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DWatch calls on federal and Ontario governments to end fossil fuel financing by Canada’s banks and other financial institutions

Group joins launch of international campaign by 50+ organizations in 19 countries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, May 17, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch joined 50+ organizations in 19 countries in launching a new campaign call to stop fossil fuel financing by banks and other financial institutions. Already more than 7,000 Canadians have joined DWatch’s letter-writing campaign and/or signed its Change.org petition, calling on Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ontario Premier Doug Ford to work together with all parties and make three key changes that will expose, and end, fossil fuel financing by Canada’s Big Banks and other key financial institutions, and empower financial consumers and retail investors to have a much greater say in what financial institutions are doing with their money.

According to research by the Rainforest Action Network and other organizations, 3 of Canada’s Big 5 Banks are among the top 12 banks worldwide financing the fossil-fuel industry, and the other 2 are in the top 25 banks. Click here to see their report.

It was difficult for the organizations to find out this information, and Canada’s Big Banks are denying it is accurate. The information also doesn’t include other Canadian financial institutions, such as insurance companies, that support the industry, nor does it cover other major industries that create the pollution that is causing the climate crisis.

In April’s federal government budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland didn’t include any measures to require the Big Banks or other financial institutions to disclose their climate-related investments. The government only committed to talk to provincial and territorial governments about disclosure (p. 175). Canada’s Big Banks and other Canadian big businesses are resisting requirements to disclose these investments. When the UN’s Net-Zero Banking Alliance was launched on April 21 , VanCity Credit Union was the only Canadian financial institution signed on to the initiative.

The international Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) has recommended requiring disclosure, as did an Ontario government task force in January 2021 (Recommendation 41, pp. 68-71). Canada’s Big Banks and other financial institutions are not required to lend and invest in actually sustainable businesses that will create long-term jobs that don’t pollute or harm Canadians and their communities.

“Canada’s big banks and other financial institutions wouldn’t be able to operate without our money, and so they shouldn’t be allowed to keep details of their fossil fuel industry loans, investments and insurance secret from us,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch, which has led the bank accountability movement in Canada in the past 25 years. “The federal and Ontario governments must require all financial institutions to disclose their fossil fuel financing, to finance only actually sustainable big businesses, and establish two citizen groups that will empower financial consumers and retail investors to have more say over how financial institutions are using their money.”

Democracy Watch Stop Fossil Fuel Financing Campaign calls for 3 key changes which either the federal government (through federal laws) or the Ontario government (through securities laws) can make. The changes that would require disclosure of fossil-fuel investments by banks and other key financial institutions; require them to finance only actually sustainable big businesses, and empower financial consumers and investors to ensure their money is used to support sustainable, job-creating businesses:

  1. Require banks, insurance, trust and mutual fund companies, and other financial institutions, to disclose their lending, investments and insurance for the fossil fuel industry, and all other major carbon-producing industries (coal, heavy manufacturing), by company as recommended by the international Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD);
  2. Add the Equator Principles and other real sustainability rules to Canada’s and Ontario’s laws to require banks and other financial institutions to lend, invest and provide insurance only to actually sustainable big businesses, and;
  3. Establish a Financial Consumer Organization (FCO) using this innovative method that has been proven effective in the U.S., and an Individual Investor Organization (IIO) using the same method. Together these groups will exponentially increase the information available to financial institution customers and individual investors about how financial institutions use and invest their money, and will also exponentially increase the power of financial consumers and individual investors to have a say in the use of their money, and to push for actually responsible, sustainable investing.

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop Fossil Fuel Financing Campaign and Bank Accountability Campaign and Corporate Responsibility Campaign

Democracy Watch will challenge Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that ignored PM Trudeau’s clear violation in WE Charity grant approval

Federal ethics law prohibits all conflicts of interest and improper decisions, including improper apparent conflict that Commissioner found Trudeau had

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, May 14, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it will challenge Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s ruling on Prime Minister Trudeau’s participation in the WE Charity grant approval process because the Commissioner made four key errors in letting Trudeau off even though Trudeau clearly violated the federal government ethics law.

The Ethics Commissioner concluded that, because PM Trudeau’s spouse volunteers as an ambassador and champion for WE Charity, including hosting a podcast for it, and his mother and brother have been paid large sums to give speeches for the charity, and the PM has also appeared at several WE events, there was a strong appearance of conflict between the Trudeau family’s relationship with WE and Mr. Trudeau’s duty to make decisions that best serve the public interest.” (paragraphs 248-250).

However, the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling first claims, wrongly, that Trudeau was not in a real or potential conflict of interest. Democracy Watch’s position is that, because of the extensive, direct and ongoing family ties between the Trudeau family and WE, especially the fact that his spouse is a WE ambassador and podcaster, the PM was clearly in a potential conflict of interest when WE Charity began engaging with the government about the grant, and then in a real conflict of interest as soon as WE Charity engaged with Cabinet and the PMO.

In the Trudeau II Report about the SNC-Lavalin scandal involving the Prime Minister and other top government officials, Commissioner Dion defined “private interests” as including “financial, social or political interests (paragraphs 288 to 292). In his ruling on the WE Charity grant, he concluded that the grant definitely benefited WE’s private interests but ignored the fact that the grant would very likely, by helping WE financially and deepening the relationship between WE and the PM’s government and family, also benefit the social interests of his WE-ambassador spouse and his family members who spoke at WE events, and the PM’s political interests as WE continues to promote the PM as it has for more than a decade (paragraphs 233-238 and 243-244).

Secondly, the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling claims, wrongly, that being in an appearance of a conflict of interest is not a violation of the federal Conflict of Interest Act (CofI Act), and that only being in a real or potential conflict of interest is (paragraphs 252-268).

This part of the ruling is wrong because the purpose of the CofI Act is to prevent all “conflicts of interest” whether real, apparent or potential (subsections 3(b) and (c)), and the Act prohibits federal politicians and government officials from participating in specific decisions like handing out grants and contracts when they are “in a conflict of interest” (sections 4 and 6) which includes any type of conflict of interest, real, apparent or potential (as the Federal Court of Appeal ruled unanimously in 2009 (para. 49)).

Thirdly, the CofI Act prohibits politicians furthering not only their own interests but also “those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests” (sections 4 and 6). As mentioned above, the WE Charity grant could benefit Trudeau and his relatives’ interests. In addition, the Ethics Commissioner ignored evidence that Trudeau and his spouse are friends of the Kielburger brothers who head up WE. Craig Keilburger described Trudeau as a friend in a November 2015 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, and at the same time at the WE event where he gave his first speech as Prime Minister, Trudeau describe both Craig and his brother Marc as friends. Given this, and that the ties between the families have only increased since then, again including that Trudeau’s spouse is a WE Ambassador, the Ethics Commissioner was wrong to conclude that that they are not friends (paragraphs 239-241 of his ruling).

Fourthly, Commissioner Dion’s ruling ignores the real meaning of the second part of section 4 of the Act that prohibits taking part in a decision if it offers an opportunity to “improperly further” another person’s or entity’s interests. That is a very broad prohibition, as the Commissioner himself concluded in the Trudeau II Report on the SNC-Lavalin scandal (paragraphs 286 and 296-301). According to the Commissioner, “improper” includes a violation of any of the PM’s Code rules, and that Code’s Annex B rule prohibits the PM and ministers from being in an appearance of conflict of interest.

Trudeau has said he should have recused himself, and Ethics Commissioner Dion says at the end of his ruling that “it is always advisable to recuse oneself and inform the Commissioner promptly when facing an apparent conflict of interest” (paragraph 269). Why? Because it is clearly improper to take part in a decision when in an apparent conflict.

“Commissioner Dion contradicts himself, ties himself into knots, and cuts the federal ethics law into pieces in his ruling letting Prime Minister Trudeau off even though he clearly violated the law,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

Just like Commissioner Dion’s ruling on the SNC-Lavalin scandal situation, which Democracy Watch is challenging in court because he let off former Finance Minister Bill Morneau and several other PMO and Cabinet officials who violated the CofI Act in the same way Trudeau did, he has again failed to interpret and apply the law to prevent conflicts of interest and hold everyone accountable for violations.

“Ethics Commissioner Dion has rolled over like a lapdog and again failed to properly enforce the federal law that prohibits conflicts of interest by letting Prime Minister Trudeau off even though he took part in the WE Charity grant approval process when he had a conflict of interest,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Democracy Watch will challenge the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling in court because it sets a very bad precedent that will allow politicians and government officials to take part in future decisions to hand out money to individuals and organizations that have close relations with their families.”

Democracy Watch’s court case will also challenge Commissioner Dion’s ruling because he was biased as he was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, dishonest process, and he had a record of 8 unethical and questionable actions when he was Integrity Commissioner, and his senior lawyer is a Trudeau Cabinet minister’s sister-in-law.

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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 and Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Fraud Politician Spending Campaign

Liberal budget proposes weak response to replace rule prohibiting false claims about candidates that court deleted

Rule should be broader, and in separate bill – should also prohibit false promises/claims by candidates and leaders that bait voters to vote for them

Will Liberals continue to protect their social media company friends, or will they also work with other parties to stop false online election posts?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, May 11, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, in response to the Trudeau Liberal budget’s weak proposal to amend the rule in the Canada Elections Act (CEA) that was struck down in a recent court ruling to ensure it again prohibits some false claims during elections about candidates, party leaders and party associates, Democracy Watch called for a broader false claims rule, and also for a rule prohibiting false claims by candidates, leaders and parties that bait voters to vote for them, and also for a new enforcement commission.

A broader rule, in a separate bill so it can be fully debated by the House and Senate, is needed in section 91 of the CEA to prohibit all false claims about candidates and parties during not only the election period, but also the pre-election period.

A rule is also needed to prohibit false claims by candidates because, in a March 2018 ruling on Democracy Watch’s complaint about Trudeau’s false promise during the 2015 election that he would change the electoral system, the Commissioner of Canada Elections refused to enforce the rule in the CEA that prohibits using a false claim to bait a voter to vote for a candidate (subsection 282.8(b)) – formerly 482(b)).

Democracy Watch is also calling for the Commissioner:

  1. to be appointed through a fully independent process;
  2. ideally changed into a three-person commission;
  3. to be given the resources needed to investigate and rule on false claims before election day;
  4. to be given powers to require social media companies to remove posts that make false claims during the pre-election and election period, and;
  5. to be required to issue a public ruling on every complaint received and situation reviewed (whether or not the situation is investigated).

The Commissioner and Elections Canada have shelved thousands of complaints in the past without a full investigation or public ruling.

See Backgrounder for the text of the new honesty rules that Democracy Watch proposes be added to the CEA, and the proposed new enforcement system, including mandatory minimum fines on a sliding scale based on ability to pay (as they need to be high enough to discourage election dishonesty by wealthy interests).

More than 25,000 Canadians have supported Democracy Watch’s campaign for an honesty in politics law, and more than 25,000 Canadians have also either signed Democracy Watch’s online petition on Change.org or its letter-writing campaign calling for key changes to stop secret, false online election ads.

“As tens of thousands of Canadians are calling for, strict and strong honest election rules, enforced by a fully independent commission with a high fine as the penalty for misleaders, must be enacted before the next election to stop all false claims about candidates, party leaders and officials, including in false online ads, and to stop them from making a false claim or promise to bait a voter to vote for them,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

In the table of “Legislative Measures” in the Budget, under the heading “Amendments to the Canada Elections Act” it says:

“Budget 2021 proposes to introduce amendments to the Canada Elections Act to specify that making or publishing a false statement in relation to a candidate, prospective candidate, or party leader would be an offence only if the person or entity knows that the statement is false.”

Section 362 of Budget Bill C-30 only proposes to add the word “knowingly” to the offence provisions in the CEA that relate to section 91.

The changes the Trudeau Liberals made to the CEA with Bill C-76 in 2019, and the federal government’s initiatives announced in January 2019 and May 2019, ignored the call by all experts, a House Committee, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), the Commissioner of Canada Elections and tens of thousands of Canadians for more effective changes and measures to actually stop fake online election posts and ads, false claims about party leaders and candidates, false claims by party leaders and candidates, as well as measures to stop big money interest group ad campaigns, and to protect voters’ privacy.

Incredibly, Bill C-76 actually weakened the rule in the CEA prohibiting false claims about candidates, even though the CEO and Commissioner warned that the Bill would have that bad effect.

Instead of protecting the integrity of Canada’s elections, the Trudeau Liberals’ past actions protected their friends at social media companies, which benefit from all the ad spending and from lack of accountability for false claims made on their platform, and their own data mining of voters’ private information.

As CTV detailed in March 2017, the Liberal Party uses Data Sciences Inc., run by Prime Minister Trudeau’s friend Tom Pitfield, for its data management of the private, personal information it has gathered on Canadian voters. And as CTV also detailed in that article, and also Maclean’s magazine detailed in October 2017, Mr. Pitfield also heads up the think tank Canada 2020, which had Google as a partner until recently, and an executive from Google Canada as an adviser, and still has Facebook as a partner (see logo at bottom of page) and still has an executive from Facebook Canada as an adviser.

As the Ottawa Citizen detailed in May 2018, Liberal Party-connected lobbyists and executives work for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, while their friends and/or former colleagues worked for Trudeau Cabinet ministers.

Connected to these calls for honesty in politics measures are Democracy Watch’s calls to stop big money interest group ad campaigns that amplify false claims, and to stop data mining by parties to target false claim ads at specific voters. More than 100,000 Canadians have supported Democracy Watch’s campaign to stop big money in Canadian politics, and more than 12,000 have signed its online petition calling for political parties to be covered by the federal privacy law, and other key privacy protection changes.

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

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

Democracy Watch in court today as Trudeau government trying to stop case vs. Lobbying Commissioner’s rulings letting off lobbyists who helped Chrystia Freeland win election, then lobbied her officials and staff

Council of Canadian Innovators Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born co-managed Freeland’s 2015 election campaign, then had senior roles in her riding association, and then lobbied Freeland’s then-Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti, her office staff and senior department officials

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, May 5, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch is in Federal Court for a hearing on the Trudeau government’s motion requesting that the court end the cases Democracy Watch filed last August challenging the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s rulings about lobbyists Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI).

Democracy Watch is arguing that the cases should be allowed to continue. Democracy Watch is represented by Andrew Montague-Reinholdt and Amanda Le of Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

The hearing is being held online on Zoom starting at 9:30 am Eastern time through to the end of today. To register to watch/listen to the hearing on Zoom, send an email to the Federal Court Registry re: the hearing for court case file numbers T-915-20 and T-916-20, at: Hearings-Audiences@fct-cf.ca.

Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger ruled in March 2020, a completely unjustifiable delay of almost three years after Democracy Watch filed its complaint, that Mr. Bergen and Ms. O’Born did not violate Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct rules 6, 8, 9 or 10 which prohibit assisting a politician in any significant way and then lobbying their office or officials afterwards, even though they:

  1. co-managed Chrystia Freeland’s 2015 election campaign;
  2. continued to work in senior roles with her riding association post-election, and;
  3. then were hired for the top positions at CCI and lobbied in 2017 Freeland’s then-Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti, her office staff, and senior officials in her then-International Trade department, including deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and special assistants.

Democracy Watch’s case argues that Bergen and O’Born’s lobbying violated Lobbyists’ Code rules. DWatch’s initial complaint also requested that Commissioner Bélanger recuse herself from ruling on the situation because she was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet. The Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the Cabinet was biased when it appointed her. As a result, DWatch’s case also alleges that she was biased when ruling on Bergen and O’Born.

The case was delayed last fall waiting for the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) to decide whether to allow DWatch to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling on its case challenging former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd’s decision not to investigate the Aga Khan for giving Justin Trudeau’s family and friends a trip to his private Bahamas island. Incredibly, the FCA ruled that the public had no right to have a complaint ruled on by the Commissioner, and therefore no right to challenge a decision not to investigate a complaint.

The SCC decided not to hear DWatch’s appeal, but the Bergen and O’Born cases are different because the Commissioner issued final rulings under section 10.5 of the Lobbying Act after investigating. In contrast, in the Aga Khan case, the Commissioner refused to investigate under subsection 10.4(1) of the Act.

“The federal lobbying ethics code prohibits anyone from lobbying a Cabinet minister or their officials for four years after helping them get elected or assisting them in a significant way, and so Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger should have found Minister Freeland’s former election campaign managers guilty of violating the code given they lobbied many senior officials in Minister Freeland’s former department,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“By letting the CCI lobbyists off the hook, and issuing other similarly weak rulings recently letting off other unethical lobbyists, Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger is continuing the negligent enforcement record of her predecessor Karen Shepherd who let off 84% of the lobbyists who violated the law during her decade as commissioner,” 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 and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign

Commissioner of Canada Elections rolls over and lets RightNow anti-abortion group off for election law violations

Decision means rules for third parties support of parties and candidates left somewhat unclear for the next election

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, April 27, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the recent decision Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté that let the anti-abortion group RightNow off for violating the federal election law by colluding with Conservative Party candidates (and maybe the Conservative Party) during the 2019 federal election.

The Commissioner’s decision is being released after DWatch sent a letter to the Commissioner mid-March calling for a public ruling, given 18 months have passed since the election.

While it doesn’t provide details, the Commissioner’s April 13th decision makes it clear that RightNow violated the Canada Elections Act (CEA) in the Commissioner’s opinion, as it says the Commissioner has:

“the expectation that the entity will act in accordance with the requirements of the Act going forward. They form part of the entity’s compliance record and future non-compliance is more likely to be addressed using stricter formal means.” (6th paragraph)

The Commissioner’s decision seems to suggest RightNow violated the new rules prohibiting information-sharing collusion between a third party and a party or candidate (section 351.01 of the CEA), and that RightNow was let off because the anti-collusion rules were new (they came into force in June 2019, just a month before the regulated pre-election period began), as the decision says:

“The fact that these changes were both considerable and complex and that they came into force just prior to the start of the electoral campaign was another factor in the Commissioner’s decision to proceed informally in this matter.” (5th paragraph)

“The donation and anti-collusion rules are aimed at ensuring fair and democratic elections, and preventing lobby groups from unethically helping parties and candidates get elected, and so it was good that the election commissioner investigated the activities of RightNow supporting Conservative candidates,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Unfortunately the commissioner has rolled over like a lapdog and let RightNow off, and as a result the donation and anti-collusion rules remain somewhat vague which will likely lead to more abuses in the next election.”

DWatch called for many more changes in 2018-2019 to stop the undemocratic and unethical influence of interest groups and wealthy individuals over parties, candidates and elections, especially because the Trudeau Liberals’ Bill C-76 made the bad changes of increasing the donation and third-party spending limits.

RightNow recruited campaign volunteers and offered them training through in-person sessions and webinars that contained some very direct information about volunteering for Conservative candidate campaigns, as reported by PressProgress.ca in this August 29, 2019 article and CBC in this September 6, 2019 article. RightNow also coordinated directing volunteers to campaigns.

RightNow confirmed that it was under investigation in a May 2020 National Post article, and that it had received a letter from the Commissioner’s Director of Investigations in February 2020. The Post article indicates that RightNow was planning to resist requests from the Commissioner’s investigators for documents and interviews about their activities.

The Commissioner’s decision seems to suggest that the focus of the investigation was whether RightNow and Conservative candidates (and maybe the Conservate Party) violated the new rule added in spring 2019 to the CEA (section 351.01) that prohibits a party or candidate (or person associated with a candidate’s campaign) and a third party from colluding, including by sharing information, in order to influence the third party’s partisan activities, advertising or surveys during the election campaign period.

Democracy Watch’s position is that, to find a violation of the anti-collusion rule, the Commissioner was not required to find proof that RightNow undertook an activity because of sharing information with Conservative candidates or the Conservative Party. Instead, all the Commissioner needed to find is evidence that information was shared “in order to influence” RightNow’s activities.

The Post article states that the letter from the Commissioner’s investigations director raised the question of whether the recruitment, training and coordination by RightNow was a non-monetary donation of services to Conservative candidates, which is a violation of the Canada Elections Act (CEA) because only individuals are allowed to contribute to parties, riding associations and candidates (see subsection 363(1) and definition of “non-monetary contribution” in subsection 2(1)).

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that the only way RightNow could have legally provided those services to candidates is if the candidates paid it market value for the services. According to candidate reports to Election Canada (filed under subsection 477.59(2)(b)), RightNow was not paid for the services.

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign

Trudeau Liberal budget fails to make Big Banks pay their fair share in taxes, and stop lending discrimination

No measures in budget, like England and Australia have, to ensure banks pay fair share of taxes, despite gouging profits since 2010

Also no measures, like the U.S. enacted 40 years ago, to stop racism and discrimination in bank lending

As PM Trudeau said April 6, 2020, the Big Banks can afford to help more

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, April 21, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch, along with the more than 110,000 people from across Canada who have joined its letter-writing campaign and/or signed its Change.org petition, criticized Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland budget for failing to make Canada’s big banks to pay their fair share of taxes, as England and Australia have, and failing to enact measures, like the U.S. did 40 years ago, to stop discrimination in lending by the big banks.

One year ago, on April 6, 2020, after the Big 6 Banks announced temporary mortgage and loan payment deferrals, and credit card interest rate cuts, for only some customers, Prime Minister Trudeau said 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.” However, the deferrals and cuts for some bank customers ended last fall, and the banks have not given any breaks since.

Democracy Watch’s submission to Finance Canada’s pre-budget consultation process called for key bank accountability changes needed to make Canada’s banks to pay their fair share in taxes, to stop racism and discrimination in lending and services, and to 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, including the Community Reinvestment Act that requires disclosure of bank lending by race, gender, income level and neighbourhood, and corrective action if a bank is discriminating against borrowers.

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 budget also failed to impose an excess profits tax on the banks, as England and Australia have. Canada’s Big 6 Banks reported a 14% increase in their 2021 first-quarter profits, and also still very high profits in 2020 totalling $41.13 billion, just $5.1 billion (12%) less than in 2019. The Big 6 had record profits of more than $46 billion in 2019 – for 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).

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), and a total of $66.4 million in 2020 ($11 million each on average).

“The big banks must be required by law, as banks have been in the U.S. for 40 years, to disclose much more information about how they treat customers and borrowers to ensure they don’t discriminate against anyone,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“Canada’s big banks have also gouged out record high profits for the past decade, and are among the most profitable banks in the world, so measures are needed to stop the gouging,” said Conacher. “The banks are also the biggest business tax evaders in Canada, so measures are needed like England and Australia have to close tax loopholes and ensure they pay their fair share of taxes.”

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.

More than 110,000 voters are calling on federal parties to work together now to enact Key Bank Accountability Changes to stop discrimination in lending, gouging and other abuses, and ensure the banks pay their fair share in taxes.

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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 Big Banks Coronavirus Accountability Campaign

Democracy Watch calls on Integrity Commissioner to rule lobbyist who chaired Caroline Mulroney’s leadership campaign, and served in PC Party position, violating lobbying law

Law prohibits doing anything that makes it improper for Premier or Cabinet ministers to participate in decisions that affect the lobbyists’ clients

Democracy Watch has filed court cases challenging the Commissioner’s rulings that let lobbyists off who clearly violated this ethical lobbying rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, April 13, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake calling on him to issue a public ruling that lobbyist Peter Van Loan has violated the provincial lobbying law by lobbying Ford and his Cabinet ministers, most specifically Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, after providing assistance to them and the PC Party.

Mr. Van Loan was the chair of Minister Mulroney’s Ontario PC Party leadership campaign in 2017-2018, and also Director of Candidate Training and Recruitment for the PC Party from 2015-2018.

Mr. Van Loan has been registered since January 2019 to lobby Minister Mulroney and/or Premier Ford and various Cabinet ministers seeking specific decisions for at least 17 clients, including about very questionable highway and land development approvals as revealed in this recent Toronto Star/Hamilton Spectator/National Observer article. He is also registered to lobby for many other clients on general issues, many also related to land development.

“Any lobbyist who has assisted Ford or the PC Party or any of his ministers in any way since 2017 created a conflict of interest for them that means the lobbyist would violate the ethical lobbying rule if they lobby the Ford government anytime in the next several years,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

It has been illegal under Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) since July 1, 2016 for an Ontario lobbyist to lobby a politician or government official for a specific decision after doing anything for them or giving them anything that causes them to be in a real or potential conflict of interest or that makes it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients.

Based on what the LR Act (section 3.4) and the Members’ Integrity Act (sections 2, 3, 4 and 6(1)) say, and the unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling Democracy Watch won in 2009 (paras. 52-53), and a similar federal lobbying rule, and past rulings concerning what are improper actions are by politicians (see pages 6-19 of Democracy Watch’s letter), Democracy Watch’s position is that it is a violation of section 3.4 of the LR Act for a lobbyist to do anything significant for, or give anything significant to, a politician (or the politician’s political party) and lobby them at the same time or for several years afterwards. The gift or assistance creates a potential conflict of interest that makes it improper for the politician to participate in any decision, or try to influence any decision that affects the interests of the lobbyist or their clients.

After making 763 secret rulings since 2018, including rulings letting dozens of unethical lobbyists off, Integrity Commissioner Wake ruled for the first time publicly last June in three cases that the conflict of interest created by a lobbyist’s assistance disappears after one year. Democracy Watch has challenged those rulings in court because every other commissioner in Canada has ruled that the conflict of interest lasts several years.

“The Integrity Commissioner has negligently let dozens of lobbyists off in the past several years even though their lobbying clearly violated the conflict of interest rule in the lobbying law and, even more negligently, he failed issue a public ruling until June 2020, four years after the rule came into effect,” said Conacher. “Hopefully Integrity Commissioner Wake will finally do the right thing and issue a public ruling very soon finding that anyone who worked for Ford, PC Party leadership candidates or party headquarters from 2017 on, or has served in a senior position of the party since then, cannot lobby Premier Ford or any of his Cabinet ministers because it violates the ethical lobbying rules.”

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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

100,000+ 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 in Canada 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 $41 billion+ in profits in 2020 – 4 of Big 6 are among top 50 most profitable banks in the world!

As PM Trudeau said last April 6th, the Big Banks can afford to help more

As England and Australia have, Canada must also close loopholes to ensure banks pay fair share of taxes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, April 6, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch, along with the more than 100,000 people from across Canada who have joined its letter-writing campaign and/or signed its Change.org petition, called on Prime Minister Trudeau and 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.

Exactly one year ago, on April 6, 2020, after the Big 6 Banks announced temporary mortgage and loan payment deferrals, and credit card interest rate cuts, for only some customers, Prime Minister Trudeau said 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.” However, the deferrals and cuts for some bank customers ended last fall, and the banks have not given any breaks since.

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 Canada’s 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 a 14% increase in their 2021 first-quarter profits, and also still very 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 – for 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).

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), and a total of $66.4 million in 2020 ($11 million each on average).

“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.”

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 ran out for most people last fall, including about 760,000 Canadians who deferred their mortgage.

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 more than 100,000 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) by 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.

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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 Big Banks Coronavirus Accountability Campaign

Ford government’s Bill 254 makes undemocratic, unethical and likely unconstitutional changes that will make Ontario elections unfair

Doubling donation limit will allow wealthy donors to buy even more influence, likely helping Ford’s PC Party most – donation limit should be lowered to $100

Extended third-party ad spending limits should be cut from Bill, or referred to Court of Appeal for a ruling on their constitutionality – study needed of limits

Per-vote and all public funding should be reviewed by independent commission to prove it is needed, and is democratic and fair

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, March 30, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its submission to the Ontario legislature committee reviewing the Ford government’s Bill 254, calling for changes to reverse the many undemocratic, unethical and, in some parts, likely unconstitutional political finance measures that will make Ontario elections unfair, tilting the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party.

“In many ways, the Ford government’s Bill 254 violates the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote, and if its undemocratic, unethical and unconstitutional measures are not changed they will make Ontario elections unfair, tilting the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition.

The Ford government’s Bill 254 proposes to double the annual donation limit, which will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, and will likely benefit Ford’s PC Party the most.

Democracy Watch’s analysis of 2020 party donations shows the PCs received almost 50% of their donations of more than $100 from only 20% of their donors who donated $1,000 or more. The other main parties’ top donors also provided disproportionate amount of funding.

Democracy Watch’s analysis also shows that the median donation to provincial parties of donations of more than $100, which is the most accurate indication of the amount an average voter can afford, is: PCs ($200), Liberals ($50); NDP ($25); Greens ($30).

“Doubling the donation limit as the Ford government’s Bill 254 proposes will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, especially given that the full identity and associations of donors is not disclosed, and will likely benefit Ford’s party the most,” said Conacher. “The only way to stop the unethical, undemocratic influence of big money on Ontario politics is to limit donations to $100 or less, which is an amount an average voter can afford.”

Bill 254 also increases from 6 months to 12 months the pre-election period during which advertising spending by interest groups and individuals – known as “third parties” – is limited. Measures in the current Election Finances Act also impose onerous banking, tracking and disclosure requirements on groups that spend only $500 on ads, instead of applying those requirements only to big money ad campaigns. These extended restrictions are likely unconstitutional.

The Ford government’s proposed spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election are likely unconstitutional because they arbitrarily limit spending too much, and for too long, and impose too many requirements on groups that only spend small amounts,” said Conacher. “The restrictions should be cut from Bill 254 or, at the very least, the Ford Cabinet should refer them to the courts for a ruling on whether they are constitutional.” (under section 8 of the Courts of Justice Act).

“Restricting massive ad campaigns by wealthy interest groups and individuals in the few months leading up to an election is a good, democratic idea, as the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, as is prohibiting huge ad campaigns by lobbyists all the time, but an independent commission should be set up to study the actual costs of reaching voters to ensure the ad spending limits are realistic, and the limit should be higher for groups that have lots of supporters than it is for an individual voter,” said Conacher.

Bill 254 also proposes to extend and increase the annual per-vote funding for parties. Democracy Watch’s analysis, contained in its submission, reveals that the provincial per-vote funding system provides on average half to two-thirds of each of the four main parties’ annual funding. Combined with the tax credits that donors receive, it amounts to much too high public funding for parties and candidates.

“An independent commission is needed to study the actual costs of running parties and riding associations are and then, only if parties and candidates can prove they need it, public funding should be adjusted to reflect those actual costs, and to make the system democratic and fair,” said Conacher.

The only good parts in Bill 254 are the measures allowing independent candidates to raise money before election campaigns begins (however, more disclosure must be required of donations and spending of such candidates), and the measures giving the Chief Electoral Officer to fine violators of Ontario’s election law (however, the CEO must be required to have a reasonable belief of a violation, and an appeal to the courts of the CEO’s ruling must be allowed).

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign

Ford government’s Bill 254 imposes likely unconstitutional restrictions on third party interest group ad spending

Restrictions should be cut from the Bill, or at least the Ford Cabinet must refer them to the Court of Appeal for a ruling on their constitutionality

B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that similar restrictions were unconstitutional, federal government didn’t restrict pre-election issue ads, made low-level spending easy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, March 29, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the Ford government to delete Bill 254’s likely unconstitutional year-long, pre-election spending restrictions on issue advertising by interest groups and individuals – known as “third parties”.

At the very least, before enacting the restrictions, the Ford Cabinet should refer them to the Court of Appeal for a ruling for a ruling on whether the restrictions are constitutional (which the Cabinet can do under section 8 of the Courts of Justice Act), and should set up an independent commission to study the costs of reaching voters so that realistic limits can be set.

The Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly is holding hearings on Bill 254 today and Tuesday (Democracy Watch is testifying Tuesday at 9 am).

Bill 254 increases from 6 months to 12 months the pre-election period during which third parties are limited to spending $637,200 province-wide on ads, including issue-oriented ads, and limited to spending approximately $25,000 on ads in any riding (See Schedule 2, section 14 of Bill 254). Measures in the current Election Finances Act also impose onerous banking, tracking and disclosure requirements on groups that spend only $500 on ads, instead of applying those requirements only to big money ad campaigns.

The Ford government’s proposed spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election are likely unconstitutional because they arbitrarily limit spending too much, and for too long, and impose too many requirements on groups that only spend small amounts,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “The restrictions should be cut from Bill 254 or, at the very least, the Ford Cabinet should refer them to the courts for a ruling on whether they are constitutional.”

“Restricting massive ad campaigns by wealthy interest groups and individuals in the few months leading up to an election is a good, democratic idea, as the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, as is prohibiting huge interest group ad campaigns all the time, but an independent commission should be set up to study the actual costs of reaching voters to ensure the ad spending limits are realistic,” said Conacher.

The current 6-month restriction period is likely unconstitutional because the spending limit was set arbitrarily, not based on any study or evidence, and secondly because it covers issue-oriented ads (not just ads that support or oppose a party or candidate).

As well, the current restrictions are likely unconstitutional because they impose excessive requirements on any third party that spends more than $500 on ads of setting up a separate ad bank account, and issuing reports on donors and spending. These requirements should apply only to third parties that spend thousands of dollars on ads.

Doubling the restrictions so they apply to a 12-month period, while keeping the same ad spending limits, will likely make the restrictions even more clearly unconstitutional.

In May 2012, the B.C. government referred similar proposed third-party restrictions to the B.C. Court of Appeal (although the restricted pre-election period was only for a few weeks before the election campaign, not 12 months as Bill 254 proposes). The Court of Appeal ruled in October 2012 that the restrictions were unconstitutional because they restricted spending on ads as part of a third party’s advocacy on any issue.

The federal government did not restrict spending on issue ads during the pre-election period of 2-3 months when it changed Canada’s election law with Bill C-76 in 2018-2019. During the pre-election period, the federal law only restricts spending on partisan ads that support or oppose a candidate or party, and the spending limit is meaninglessly high. As well, only third parties that spend $10,000 or more on ads are required to set up a separate ad bank account and issue reports on donors and expenses.

Bill 254 proposes many other undemocratic and unethical changes, including doubling the donation limit. Democracy Watch will call for many changes to the Bill in its testimony before the Committee on Tuesday at 9 am.

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign