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97,000+ call on Finance Minister Freeland to Make the Big Banks Help more during the coronavirus crisis, and after

Key measures, that the U.S. enacted decades ago, needed to stop racism and discrimination in bank lending, and to ensure fair interest rates, fees and service for all customers

Big 6 Banks gouged out still very high profits of more than $41 billion in 2020 – so they can afford to help more, as the Prime Minister said last April

Loopholes also must be closed to ensure banks pay fair share of taxes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, February 22, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch, along with the more than 97,000 people from across Canada who have joined its letter-writing campaign and/or signed its Change.org petition, called on Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to work together with all federal parties in this minority government situation to make Canada’s big banks do more to help Canadians and small businesses, and pay their fair share of taxes, now and after the coronavirus crisis.

Democracy Watch recently filed a submission with Finance Canada’s pre-budget consultation process calling for 8 key changes (set out further below) needed to make the banks help more, stop racism and discrimination in lending and services, and stop gouging and other abuses.

Many of the 8 key changes were enacted in the U.S. decades ago, and apply to the U.S. banks that 4 of Canada’s Big 6 Banks own. In contrast, the Trudeau Liberals have done very little to address discrimination in bank lending, and nothing to stop gouging of all customers.

Recently, associations representing Black and Indigenous business owners called for the U.S. measures to be enacted in Canada to stop discrimination in bank lending.

The call comes after Canada’s Big 6 Banks reported still high profits in 2020 totalling $41.13 billion, just $5.1 billion (12%) less than in 2019 (BMO – $5.1B; CIBC – $3.8B ; National – $2.08; RBC – $11.4B; Scotiabank – $6.85B; TD – $11.9B). The Big 6 had record profits of more than $46 billion in 2019 – the 10th year in a row, and more than double their 2010 profits.

Four of Canada’s Big 6 Banks are listed in Fortune’s Global 500 for 2020, and are the 15th (RBC), 20th (TD), 32nd (Scotiabank) and 50th (BMO) most profitable financial institutions in the world, and the four most profitable Canadian companies in the Global 500 (See Canada’s Big Banks Backgrounder).

Former Finance Minister Bill Morneau boasted in early April 2020 that the federal government negotiated with the Big 6 Banks to temporarily cut some credit card interest rates for some customers (but not for small businesses) who request a deferral for a couple of months, and to process small business loans funded by the government, in addition to the up-to-6-month mortgage and loan deferrals and fee reductions the banks have already offered (but again, only for some customers, with the delayed amount still required to be paid later, plus interest).

However, those payment deferrals of about $1 billion have run out for most people, including about 760,000 Canadians who deferred their mortgage, and Prime Minister Trudeau stated on April 6th that “we need to see even more action like this going forward because this is a time to think about each other, not about the bottom line.”

“The big banks can afford to do much more to help during this crisis, and must be required by law to disclose much more information about how they treat customers and borrowers, and about their profits in every part of their business, to ensure they don’t gouge, discriminate against or abuse anyone and to ensure they are effectively required to serve everyone fairly and well with fair interest rates and fees,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“The federal government cannot tell if the banks are still gouging or treating customers unfairly in this crisis, and won’t be able to tell post-crisis, because the banks are allowed to keep secret the profit levels in each area of their business, what type of borrowers they approve and reject for loan and credit relief, and how many complaints they are receiving,” said Conacher. “As the U.S. did more than 40 years ago, the federal government must require the banks to disclose this information and more to ensure the banks don’t discriminate against anyone, and give everyone who needs it a real break in their loan and credit card payments during the crisis, and serve everyone fairly and well at fair interest rates and fees that give the banks a reasonable profit and not excessive gouging profit levels.”

The Big 6 Banks continue to reap high profits by firing thousands of people, shifting jobs overseas (or using temporary foreign workers), cutting services, and hiking fees and credit card interest rates even as the Bank of Canada’s prime rate dropped to record low levels.

The Big 6 Banks also paid their CEOs a total of $75 million in 2019 in salary and bonuses (an average of $12.5 million each).

The Big 6 Banks’ high profits and cuts to their prime lending rates show that they can afford to cut interest rates much more on loans like mortgages etc., and also to cut fees much more, and not raise them again to their gouging, excessive profit levels.

The more than 97,000 voters are calling on federal parties to work together now to require the banks:

  1. To cut all their interest rates and fees in half now, and cut loan payments entirely for anyone who needs it, without requiring payment or extra interest later;
  2. To disclose detailed profit reports after fully independent audits and keep rates and fees at reasonably low levels in the future (for example, many U.S. states cap credit card interest rates);
  3. To empower consumers and increase consumer protection by supporting the creation of an independent, consumer-run bank watchdog group (as recommended by MPs and senators in 1998);
  4. To disclose approval rates for credit, loans and account services by neighbourhood and type of borrower, and require corrective actions by any bank that discriminates (as the U.S. has required for more than 40 years under the Community Reinvestment Act) as part of their annual Public Accountability Statements);
  5. To re-open basic banking branches in neighbourhoods (where they closed them in the 1990s) to help get rid of predatory pay-day loan companies (and banking at Canada Post outlets should also be allowed to help ensure everyone has access to basic banking services at fair rates and fees);
  6. To cut bank executive pay down to a reasonable level (as in some European countries);
  7. To pay their fair share of taxes now, and in the future, by closing all the loopholes they exploit and (as England and Australia have) imposing an excess profits tax, and;
  8. Finally, enforcement measures and penalties also need to be strengthened to ensure banks, and other financial institutions, serve everyone fairly and well at fair prices (See Backgrounder on Weak Enforcement of Financial Consumer and Investment Protection)

See Full List of Key Bank Accountability Changes.

– 30 –

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 Big Banks Coronavirus Accountability Campaign

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

Group also pursuing lawsuit challenging Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that let everyone off except PM Trudeau for pressuring Attorney General to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin

Group also filed request in March 2019 with Lobbying Commissioner for investigation into lobbying by former PCO Clerk Kevin Lynch for SNC-Lavalin, and all SNC-Lavalin lobbying since 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, February 11, 2021

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

The letter sets out several reasons why the public deserves, and has a right to, a public explanation of the state of the investigation, and all decisions concerning the investigation, and any decisions concerning prosecutions. One of the main reasons is that two years have passed since the situation was first made public, and many of the facts of the situation have also been known for almost two years, and so an update is long overdue.

“Given the evidence, and that two years have passed since the situation was made public, and 18 months since the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling revealed many of the facts concerning Prime Minister Trudeau and other government officials pressuring the Attorney General, the public has a right to an update on the RCMP’s investigation, and any decisions that have been made concerning prosecuting anyone involved in the situation,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.

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

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

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

Democracy Watch also sent a letter in March 2019 to Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger requesting an investigation into whether former Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch violated the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by failing to register as a lobbyist for SNC-Lavalin, and into all of SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying of the federal government since 2014. The letter also requested that Commissioner Bélanger delegate the investigation to a provincial commissioner or someone independent of her and the Trudeau Cabinet, because she was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, dishonest process.

Democracy Watch is also pursuing a court case in the Federal Court of Appeal challenging Ethics Commissioner Dion’s ruling that let everyone off the hook, except Prime Minister Trudeau, for pressuring the Attorney General. Daniel Tucker-Simmons of Avant Law is representing Democracy Watch in the case, Federal Court of Appeal File #A-331-19.

DWatch is challenging this part of the ruling in court because in paragraphs 262-281 (pages 41-44) the Ethics Commissioner summarizes the actions of PMO officials, Cabinet ministers and their staff that put pressure on the Attorney General. However, in paragraphs 282-286 (page 44), the Ethics Commissioner then excuses the actions of everyone except Prime Minister Trudeau on the very questionable basis that the other officials “could not have influenced the Attorney General” and were acting “under the direction or authority of the Prime Minister…”

As the Ethics Commissioner ruled, by attempting to influence the Attorney General PM Trudeau violated section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act. Morneau, Wernick, and PMO and Finance Minister staff also attempted to influence the Attorney General. It is irrelevant whether they had the same power over the Attorney General as the PM has.

“The Ethics Commissioner made the right ruling by finding Prime Minister Trudeau guilty of violating the ethics law for pressuring the Attorney General to drop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, but he should have also found other PMO and government officials guilty because they also pressured the Attorney General,” said Conacher. “The Ethics Commissioner’s ruling set a dangerous precedent because it says Cabinet staff aren’t covered by the federal ethics law, and can do things that Cabinet ministers are not allowed to do, so hopefully the courts will reverse the Commissioner’s ruling so everyone who violated the law will be found guilty.”

Democracy Watch’s case also argues that Ethics Commissioner Dion should have delegated the investigation and ruling on the situation to a provincial ethics commissioner who had no ties to any federal party, given that he was chosen by the Trudeau Cabinet after a secretive, Cabinet-controlled process that failed to consult with opposition parties as required by the Parliament of Canada Act. Mr. Dion also had a record 8 unethical and questionable actions when he was federal Integrity Commissioner.

“Ethics Commissioner Dion should not be ruling on any situations involving Liberals as he was hand-picked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, very questionable process, and has an unethical past enforcement record, and so he should delegate investigations to a provincial ethics commissioner,” said Conacher.

– 30 –

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 Unfair Law Enforcement Campaign

Democracy Watch sues Integrity Commissioner for letting Ford/PC Party-connected lobbyists lobby Ford Cabinet unethically

Court cases challenge Commissioner’s first three public rulings on lobbying ethics rule enacted in July 2016 – he has made 763 secret decisions since 2018

Even a Ford PC Party MPP is concerned about whether Ford is giving these lobbyists policy gifts as they cash in on their so-called “public service”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, February 10, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has filed three applications in Ontario’s Divisional Court challenging rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake that allowed lobbyists who worked on campaigns for Ontario politicians, or gave them gifts, to lobby the politicians soon afterwards.

The cases challenge the first three public rulings of the Integrity Commissioner’s unknown number of decisions that have let dozens of people (and maybe more) lobby Doug Ford and his Cabinet ministers soon after they campaigned, fundraised or worked for Ford and/or Ontario’s PC Party in the 2018 leadership race and election, and/or worked for Ford or one or more of his ministers since the election.

Many of these people are still advising Ford and/or in senior PC Party positions while they continue to lobby Ford’s Cabinet on long-term care, property development, COVID-19 relief, mining, and other big issues.

The cases challenge rulings #6 and 7 on page 52 of the Commissioner’s 2019-2020 Annual Report, and ruling #10 on page 53 of the Report. These are the first three rulings that the Integrity Commissioner has made public enforcing section 3.4 of Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act). The cases are Division Court file numbers 632/20, 633/20 and 634/20. Nick Papageorge of Ross McBride LLP is representing Democracy Watch for the cases. Click here to see the Notice of Application challenging ruling #6 (the other two applications are very similar).

Section 3.4 was added to the LR Act on July 1, 2016, and it prohibits lobbying any politician or other public office holder if it will create a real or potential conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients. Commissioner Wake’s rulings are based on a very weak Interpretation Bulletin he finally issued in June 2020 that claims when a lobbyist assists a politician with fundraising or campaigning or gives them a gift, the conflict of interest created by the assistance or gift disappears soon afterwards, so the lobbyist can then lobby the politician and their staff.

The cases also ask the courts to rule that Commissioner Wake was biased when he issued the three rulings, given he knew that he would need the unanimous approval of Ford’s Cabinet and all MPPs to be re-appointed for a second five-year term, which happened on December 1st (although many MPPs were not present for that snap vote).

“Dozens of people who have helped or worked for Doug Ford or his Cabinet ministers or the PC Party have set themselves up in lobbying firms and, even though many of them have never lobbied before, big businesses are hiring them because they know it will get them inside access to Ford and his ministers,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Democracy Watch is challenging the first three very weak decisions that Ontario’s so-called Integrity Commissioner has made public that have allowed lobbyists corrupt Ontario government policy-making as they cash in on their so-called public service.”

“Hopefully the courts will issue rulings that stop this unethical lobbying of Ford’s Cabinet and require the Commissioner to start enforcing the lobbying ethics rules strictly and strongly,” said Conacher. “Democracy Watch will continue challenging the Integrity Commissioner’s rulings in court, and his excessive secrecy including 763 secret decisions since 2018, as long as the Commissioner continues letting lobbyists lobby politicians unethically, and violate the lobbying law in other ways.”

Even one of Ford’s MPPs has expressed concern, as Thornhill MPP Gila Martow issued a statement via Twitter and a docs webpage in December that said in part:

“Big box retailers should not be permitted to enrich themselves on the backs of small businesses simply because they can afford to hire well-connected lobbyists like Melissa Lantsman to get them preferential treatment.” (link in original)

Since April 2018, Commissioner Wake has issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions, closed 135 secret compliance reviews at the initial stage, and resolved 436 cases informally in secret (Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2020). At least some of those 763 secret decisions by Commissioner Wake have allowed dozens of other lobbyists (see list in next paragraph) to fundraise or campaign or give significant gifts to Ford’s Cabinet and then lobby them soon afterwards.

In addition to Melissa Lantsman of Enterprise Canada, the Commissioner has been letting the following lobbyists who have campaigned or worked for Ford or his Cabinet ministers lobby the Ford government unethically: Chris Froggatt of Loyalist Public Affairs; Kory Teneycke of Rubicon Strategy; Michael Diamond of Upstream Strategy Group; Alex Simakov of Sussex Strategy Group; Brayden Akers of Navigator Ltd.; Andrew Brander of Crestview Strategies; Carly Luis of StrategyCorp (until she re-joined as Ford Cabinet staff in September 2020); Melanie Paradis of McMillan Vantage (until she started working for Erin O’Toole in Sept. 2020) – and many others at their lobbying firms. Click here to see the full list.

All other commissioners in Canada have ruled that the conflict of interest created by assisting a politician in any significant way lasts for several years. For example, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s ruling says the conflict lasts four years. The federal lobbying law also prohibits Cabinet staff from lobbying for five years after leaving their position (s. 10.11 – though it has loopholes). (Click here to see Backgrounder on Conflict of Interest Rule in Ontario’s Lobbying Law).

As well, huge loopholes in the LR Act allow countless other lobbyists to lobby in secret and unethically. None of the following lobbying activities are required to be disclosed: unpaid lobbying, business lobbying or non-profit organization lobbying of less than 50 hours a year, lobbying about the enforcement of a law, or in response to a request for feedback from a Minister, official or MPP. As a result, anyone lobbying in these ways is also allowed to give gifts to and campaign, fundraise and do favours for Ontario Ministers, MPPs, political staff and government officials they are lobbying.

“Until huge loopholes are closed in the lobbying law, public officials are banned from lobbying for years after they leave their position, and the Integrity Commissioner enforces the law more strictly and strongly, secret, unethical lobbying will continue to corrupt Ontario government policy-making,” said Conacher.

– 30 –

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

Next Governor General should be chosen through democratic, multi-partisan, Canadianized process

GG is a key guardian of Canada’s democracy – must be fully independent and impartial, not handpicked in secret by PM

All federal parties should also agree on key rules of Parliament before next election to prevent abuse of power by PM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, January 22, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, as part of its Democratic Head Campaign which is supported by thousands of Canadians, Democracy Watch called on Prime Minister Trudeau to democratize and Canadianize the choice of the next Governor General. Like all the other Officers of Parliament, the Governor General (GG) must be independent of the Prime Minister because s/he makes many key decisions about the operations of Parliament and the government, and so the Prime Minister should not be choosing the GG alone as that taints the position with partisanship.

To democratize the selection of the Governor General, Democracy Watch’s campaign proposes that an independent committee (whose members are approved by all federal party leaders in the House of Commons) conduct a public, merit-based search for a shortlist of three nominees for GG, and then at least all federal party leaders should approve the choice of GG. Even better, given that the GG appoints the Lieutenant Governors of each province, Prime Minister Trudeau should send the shortlist of nominees to the party leaders of each legislature and have them rank the nominees. The GG would be the person who receives the most votes from this ranked ballot vote.

To Canadianize the selection of the Governor General, Democracy Watch proposes that the Prime Minister should not request that Queen Elizabeth approve of the person chosen through the process. The Queen does have to approve the person formally, but if the Prime Minister does not request the approval, and the Queen agrees to whomever is nominated, then a new constitutional convention will be established that Canada chooses its own Head of State. This will be a small but significant step toward full independence for Canada.

Both of these changes to the Governor General’s appointment process can be made by the Prime Minister alone – no changes to any law, or Canada’s Constitution, are needed.

“Prime Minister Harper appointed his own advisory committee for choosing the Governor General but it was a charade as he could ignore the committee’s nominees and he controlled the final choice. Given how important it is for the Governor General to be independent of the Prime Minister and impartial, especially in a minority government situation, Prime Minister Trudeau must involve opposition parties in choosing the Governor General, and it would be even better to involve party leaders from across Canada given that the Governor General appoints the Lieutenant Governors in each province,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.

“Prime Minister Trudeau should also tell the Queen who Canada has chosen as Governor General, and not ask her approval, and if she accepts that as the new protocol it will become clear that Canada chooses its own head of state,” said Conacher.

As well, Democracy Watch called on federal party leaders in the House of Commons to agree on public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want and as Britain’s Parliament did 10 years ago with its 110-page Cabinet manual. Agreeing on and writing down the rules now (and making them law as soon as possible) will help ensure the legislature runs fairly and democratically through to the next election.

The current rules in Canada are unclear because they are unwritten constitutional conventions – even constitutional scholars disagree what lines they draw (and, as a result, a large majority of scholars agree they should be written down). The former Governor General also said in an August 2016 interview with the Hill Times that he thought these unwritten constitutional conventions should be written down.

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

Ideally, the rules should also 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 can be removed from and reinstated in political party caucuses through democratic votes of caucus members; how members of legislature committees are chosen by caucuses not by party leaders, and; what a Cabinet can do during an election campaign period until the next Cabinet is chosen.

In England, Australia and New Zealand, political party leaders and MPs agreed years ago to clear, public rules so what happens before, after and in-between elections is fair for all the parties, and for voters. Most countries in the world also have clear, public rules. Britain’s politicians and public also all know that the only way an election can occur before the next fixed election date under Britain’s Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is if at least two-thirds of MPs vote in favour of a motion to call an early election or if a resolution is passed that states the legislature has no confidence in the government and that resolution is not reversed within 14 days.

“Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s politicians and public know the rules for UK minority governments because its rules are written but Canadian politicians and public don’t because our rules are unwritten,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “If federal party leaders don’t agree to key written rules before the next election, constitutional crises could happen with politicians, lawyers and academics having ridiculous arguments about what our unwritten rules are, and the unelected, unaccountable Governor General forced to make decisions based on conflicting opinions about unwritten rules. Meanwhile, in Britain, Australia and New Zealand everyone is following clear written rules.”

“Nobody knows for sure what an unwritten rule says, and that’s why Britain, Australia, New Zealand and most other countries have written down their key constitutional rules,” said Conacher. “It’s clearly in the public interest that Canada’s rules be written down to stop unfair abuses of power by the PM and Cabinet that will violate the rights of the legislature and the democratic will of the majority of voters right through the next election.”

The Governor General has almost never stopped a Prime Minister 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.

– 30 –

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 Head Campaign and Stop PM/Premier Abuses Campaign

Dozens of Ford and PC Party-connected lobbyists corrupting Ontario policy-making – Integrity Commissioner letting them violate law

Is Ford giving them gifts as they cash in on their so-called “public service”? Even a Ford PC Party MPP is concerned

Huge loopholes in law also need to be closed to stop secret, unethical lobbying

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, December 17, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its report on the dozens of people who have become provincial lobbyists soon after they campaigned, fundraised or worked for Doug Ford and/or Ontario’s PC Party in the 2018 leadership race and election, and/or worked for Ford or one or more of his Cabinet ministers. Many of them are still advising Ford and/or in senior PC Party positions while they continue to lobby Ford’s Cabinet on long-term care, property development, COVID-19 relief, mining, and other big issues.

Even one of Ford’s MPPs is expressing concern, as Thornhill MPP Gila Martow issued a statement via Twitter and a docs webpage on Friday that said in part:

“Big box retailers should not be permitted to enrich themselves on the backs of small businesses simply because they can afford to hire well-connected lobbyists like Melissa Lantsman to get them preferential treatment.” (link in original)

Very unfortunately, Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake has let Melissa Lantsman and many other Ford/PC Party-connected lobbyists violate Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act). Commissioner Wake finally confirmed publicly that he has been allowing Ford-connected lobbyists to do this in the negligently bad Interpretation Bulletin he issued in June 2020 interpreting the rule added to the LR Act on July 1, 2016 (section 3.4).

The rule prohibits lobbying any politician or other public office holder if it will create a real or potential conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients. But Commissioner Wake believes it’s fine to start lobbying one year after campaigning, fundraising, gifting or working with politicians or parties.

Among the dozens of lobbyists Commissioner Wake has let lobby unethically are: Chris Froggatt of Loyalist Public Affairs; Kory Teneycke of Rubicon Strategy; Michael Diamond of Upstream Strategy Group; Alex Simakov of Sussex Strategy Group; Brayden Akers of Navigator Ltd.; Andrew Brander of Crestview Strategies; Carly Luis of StrategyCorp (until she re-joined as Ford Cabinet staff in September 2020); Melanie Paradis of McMillan Vantage (until she started working for Erin O’Toole in Sept. 2020) – and many others at their lobbying firms – and (as noted above) Melissa Lantsman of Enterprise Canada. Click here to see the full list.

All other commissioners in Canada have ruled that the conflict of interest created by assisting a politician lasts for several years. For example, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s ruling says the conflict lasts four years. The federal lobbying law also prohibits Cabinet staff from lobbying for five years after leaving their position (s. 10.11 – though it has loopholes). (Click here to see Backgrounder on Conflict of Interest Rule).

“Dozens of people who have helped or worked for Doug Ford or his Cabinet ministers or the PC Party have set themselves up in lobbying firms and, even though many of them have never lobbied before, big businesses are hiring them because they know it will get them inside access to Ford and his ministers,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch. “With negligently bad decisions, Ontario’s so-called Integrity Commissioner is showing zero integrity by letting these lobbyists corrupt Ontario government policy-making as they cash in on their so-called public service.”

As a result of his negligently bad enforcement attitude, since July 2016 Commissioner Wake has also let off 85% of lobbyists he has found violating the LR Act, and issued 763 secret decisions that have let off an unknown number of other lobbyists who may have fundraised or campaigned or give significant gifts to politicians and then lobbied them only one year later, or violated the law in other ways. Click here to see details.

Commissioner Wake’s weak enforcement record shows he is a lapdog who should not have been appointed to a second term. Opposition MPs should have forced a committee vote on this (ss. 23(2)) but they all approved it on December 1st.

As well, huge loopholes in the LR Act allow countless other lobbyists to lobby in secret and unethically. None of the following lobbying activities are required to be disclosed: unpaid lobbying, business lobbying or non-profit organization lobbying of less than 50 hours a year, lobbying about the enforcement of a law, or in response to a request for feedback from a Minister, official or MPP. As a result, anyone lobbying in these ways is also allowed to give gifts to and campaign, fundraise and do favours for Ministers, MPPs, political staff and government officials they are lobbying.

“Until huge loopholes are closed in the lobbying law, public officials are banned from lobbying for years after they leave their position, and the Integrity Commissioner strengthens enforcement, secret, unethical lobbying will continue to corrupt Ontario government policy-making,” said Conacher.

– 30 –

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

Integrity Commissioner has let off 23 of 27 lobbyists (85%) he found violating lobbying law since 2018 – likely dozens more violated law

763 rulings remain secret — negligently weak enforcement means MPPs made a big mistake re-appointing Commissioner Wake for a second 5-year term

Huge loopholes in law also need to be closed to stop secret, unethical lobbying

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, December 8, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its report on the rulings on lobbyists published in Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake’s 2018-2109 and 2019-2020 Annual Reports. From April 2018 to March 2020, Integrity Commissioner Wake let off 23 out of 27 (85%) of the lobbyists he found violating Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) in serious ways, including failing to register their lobbying for a year or more. He only penalized four of the lobbyists who violated the LR Act, and only by publicizing their names.

As well, Commissioner Wake only fully investigated and issued public rulings on 63 of the 634 allegations of lobbying violations he reviewed (only 10%), and he issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions to lobbyists. Given his weak public enforcement record, he likely let off dozens more lobbyists in the 763 secret rulings and opinions he issued.

Commissioner Wake’s weak enforcement record shows he is a lapdog who should not have been appointed to a second term. Opposition MPs should have forced a committee vote on this (ss. 23(2)) but they all approved it on December 1st.

When the Integrity Commissioner lets a lobbyist off for a violation of the law, the lobbyist’s identity is kept secret, as are the details of their lobbying. The Commissioner can penalize a lobbyist for a violation of the LR Act by naming them publicly and/or banning them from lobbying for up to two years (section 17.9).

As well, from April 2018 to March 2020 the Commissioner let off at least 13 lobbyists, and likely dozens more, for secret or unethical lobbying because of huge loopholes in the LR Act. None of the following communications are required to be disclosed as lobbying: Unpaid lobbying, business lobbying or non-profit organization lobbying of less than 50 hours a year, lobbying about the enforcement of a law, or in response to a request for feedback from a Minister, official or MPP.

Among the dozens of lobbyists Commissioner Wake has let off are people who worked in senior roles on Doug Ford’s or the Ontario PC Party’s election campaign and/or for Ford’s ministers and, one year later, started lobbying Ford’s Cabinet. These lobbyists include Chris Froggatt of Loyalist Public Affairs, Kory Teneycke of Rubicon Strategy and Michael Diamond of Upstream Strategy Group (and several others at their lobbying firms), Melissa Lantsman of Enterprise Canada and Melanie Paradis (until she stopped in Sept. 2020). See details in subsection B(ii) of Backgrounder on rulings.

Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2020.

Commissioner Wake let these and many other lobbyists off based on a negligently bad Interpretation Bulletin he issued in June 2020 saying that when a lobbyist assists a politician with fundraising or campaigning or gives them a gift, the conflict of interest created by the assistance or gift magically disappears after one year, so the lobbyist can lobby the politician and their staff after that year.

A rule was added July 1, 2016 to the LR Act (section 3.4) that prohibits lobbying any politician or other public office holder if it will create a real or potential conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients. But Commissioner Wake negligently took until June 2020 to issue his Bulletin about the new rule (Click here to see Backgrounder on Conflict of Interest Rule).

As a result of this negligently bad Interpretation Bulletin, from 2018-2020 Commissioner Wake has let off an unknown number of other lobbyists for unethically illegal lobbying. Since April 2018, Commissioner Wake has issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions, closed 135 secret compliance reviews at the initial stage, and resolved 436 cases informally in secret. Likely dozens of those 763 secret decisions by Commissioner Wake allowed lobbyists to fundraise or campaign or give significant gifts to politicians and then lobby them only one year later, or to violate the law in other ways.

Commissioner Wake’s Bulletin is ridiculous. Doug Ford and all his Cabinet ministers and their staff, and all Progressive Conservative MPPs, owe all of the people who helped them win power (or have fundraised for them) at least until the next election, and arguably for the rest of their political careers. No other commissioner in Canada has set such a short “cooling-off” time period for lobbyists – all have said the conflict of interest created by assisting a politician lasts for several years. See, for example, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s ruling that the conflict of interest lasts at least four years.

“Doug Ford’s former campaigners who set themselves up in lobbying firms after he won the 2018 election are all violating Ontario’s lobbying law that prohibits lobbying politicians you have assisted with fundraising or campaigning, but unfortunately the Integrity Commissioner has issued negligently bad rulings protecting them and failing to stop their unethical lobbying,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.

Commissioner Wake’s ethics rulings on Ministers, MPPs and other government officials are just as bad. He let Premier Ford off even though he attended the final Cabinet meeting approving the appointment of his old friend Ron Taverner as OPP Commissioner, and let his staff try to rig the process in favour of Taverner (and he also let Ford’s staff off). He also let Premier Ford off even though he offered Taverner an executive job at the Ontario Cannabis Store. He also let a top government official off who was fundraising for a political party (See p.29), and let several public servants off even though they used government resources for self-benefit (See p.40), and another public servant off even though they were involved in hiring a family member (See p.42).

Integrity Commissioner Wake’s negligently bad enforcement record shows he is a lapdog who should not have been re-appointed for another term, as he has let dozens of lobbyists get away with secret, unethical lobbying, and let the Premier and his staff and top government officials get away with clear violations of the province’s government ethics laws,” said Conacher. “By re-appointing Commissioner Wake, Ontario’s political parties have confirmed that they are in favour of secretive and unethically bad government decision-making and don’t care about protecting the public interest or ensuring democratic good government.”

Integrity Commissioner Wake has also taken the negligent position (in response to a letter sent by DWatch in January 2020) that he will only issue public summaries of his rulings in his annual report which is made public in June of each year, and covers the fiscal-year period which runs from April 1 to March 31 of the previous year.

This means if Commissioner Wake completes an investigation of a lobbyist after April 1st any year, he will not issue any information or a public ruling on that investigation until his annual report in June of the following year (14 months later), unless he decides to penalize the lobbyist (which he rarely decides to do).

Commissioner Wake also claimed in his 2018-2019 Annual Report (p. 47) that the advisory opinions he gives lobbyists under section 15 of the LR Act are confidential, but there is nothing in that section or anywhere in the LR Act that requires them to be kept secret. They are rulings, and the public has a right to know how the Commissioner has ruled every time. The Commissioner should at least issue a summary of every ruling.

There is nothing in the lobbying law that prohibits Integrity Commissioner Wake from issuing a public ruling on a lobbyist’s alleged violations of the law after he completes his investigation and the lobbyist has been given an opportunity to respond, and it is absurdly negligent for him to claim that the law allows him to wait a year or more to issue a public ruling, and to keep almost all his rulings secret,” 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 Transport Minister, Transport Canada and MPs to disclose lobbying by Boeing for 737 Max-8 approval

Loopholes in federal lobbying law allow for secret, unethical lobbying

Transport Committee MPs should call for public inquiry in its upcoming report on aircraft certification process

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, December 1, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch disclosed the letter it has sent to federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, top Transport Canada officials Deputy Minister Michael Keenan, and civil aviation heads Nicholas Robinson and David Turnbull, and MPs on the Transport Committee calling on them to disclose all communications with anyone who works with or represents Boeing concerning the Government of Canada’s consideration of whether to approve Boeing’s 737 Max-8 to fly again in Canadian airspace after two crashes of the plane killed 346 people, including 18 Canadians. Huge loopholes in the federal Lobbying Act allow for secret lobbying (See details below).

In its letter, Democracy Watch also called on Transport Committee MPs to re-consider its vote last Thursday and recommend that the Trudeau Cabinet initiate a public inquiry into the many questions that Transport Canada refuses to answer about its decision-making that led to the 737 Max being approved, and between the first crash of the plane in Indonesia in October 2018 and the second crash in Ethiopia in March 2019 (the 18 Canadians were killed in the second crash, and afterwards the federal government finally banned the plane from flying).

Despite many unanswered questions remaining about the Transport Minister’s and Transport Canada’s actions, and even though Boeing refused to appear before the Committee, last Thursday Liberal and Conservative MPs on the Committee shamefully voted against a motion calling for an inquiry.

“Canadians have the right to know all the details about Boeing lobbying anyone in federal politics to try to win approval for the 737 Max to fly again in Canada, and the Minister, government officials and MPs must disclose that lobbying, and launch an independent public inquiry into how the plane was approved,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “It is scandalous that Boeing is allowed to lobby in secret about this, and it shows how much the federal lobbying law is a sad, loophole-filled joke that allows secret, unethical lobbying.”

The federal Lobbying Act has huge loopholes that allow for secret lobbying, including lobbying of any regulatory agency by any business regulated by the agency. Clause 3(2)(b) of the federal Lobbying Act sets out that loophole:
     3(2) This Act does not apply in respect of
… (b) any oral or written communication made to a public office holder by an individual on behalf of any person or organization with respect to the enforcement, interpretation or application of any Act of Parliament or regulation by that public office holder with respect to that person or organization;…”

As well, the Lobbying Act only requires disclosure of paid lobbying (sections 5 and 7). As a result, Boeing could be paying former Liberal Cabinet ministers to give it strategic advice, while they secretly lobby for free for Boeing.

In addition, this regulation under the Lobbying Act:
https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2008-116/index.html
has huge loopholes in it as it only requires oral, pre-arranged communications initiated by the lobbyist to be disclosed monthly in the Registry of Lobbyists when the lobbying is about anything other than financial benefits.

As a result of these huge loopholes, Boeing doesn’t have to register and disclose any of its lobbying of Transport Canada or the Transport Minister or MPs re: the re-validation of the 737 Max, and it hasn’t according to the Registry of Lobbyists:
https://lobbycanada.gc.ca/app/secure/ocl/lrs/do/clntSmmrySrch?registrationText=boeing&searchType=Search

And, even if Boeing did register its lobbying generally about the 737 Max, Boeing wouldn’t have to disclose any communication initiated by Transport Canada officials or the Transport Minister or his staff or MPs, or any oral communications that were not pre-arranged by Boeing’s lobbyists, or any written communications (including letters, emails, pins etc.).

Finally, because none of the people lobbying are required to register, they are not covered by the ethics rules in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. As a result, it’s legal for Boeing to have people lobby for them in secret who have fundraised or campaigned in the past for Minister Garneau or Transport Committee MPs.

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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 Money in Politics Campaign

Democracy Watch files lawsuit against NB Premier’s election call

Case is not to overturn election results – just for ruling that election call was illegal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, November 26, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has filed an application in New Brunswick’s Court of Queen’s Bench challenging Premier Blaine Higgs’ advice last August to the Lieutenant Governor to call the provincial snap election (New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench file no. FM-90-20).

The case is not aimed at overturning the election results. Instead, it only asks the court to declare that Premier Higgs’ action violated the fixed election date measure in the Legislative Assembly Act (ss. 3(4)) and the constitutional convention that has been created by premiers calling elections only on the fixed date in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

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

“Premier Higgs’ snap election call was self-interested and unfair, and it violated New Brunswick’s provincial law that fixed election dates, and the good democratic tradition of fixed elections every four years that has developed through the past three provincial elections,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch, who filed an affidavit in support of the application.

Calling a snap election in violation of a provincial law and a constitutional convention is bad – calling a snap election during a pandemic is even worse. Premier Higgs also used the completely invalid excuse that the three opposition parties refused to agree support the government in every vote until October 2022, or at least until after the pandemic. In a parliamentary system of government, or in any form of democratic government, opposition parties are not required to agree to support the government at any time.

“By calling a snap election during a pandemic instead of waiting for the fixed election date in 2022, Premier Higgs acted like an old-school power-hungry politician, not a leader committed to fair and democratic elections and inter-party cooperation,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully the courts will rule that the Premier violated the law when he called his self-interested and unfair snap election.”

Snap elections are unfair not only to opposition parties (as they are usually called when having an election favours the ruling party), but also to people who want to run as a candidate but can’t afford to suddenly drop everything and run. That’s why the federal Parliament, and every province except Nova Scotia, followed B.C.’s lead in 2001 and enacted fixed election date measures. The UK Parliament also enacted such measures.

In the election, Premier Higgs’ Progressive Conservative Party won 55% of the seats in the legislature with the support of just over 39% of voters.

Jamie Simpson is providing legal counsel to Democracy Watch for the court case.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch files lawsuit against federal government’s too-political, unconstitutional judicial appointment system

Case alleges system is too open to political interference, as has been revealed over the past year, and violates independence of courts and public’s Charter right to impartial courts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, November 16, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the application it has filed in Federal Court challenging the federal government’s system for appointing judges to the federal courts, and all provincial superior courts and courts of appeal, because it is too open to political interference that violates the constitutional principle that guarantees the independence of courts, and the public’s Charter right to impartial courts. Wade Poziomka of Ross & McBride LLP is leading the litigation team representing Democracy Watch and its co-founder Duff Conacher in the case.

The appointment process for these courts matters a lot because the Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear 90% of appeals from these courts, and many appeals are also refused by provincial appeal courts, so in many cases the provincial superior courts are the public’s court of last resort. The constitutional guarantee of the independence of the courts has been upheld in several rulings on the measures in Part VII of the Constitution. And sections 7 and 11(d) (and, indirectly, 24(1)) of the Charter have been applied in rulings to ensure impartial court hearings.

The problems are longstanding, and have been raised in the past: the federal Minister of Justice has too much political control of the process from start to finish, from choosing the majority of the members of the judicial appointment advisory committees in each province and territory (who serve renewable two-year terms), to receiving long lists of candidates from those committees, to circulating those lists secretly to ruling party MPs, Cabinet ministers and ruling party officials before making the final choice. The Minister also makes the decision, without any advisory committee involved making recommendations, to promote a sitting judge by appointing them to a court of appeal. (See Backgrounder below for details)

Details about how many ruling party officials the Minister of Justice involves in reviewing the long lists of candidates for judicial appointments submitted by the advisory committees have been confirmed over the past year by whistleblowers disclosing internal government emails to the Globe and Mail and CBC and Radio-Canada.

And last April the Canadian Judicial Council found that Justice Colleen Suche, spouse of then-federal Natural Resources Cabinet Minister Jim Carr, had violated the judiciary’s ethics code by providing suggestions about who the federal Cabinet should appoint as judges.

In contrast, Cabinet ministers in Manitoba (s. 3.3) and B.C. (s. 21) choose a minority of the members of the advisory committee for their provincial courts (ideally the Cabinet should not choose any of the members). Also in contrast, the advisory committees in Ontario, Quebec and the UK submit only 1-3 candidates for each open judge position, and the minister is required to choose from that short list (and in the UK where the committee only submits one candidate, the minister must explain in writing to the committee if s/he rejects the recommended candidate).

Last week the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) expressed concern about the final step of the federal appointment process in which the Minister circulates the long lists of candidates to many ruling party officials, saying that it is “a process that is open to speculation about political interference” that may be “a factor in the number of vacancies on the bench, which is a direct contributor to court delays and the access to justice crisis in Canada.”

There are also concerns that the partisan nature of the appointment process may be inhibiting the appointment of judges that reflect Canada’s diversity. Last June, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada expressed the need for a “our courts, including our highest court, to reflect the diversity of Canadians.” In September, 36 lawyers associations, legal clinics and advocacy groups called for changes to the appointment process, as did the CBA, to increase the appointment of more Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) judges.

“The current federal judicial appointment system is open to too much political interference by the ruling party, which violates the independence of the courts that is need to ensure democratic good government and fair law enforcement for all,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully this case will lead to key changes that will ensure the appointment process for judges across Canada is truly independent and merit-based.”

“The power of Parliament is checked by the power of the judiciary, which has the ability to declare laws enacted by Parliament to be unconstitutional,” said Wade Poziomka, a partner at Ross & McBride LLP who is leading the litigation team representing Democracy Watch. “The independence of the judiciary is a necessary safeguard in a healthy democracy. This case challenges an appointment process that has been in place over more than one government, a process that is ripe for change because it allows partisan considerations to affect appointments.”

“Democracy Watch wants to strengthen the independence of our judiciary and, in turn, public confidence in the justice system,” said Poziomka. “Our first choice is to work with federal politicians and other stakeholders to achieve this goal. If litigation is necessary however, Democracy Watch will argue the merits of its case before the Federal Court.”

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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

See more at Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Stop Unfair Law Enforcement Campaign



Background on Key Problems that Make the
Federal Judicial Appointments System Too Political

To become a federally appointed judge, a person must either be a lawyer for 10 years or a lawyer and quasi-judicial tribunal member for a combined total of 10 years (See s. 3 of the Judges Act, and ss. 5.2 and 5.3 of the Federal Courts Act). There are Judicial Advisory Committees for each province and territory that review applications and recommend long lists of qualified candidates to the Minister of Justice.

The problems with the federal judicial appointments system that the case challenges are longstanding, and have been raised in the past, (see also here and here and here, and most provinces have the same problems with their appointment system), as follows:

  1. Canada’s federal judicial appointment system is just a self-enforced policy of the federal government that can be changed at any time. In contrast, in the UK and in most provinces the appointment system is enshrined in law so that a Cabinet can’t change it without introducing a public bill that is debated by the legislature and the public;
  2. The Minister of Justice and Cabinet appoint a majority of the seven members of each Judicial Advisory Committee. They appoint:
    • three of the members directly;
    • one from a list of nominees submitted by the Law Society of the province/territory;
    • one from a list of nominees submitted by the provincial or territorial chapter of the Canadian Bar Association;
    • one from a list of nominees submitted by the jurisdiction’s Attorney General, and;
    • then the chief judge of the jurisdiction chooses the last member of each committee

(ideally, the Minister and Cabinet should not be choosing any of the members of the committees) and the Minister alone chooses to appoint sitting judges to appeal courts (ideally, a fully independent committee should be recommending a short list of 1-3 sitting judges as candidates for promotion to appeal courts);

  1. The federal judicial advisory committees are appointed by the Minister and Cabinet to renewable two-year terms (ideally, even if the Minister and Cabinet members are removed from appointing any of the committee members (as recommended above in #2) the terms should not be renewable, to ensure regular turnover of committee members);
  1. Each committee submits a long list of candidates, which gives the Minister a lot of leeway to appoint whomever s/he wants (ideally, the committees should submit only 1-3 candidates for each open judge position, as in Ontario, Quebec and the UK), and;
  1. Before making the final choice, the Minister shares each list of candidates with Cabinet ministers and ruling party MPs, and also ruling party officials, from the province or territory (ideally, the Minister should be prohibited from sharing the list with anyone).

Illegal snap election produces (sort of) new B.C. false majority government – will it finally be democratic?

Premier Horgan’s power-mad snap election during a pandemic leads to lowest voter turnout ever at just over 52% – NDP supported by only 23% of voters

Election call and results show that, while they failed to make promises to clean up B.C. politics, all parties need to work together to make changes or B.C.’s dangerous tradition of dirty politics will continue to hurt the province

Horgan’s self-interested snap election also delays much-needed actions in response to COVID-19 crisis for a deadly 2 months

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, October 26, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on B.C.’s provincial parties, especially the NDP led by Premier John Horgan who just called a dishonest, unethical, illegal snap election, to make all the changes needed to ensure democratic politics across the province. Last Friday, Democracy Watch announced that, together with Wayne Crookes, founder of IntegrityBC, filed a petition in the B.C. Supreme Court challenging Premier John Horgan’s advice to the Lieutenant Governor to call the snap election even though he promised to hold the election on the fixed election date in October 2021.

While the final seat totals for each party won’t be known for a couple of weeks after the final count and recounts, Premier Horgan’s power-mad snap election call during a pandemic led to 52.4% voter turnout, the lowest ever in a B.C. election (see summaries of the history of B.C. elections here and here). This means the NDP, which won about 45% of the vote, is actually only supported by about 23% of registered voters in B.C. (and the NDP is supported by only about 22% of eligible voters, as only about 95% of eligible voters are registered to vote, so only about 50% of eligible voters voted). Preliminary totals from Elections B.C. are that there were approximately 3.5 million registered voters in the 2020 elections, approximately 1.83 million of whom voted, out of about 3.7 million total eligible voters.

As well, the NDP won a false majority of about 63% of the seats in the legislature with only about 45% voter support, while the Green Party won only 3.5% of the seats with 15% voter support (the Liberal seat total and percentage roughly matched). Not that more evidence was needed, these unfair, undemocratic results show clearly that voting system reforms are needed.

However, voting system reforms only make election results more democratic and fair – other key democratic and accountability reforms are needed to ensure everyone in B.C. politics always acts honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and prevents waste.

“The B.C parties promised almost nothing to clean up politics in the province, but this dishonest, unethical and illegal snap election has shown clearly that many changes are needed to ensure everyone in B.C. politics is, finally, effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. As with every jurisdiction in Canada, about 100 specific changes are needed in B.C. to ensure democratic good government and democratic politics.

If the B.C. parties and voters want not just a new but also a democratic government, the top 10 most important changes that need to be made for everyone (politicians, appointees, political staff, public servants) in the provincial and municipal governments, and in every government and government-funded institution across the province, are as follows:

  1. Enact an honesty-in-politics law that allows for complaints to the provincial Ethics Commissioner about broken promises, and about dishonest statements made anywhere (including in the legislature) by anyone involved in politics, with mandatory high fines as the penalty (including for false online election ads).
  2. Require all provincially regulated industry and service sectors (property and auto insurance, financial and investment services, health care institutions, energy and water) to include a notice in their mailings and emails to customers inviting them to join and fund citizen watchdog groups for each industry and sector, and increase royalties for all resource development sectors and put part of the increase into a fund that citizen watchdog groups jointly oversee and use for jointly decided initiatives.
  3. Establish a Public Appointments Commission whose members are approved of by the leaders of parties that receive more than 5 percent of the popular vote in the election, and require the Commission to conduct public, merit-based searches and choose a short list of a maximum of 3 candidates for all Cabinet appointments, with the Cabinet required to choose from the short list (especially for judges, tribunal members and other law enforcement positions).
  4. Enact a meaningful public consultation law that requires broad, in-depth public consultation with voters (including legislature committee hearings) before any government or government institution makes a significant decision, and free and empower MLAs to represent voters and hold the government accountable by restricting the powers of the Premier and party leaders;
  5. Ban political donations and gifts from businesses, unions and other organizations, and (as in Quebec) limit individual donations to $100 annually and establish per-vote and donation-matching public funding, and limit election spending by parties and candidates to about $1 per voter, and advertising spending by third parties to $50,000.
  6. Prohibit everyone in politics from participating in any way in any decision-making process if they have even the appearance of a conflict of interest (even if the decision applies generally), including banning anyone who leaves politics from communicating with anyone involved in politics about their decisions for 3-5 years.
  7. Require everyone in politics to disclose through an online registry any communication they have with anyone with regard to decisions they are making (to close the secret lobbying loopholes that still exist in B.C.) and prohibit lobbyists from helping with political campaigns or fundraising (as federal government does).
  8. Change the voting system to ensure a more accurate representation of the popular vote results of each election in the seats held by each party in the legislature (and in city councilors elected) while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, voters in each riding/constituency (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with a low-level, narrow-base of support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in the legislature) – and, if DWatch loses its court case, actually fix election dates (as Britain has).
  9. Strengthen the access-to-information law by reducing loopholes, applying it to all government and government-funded institutions, requiring that records of all decisions and actions be disclosed regularly, and giving the Information Commissioner the power and mandate to order disclosure (as in B.C., Ontario and Quebec) and changes to government institutions’ information systems (as in Britain), and to penalize violators, and ensure whistleblower protection by strengthening the rules and empowering the Public Interest Commissioner to protect all whistleblowers in the public and private sectors.
  10. Reduce waste by prohibiting omnibus budget bills, and empowering the Auditor General to: audit all government and government-funded institutions; audit projected spending to ensure truth-in-budgeting; prohibit government advertising if it is misleading or partisan; order changes to clean up the financial management of any institution, and; penalize violators of spending or procurement rules.

– 30 –

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

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