the changes needed to have, finally, effective rules and enforcement:

  • the rampant, daily dishonesty in politics across Canada, which is the top voter turnoff, shows clearly that an honesty-in-politics law is needed to penalize misleaders;
  • all of the federal cases mentioned below, as well as the cases of Peter MacKay (case 1 and case 2), and of former Liberal Cabinet minister Joe Fontana, former Prime Minister advisor Bruce Carson, and former Conservative MPs Rahim Jaffer and Helena Guergis, show how negligent Mary Dawson has been since she became federal Ethics Commissioner in July 2007 because all the cases were revealed by the media, not by her as she has failed to conduct audits of the activities and disclosures of federal Cabinet ministers, ministerial staff and advisors, Cabinet appointees and MPs – she and every other democratic good government watchdog must be required to conduct regular, random audits;
  • the many cases in Quebec show how negligent provincial and municipal election, ethics, lobbying and auditing watchdog agencies have been for decades there;
  • the cases of Nigel Wright and Andrew Cash show clearly that the huge “general application” loophole that is in all government ethics rules across Canada (except the rules for federal government employees) must be closed because the loophole means the rules do not apply to 99% of the decisions and actions of politicians, political staff and appointees, and it explicitly allows them to be involved in decisions even when they or their family members or friends have an interest in the outcome of the decision – a new rule prohibiting even being in an appearance of a conflict of interest must be passed;
  • the cases of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, former Ontario Liberal MP Chris Bentley, federal Liberal MPs Judy Sgro,  Wayne EasterJohn Cannis and Andrew Telegdi, former federal Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb all show that committees of politicians cannot properly enforce ethics rules because they are kangaroo courts that make decisions for political, not legal, reasons, often enforcing secret rules in behind-closed-door meetings with no public ruling — the federal Board of Internal Economy for the House of Commons and Senate should be disbanded and all the rules they and other committees enforce should be enforced by independent Officers of Parliament or by the courts, and the same change should be made in every government in Canada;
  • the 80 secret rulings federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has issued since 2007, any of which could be covering up a dangerously unethical situation, show clearly that all ethics enforcement agencies must be required to issue public rulings in every case;
  • the case of Justin Trudeau, and the cases of all federal MPs who have accepted the gift of sponsored travel from lobbyists, shows clearly that huge loopholes must be closed in federal ethics rules, and the job description and minimum hours for politicians must be set out in detailed rules to make it clear what work they must do, and that if they do other work during their politician work time their pay must be reduced for those hours, and an online, searchable public registry must be created and MPs and senators required to disclose what work they’re doing when they are in Parliament or outside Parliament, including details about whether they are making money through other means while they should be in the House of Commons or Senate;
  • the case of Alison Redford shows clearly that politicians must be prohibited from being involved in decisions if the interests (financial or otherwise) of their friends could be affected (federal MPs do not have this prohibition), and the word “friend” must be clearly defined (which it isn’t in federal rules);
  • the ethics and other good governance cases of Prime Minister Harper, and Conservative ministers Peter MacKay, Lisa Raitt, Tony Clement (who also violated federal spending rules in the G8-G20 fiasco), and Bev Oda, and former Conservative Cabinet Minister John Duncan, and Conservative Parliamentary Secretary Rick Dykstra, and 25 Cabinet ministers, ministers of state and parliamentarians who along with 35 Conservative MPs handed out government cheques with Conservative Party logos on them, show clearly how negligent federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has been in enforcing ethics rules because she either failed to find these people guilty for very questionable reasons, or failed to even investigate them – anyone must have the right to take any democratic good government watchdog to court if they fail to do their job properly (currently the federal Ethics Commissioner cannot be challenged in court even if she ignores the facts and the law in a ruling), and;
  • the ethics cases of federal Conservative Minister Jim Flaherty and Conservative parliamentary secretaries Eve Adams and Colin Carrie and Paul Calandra, and Conservative minister Christian Paradis, show clearly how there is no penalty even when you clearly violate federal ethics rules, and why mandatory high penalties are needed (and the case of former New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham shows how provincial penalties are also too weak).

Democracy Watch and the Government Ethics Coalition will continue pushing all governments across Canada until all of these needed changes, and more, are made to ensure honest, ethical politics.

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Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch

Tel: 613-241-5179

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign