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Federal Liberals’ Open Government Action Plan fails to fulfill Open Government Partnership (OGP) membership requirements — fails to commit to strengthening ethics, lobbying, political finance, public consultation and whistleblower protection laws and enforcement

Commitment to strengthen Access to Information Act may also be unjustifiably delayed if government ignores House Committee recommendations

Proposed changes to government spending and procurement processes do not include key change of increasing enforcement powers of Parliamentary Budget Officer and Auditor General

Thursday, June 23, 2016

OTTAWA – Today, as the federal government develops its third Action Plan for submission to the international Open Government Partnership (OGP), the nation-wide Open Government Coalition, Government Ethics Coalition and Money in Politics Coalition, made up of more than 70 citizen groups in total with more than three million members (all coordinated by Democracy Watch), called on the OGP Steering Committee to pressure the federal Liberals to strengthen their Action Plan because it fails to fulfill the commitment to increase government integrity.

“While the Liberals are committing to strengthening Canada’s open government law, and transparency in government spending, it looks like those changes may be unjustifiably delayed and they are clearly too weak to stop secret lobbying and secret political donations and to protect whistleblowers who report government wrongdoing,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Liberals’ plan, like the Conservatives’ past plans, continues to focus more on making currently available information available online through open data systems than on real open government changes that will ensure they keep their commitment to openness by default.”

“Secret, unethical lobbying, secret donations, secret expenses, excessive secrecy overall, conflicts of interest and sole-source contracts are currently legal, enforcement of key democracy and good government laws is too weak, as is whistleblower protection and public consultation, and so many key changes are clearly needed to ensure everyone in federal politics is effectively required to act honestly, openly, ethically, representatively and to prevent waste,” said Conacher.

In all these ways, the Liberals’ draft Action Plan violates the Open Government Partnership (OGP) requirements set out in the Open Government Declaration that all countries are required to sign. To fulfill the Declaration requirements, the Liberals’ Plan has to commit to strengthening open government in every way. Their Action Plan should have included measures to strengthen not only transparency laws and financial administration laws, but also federal ethics, lobbying, anti-corruption, political finance, whistleblower protection and public consultation laws, and enforcement of all these laws, in government and in the private sector.

As a result, the OGP Steering Committee should pressure the Liberals to improve their Action Plan.

In January 2012, Democracy Watch and the coalitions it coordinates submitted a 19-page letter to the Conservatives which set out 45 recommendations containing dozens of needed changes to key laws. Many of the recommended changes were promised by the Conservatives in their 2006 federal election platform, and by the Liberals in their 2015 federal election platform, and many have also been recommended (in their respective issue areas) by the federal Information Commissioner, Ethics Commissioner, Commissioner of Lobbying, Parliamentary Budget Officer, Oliphant Commission, and by many other citizen groups.

Democracy Watch and its coalitions have been pushing for years for key transparency and integrity changes to the federal Lobbying Act, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, and Conflict of Interest Act and related MP and Senate ethics rules. As well, opposition MPs and the Information Commissioner and the Open Government Coalition have been pushing to strengthen the Access to Information Act for several years, and most recently a House Committee recommended key changes to the Act.

The Canada Elections Act must be strengthened to close loopholes that allow for secret, unlimited donations and loans and false phone calls. The Parliament of Canada Act must be changed to give the Parliamentary Budget Officer the independence and powers needed to ensure truth-in-budgeting. The Financial Administration Act must be strengthened to tighten up rules on sole-source contracting, and the Auditor General Act strengthened to increase enforcement. Related Treasury Board codes, policies and rules in all of the above areas must also be strengthened (To see more details, click here). And a “Meaningful Public Consultation Act” must be passed to help ensure representative government decisions.

Democracy Watch’s Open Government Coalition, Government Ethics Coalition and Money in Politics Coalition will continue to push the federal Liberals to make complete open government commitments, and to fulfill all of the Open Government Partnership OGP requirements, and if they don’t will continue to appeal to the OGP Steering Committee to pressure the Liberals to fulfill all these requirements.

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

Democracy Watch’s Open Government Campaign