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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.

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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 Campaigns page

Democracy Watch and Wayne Crookes, founder of IntegrityBC, file lawsuit against B.C. Premier’s election call

Case is not to stop election – just to have the court rule election call was illegal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, October 23, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that, together with Wayne Crookes, founder of IntegrityBC, it has filed a petition in the B.C. Supreme Court challenging Premier John Horgan’s advice to the Lieutenant Governor to call the provincial snap election (B.C. Supreme Court file no. S2010710).

The case is not aimed at stopping the election. Instead, the petition only asks the court to declare that the Premier’s action violated the fixed election date measure in B.C.’s Constitution Act and the constitutional convention that has been created by premiers calling elections only on the fixed date in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017.

B.C. was the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact fixed election date measures with Bill 7 in 2001. The B.C. NDP showed it was in favour of fixed election dates when it introduced Bill 5 in 2017 to change the fixed election date from May to October. The fixed date for the next provincial election was set for the third Saturday in October 2021.

“Premier Horgan’s snap election call was self-interested, hypocritical and unfair, and it violates the fixed election date measures in B.C.’s constitution that the NDP has publicly supported, and the written agreement that the NDP had with the Green Party, and the good democratic tradition of fixed elections every four years that has developed through the past four B.C. elections” said Wayne Crookes, founder of Integrity B.C., who has filed an affidavit in support of the petition.

Calling a snap election in violation of B.C.’s constitution is bad – calling a snap election during a pandemic is even worse. Elections B.C. was forced by Premier Horgan’s cynical power grab-scheme to issue 16 emergency orders to change how polling stations will run and people will vote, and it will likely hurt voter turnout.

“By calling a snap election during a pandemic instead of waiting for the fixed election date a year from now, Premier Horgan acted like an old-school power-crazed politician, not a new democrat committed to fair and democratic elections,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully the B.C. courts will rule that the Premier violated the law when he called his self-interested, hypocritical 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 and enacted fixed election date measures. The UK Parliament has also enacted fixed election date measures.

Emily MacKinnon and Sarah Chaster of Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP in Vancouver are providing legal counsel to Democracy Watch and Wayne Crookes for the court case.

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

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign

Democracy Watch filing lawsuit against B.C. Premier’s election call

Case is not to stop election – just to have the court declare election call was illegal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, October 19, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it will soon file a petition in the B.C. Supreme Court challenging B.C. Premier John Horgan’s advice to the Lieutenant Governor to call the provincial snap election. The case is not aimed at stopping the election. Instead, DWatch will only ask the court to declare that the Premier’s action violated the fixed election date measure in B.C.’s Constitution Act and the constitutional convention that has been created by premiers calling elections only on the fixed date in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017.

B.C. was the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact fixed election date measures with Bill 7 in 2001. The B.C. NDP showed it was in favour of fixed election dates when it introduced Bill 5 in 2017 to change the fixed election date from May to October. The fixed date for the next provincial election was set for the third Saturday in October 2021.

“By calling a snap election instead of waiting for the fixed election date a year from now, Premier Horgan acted like an old dictator not a new democrat,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully the B.C. courts will rule that the Premier violated the law when he called the 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 and enacted fixed election date measures. The UK Parliament has also enacted fixed election date measures.

Democracy Watch will be represented in the case by Emily MacKinnon and Sarah Chaster of Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP in Vancouver.

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

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign

Supreme Court of Canada strikes a blow against public’s right to complain about government and lobbyist wrongdoing by refusing to allow DWatch to appeal Federal Court of Appeal ruling in Aga Khan case

FCA ruled public has no right to have a complaint ruled on by Lobbying Commissioner and no right to challenge the Commissioner’s rulings in court – SCC ruling also stops 4 other court cases vs. the Commissioner

FCA ruling nixed Federal Court ruling that ordered Commissioner to investigate Aga Khan and his foundation further for possible lobbying law violations

Federal Court ruling also extended lobbying disclosure and ethics rules to many more business, union and organization board members, and expanded Lobbying Commissioner’s investigation mandate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, October 15, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has ruled that DWatch can’t appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling in the Aga Khan case issued last April, and has ordered it to pay costs to the government.

The FCA ruled that the public has no right to have complaints investigated by the federal Commissioner of Lobbying, and so members of the public are prohibited from challenging the Commissioner’s rulings in court, even if a ruling ignores all the evidence and is full of errors, and even on the basis of public interest standing. Sebastian Spano is representing Democracy Watch in the application to appeal, which is SCC file no. 39202.

The Supreme Court’s ruling makes the Lobbying Commissioner into an unaccountable czar, which is dangerous given the Commissioner has let off 84% of lobbyists caught violating the federal lobbying law and/or code since 2007.

In its submissions to the SCC, DWatch argued that the FCA’s ruling set a bad precedent that contradicts past SCC and FCA rulings as it shuts out the public from the enforcement system for the lobbying law and code, which is one of several key federal government public accountability systems.

Lawyers expressed concern here and here about the negative implications of the FCA’s ruling on the rights of the public to hold government officials and watchdogs accountable for bad decisions.

“In its shocking refusal to allow Democracy Watch’s appeal, the Supreme Court has joined the Federal Court of Appeal in striking a serious blow against the public’s rights to complain about corruption and wrongdoing by politicians, government officials and lobbyists, and to hold democracy watchdogs accountable for failing to do their jobs properly and issuing rulings that protect wrongdoers,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Very unfortunately, the Federal Court of Appeal’s bad ruling will now be used across Canada to stop the public from holding government and other watchdogs accountable for wrongful decisions.”

By refusing to allow DWatch’s appeal, the Supreme Court has also stopped four other ongoing DWatch cases that were challenging rulings by the Lobbying Commissioner:

  1. DWatch’s case challenging the Commissioner’s ruling letting Apotex Inc. off for Barry Sherman’s fundraising for, and lobbying of, the Trudeau Liberals;
  2. DWatch’s case challenging the Commissioner’s ruling letting Clearwater Seafoods off for Mickey McDonald’s fundraising for, and Clearwater’s lobbying of, the Trudeau Liberals;
  3. DWatch’s case challenging the Commissioner’s ruling letting Ben Bergen of the Council of Canadian Innovators off for co-managing Chrystia Freeland’s election campaign and then lobbying her then-Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti and her office staff, and senior officials in her department, and;
  4. DWatch’s case challenging the Commissioner’s ruling letting Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators off for co-managing Chrystia Freeland’s election campaign and then lobbying her then-Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti, her office, and senior officials in her department.

In March 2019, Democracy Watch won the landmark Federal Court ruling that rejected former Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd’s secret September 2017 ruling that, even though the Aga Khan was lobbying Prime Minister Trudeau, and is chair of the Aga Khan Foundation, which is registered to lobby the PM, because someone at the Foundation claimed the Aga Khan wasn’t paid to lobby for it, the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct were not violated when the Aga Khan gave Trudeau and his family and friends free vacations on his private island in the Bahamas.

“The Trudeau Liberals wasted taxpayers’ money on protecting Trudeau’s old family friend the Aga Khan from accountability for unethical lobbying by appealing the Federal Court’s ruling, and very unfortunately the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruled that the Lobbying Commissioner is a czar who can’t be held accountable by the public or the courts no matter how bad the Commissioner’s rulings are,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

The Federal Court ruling rejected Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling as “unreasonable” because it was “a narrow, technical, and targeted analysis that is lacking in transparency, justification, and intelligibility when considered in the context the Commissioner’s duties and functions” (para. 146). As a result, the court ordered new Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger) to re-examine the actions of everyone at the Aga Khan Foundation with “a broad view of the circumstances.”

The Lobbyists’ Code, which the Commissioner enforces, prohibits lobbyists registered under the Lobbying Act from doing anything for, or giving anything to, anyone they are lobbying, and requires compliance with several strongly worded principles.

The Federal Court ruling also greatly broadened the scope of the Lobbying Act to cover board members of businesses and other organizations who are compensated in any way or receive “anything of value” – including even the value of being given a position as a member of board (paras. 134-143). In the past, the Lobbying Commissioner has interpreted the Act as requiring board members to disclose their lobbying in the Registry of Lobbyists only if they were paid more than their expenses.

In addition, the Federal Court’s ruling required the Commissioner to investigate and issue a public ruling whenever there are “potential compliance questions” (para. 133) concerning the actions of anyone, or any business or organization that relate to the requirements of the Lobbying Act or Lobbyists’ Code (paras. 127-134).

The Trudeau government, represented by the Attorney General of Canada, appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA). The FCA didn’t rule on any part of the Federal Court’s ruling other than deciding that the public has no right to file complaints with the Lobbying Commissioner, and so is prohibited from challenging the Commissioner’s rulings in court, no matter how much the rulings ignore the facts and the 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 Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign

Supreme Court of Canada to rule on Thursday if DWatch can appeal Federal Court of Appeal ruling in Aga Khan case that public can’t file complaints with Lobbying Commissioner or challenge Commissioner’s rulings in court

FCA ruling nixed Federal Court ruling that ordered Commissioner to investigate Aga Khan and his foundation further for possible lobbying law violations – if SCC upholds FCA ruling it will also stop 4 other court cases

Federal Court ruling also extended lobbying disclosure and ethics rules to many more business, union and organization board members, and expanded Lobbying Commissioner’s investigation mandate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, October 14, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that the Supreme Court of Canada will rule tomorrow, Thursday, October 15, 2020, on whether DWatch can appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling in the Aga Khan case issued last April Fool’s Day. The FCA ruled that the public has no right to file complaints with the federal Commissioner of Lobbying, and so members of the public are prohibited from challenging the Commissioner’s rulings in court, even if a ruling ignores all the evidence and is full of errors. Sebastian Spano is representing Democracy Watch in the application to appeal, which is SCC file no. 39202.

The FCA’s ruling made the Lobbying Commissioner into an unaccountable czar, which is dangerous given the Commissioner has let off 84% of lobbyists caught violating the federal lobbying law and/or code since 2007.

DWatch is arguing that the FCA’s ruling sets a bad precedent that contradicts past SCC and FCA rulings as it shuts out the public from the enforcement system for the lobbying law and code, which is one of several key federal government public accountability systems.

Lawyers have expressed concern here and here about the negative implications of the FCA’s ruling on the rights of the public to hold government officials and watchdogs accountable for bad decisions.

If the Supreme Court does not allow DWatch to appeal, and upholds the FCA’s ruling, it will also stop four other ongoing DWatch cases that are challenging rulings by the Lobbying Commissioner:

  1. DWatch’s case challenging the Commissioner’s ruling letting Apotex Inc. off for Barry Sherman’s fundraising for, and lobbying of, the Trudeau Liberals;
  2. DWatch’s case challenging the Commissioner’s ruling letting Clearwater Seafoods off for Mickey McDonald’s fundraising for, and Clearwater’s lobbying of, the Trudeau Liberals;
  3. DWatch’s case challenging the Commissioner’s ruling letting Ben Bergen of the Council of Canadian Innovators off for co-managing Chrystia Freeland’s election campaign and then lobbying her then-Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti and her office staff, and senior officials in her department, and;
  4. DWatch’s case challenging the Commissioner’s ruling letting Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators off for co-managing Chrystia Freeland’s election campaign and then lobbying her then-Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti, her office, and senior officials in her department.

In March 2019, Democracy Watch won the landmark Federal Court ruling that rejected former Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd’s secret September 2017 ruling that, even though the Aga Khan was lobbying Prime Minister Trudeau, and is chair of the Aga Khan Foundation, which is registered to lobby the PM, because someone at the Foundation claimed the Aga Khan wasn’t paid to lobby for it, the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct were not violated when the Aga Khan gave Trudeau and his family and friends free vacations on his private island in the Bahamas.

“The Trudeau Liberals wasted taxpayers’ money on protecting Trudeau’s old family friend the Aga Khan from accountability for unethical lobbying by appealing the Federal Court’s ruling, and very unfortunately the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruled that the Lobbying Commissioner is a czar who can’t be held accountable by the public or the courts no matter how bad the Commissioner’s rulings are,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully, the Supreme Court of Canada will allow Democracy Watch’s appeal, and will issue a strong ruling that will finally stop, after more than a dozen years, the Lobbying Commissioner’s negligently weak enforcement of the federal lobbying law and code.”

“This case is a real test of whether the Supreme Court of Canada cares about protecting the public’s right to complain about wrongdoing by lobbyists and politicians and government officials, and the public’s right to go to court to hold democratic good government watchdogs accountable when they ignore the facts and law and let wrongdoers off the hook,” said Conacher. “The Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling showed it doesn’t care about protecting the public’s rights to ethical government – hopefully the Supreme Court will show it cares by allowing Democracy Watch’s appeal.”

The Federal Court ruling rejected Commissioner Shepherd’s ruling as “unreasonable” because it was “a narrow, technical, and targeted analysis that is lacking in transparency, justification, and intelligibility when considered in the context the Commissioner’s duties and functions” (para. 146). As a result, the court ordered new Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger) to re-examine the actions of everyone at the Aga Khan Foundation with “a broad view of the circumstances.”

The Lobbyists’ Code, which the Commissioner enforces, prohibits lobbyists registered under the Lobbying Act from doing anything for, or giving anything to, anyone they are lobbying, and requires compliance with several strongly worded principles.

The Federal Court ruling also greatly broadened the scope of the Lobbying Act to cover board members of businesses and other organizations who are compensated in any way or receive “anything of value” – including even the value of being given a position as a member of board (paras. 134-143). In the past, the Lobbying Commissioner has interpreted the Act as requiring board members to disclose their lobbying in the Registry of Lobbyists only if they were paid more than their expenses.

In addition, the Federal Court’s ruling required the Commissioner to investigate and issue a public ruling whenever there are “potential compliance questions” (para. 133) concerning the actions of anyone, or any business or organization that relate to the requirements of the Lobbying Act or Lobbyists’ Code (paras. 127-134).

The Trudeau government, represented by the Attorney General of Canada, appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA). The FCA didn’t rule on any part of the Federal Court’s ruling other than deciding that the public has no right to file complaints with the Lobbying Commissioner, and so is prohibited from challenging the Commissioner’s rulings in court, no matter how much the rulings ignore the facts and the 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 Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign


 

Democracy Watch files court cases challenging Lobbying Commissioner’s rulings letting off lobbyists who helped Chrystia Freeland win election, then lobbied her officials

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, October 13, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has filed court cases challenging the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s rulings on the complaint Democracy Watch filed in July 2017 about lobbyists Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI).

The Lobbying Commissioner ruled last March, after a completely unjustifiable delay of almost three years, that Mr. Bergen and Ms. O’Born did not violate the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, which prohibits assisting a politician in any significant way and then lobbying their office or officials afterwards, even though they co-managed Chrystia Freeland’s 2015 election campaign, continued to work in senior roles with her riding association post-election, and then were hired in senior positions at CCI and lobbied Freeland’s then-Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti, her office staff, and senior officials in her department including deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and special assistants.

Rules 6-9 of the Lobbyists’ Code prohibit lobbyists from doing anything significant for, or giving anything significant to, anyone they are lobbying or are going to lobby.

Democracy Watch’s initial complaint also requested that the Lobbying Commissioner recuse herself from ruling on the situation because she was handpicked by Trudeau. The Federal Court of Appeal ruled last February that the Trudeau Cabinet was biased when it appointed Bélanger, and DWatch’s court case also alleges that Bélanger was biased when ruling on Bergen and O’Born.

Democracy Watch is also challenging two other rulings issued by Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger in Federal Court (see details here about the Apotex/Barry Sherman-Trudeau Liberals case and here about the Mickey MacDonald/Clearwater Seafoods-Trudeau Liberals case). All four cases are on hold until the Supreme Court of Canada decides whether to allow DWatch to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling on DWatch’s case challenging the ruling issued by former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd in the Aga Khan/Justin Trudeau case.

“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 some other significant way, and so Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger should have found Minister Freeland’s former election campaign managers and riding association senior officials guilty of violating the code given the Council of Canadian Innovators that they head up lobbied many senior officials in Minister Freeland’s former department, including her former Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti,” 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 Bélanger is continuing the negligent enforcement record of her predecessor Karen Shepherd who let off 84% of the lobbyists she found violating the law during her decade as commissioner.”

– 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

95,000+ call on Finance Minister Freeland to Make the Big Banks Help more during the coronavirus crisis, and after

Big Banks’ temporary cuts of some fees, and credit card, mortgage and loan deferrals for only some customers, are not enough – key measures needed (as U.S. has had for decades) to ensure fair interest rates, fees and service now, and into the future

Big 6 Banks gouged out record profits of more than $46 billion in 2019 – their 10th year in a row of record profits – and have high profits still, so they can afford to help more, as Prime Minister Trudeau said in April

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, October 7, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch, along with the more than 95,000 people from across Canada who have joined its letter-writing campaign and/or signed its Change.org petition, called on new 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.

The U.S. enacted measures decades ago to ensure banks serve everyone fairly and well with fair interest rates and fees, and they apply to the U.S. banks that 4 of Canada’s Big 6 Banks own. In the U.S., Bank of Montreal (BMO) owns BMO Harris Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) owns CIBC U.S., Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) owns City National Bank, and Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) owns TD Bank. See #s 2 and 4 in the list of key changes further below.

The call comes after 5 of Canada’s Big 6 Banks announced they had higher than expected profits in the third quarter of 2020 totalling $9.8 billion (BMO – $1.23B; CIBC – $1.17B ; National – $600m; RBC – $3.2B; Scotiabank – $1.3B; TD – $2.3B). 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. (See Canada’s Big Banks Backgrounder)

Former Finance Minister Bill Morneau boasted in early April 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 will soon run out for most people, including about 760,000 Canadians who have 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 passed by the federal Liberals and all parties 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 or abuse anyone and 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 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.”

Canada’s Big 6 Banks reported record profits of more than $46 billion in 2019 – the 10th year in a row, and more than double their 2010 profits. The Big 6 Banks reaped record profits every year for the past 10 years in part 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 federal Conservatives and Liberals have done nothing since 2010 to stop Canada’s big banks from hiking fees and credit card interest rates to gouge Canadians and more than double their profits to the highest levels of banks world-wide, while reducing service, treating many customers unfairly, and exploiting loopholes to lower the amount they pay in taxes,” said Conacher. In this time of crisis, and with the minority government, all parties must work together to make key changes to make banks help more now, to finally stop their excessive profits, gouging and abuse of consumers, and to make banks pay their fair share in taxes.”

Just like the initial spending actions taken by the federal and provincial governments were not enough to address the coronavirus crisis, the banks must do more. The Big 6 Banks’ decade of record 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 95,000 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.

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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 in court Monday challenging Ontario Integrity Commissioner’s refusal to issue public rulings on Premier Ford’s staff and deputy minister possibly violating provincial ethics rules

Integrity Commissioner’s ruling in March 2019 on OPP Commissioner appointment contained clear evidence Ford’s former Chief of Staff, deputy minister and others gave preferential treatment to Ron Taverner and others

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, September 28, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, at 10 am, the Ontario Divisional Court is holding an online hearing of the application it filed last October challenging Integrity Commissioner David Wake’s refusal to issue a public ruling on Premier Ford’s former-Chief of Staff Dean French (and possibly other Ford staff) providing preferential treatment to Ford’s friend Ron Taverner, and Mario Di Tommaso and Chris Froggatt.

The media and the public can watch the online hearing for Court case file #548-19 on YouTube at 10 am today by clicking here or going to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNkhfB2QPGw&feature=youtu.be.

Democracy Watch is arguing that the preferential treatment violated the provincial government’s ethics laws, and that the Integrity Commissioner is required to issue a public ruling on his investigation finding Mr. French and the others guilty. Democracy Watch is represented by Rebecca Shoom of the law firm Lerners LLP.

On March 25, 2019, Democracy Watch sent a letter to Integrity Commissioner Wake and then-Conflict of Interest Commissioner Sidney Linden calling on them to issue a public ruling on Ford’s staff, and also former Secretary to the Cabinet Steve Orsini, providing preferential treatment in violation of Public Service of Ontario Act (PSOA) ethics regulations.

Both commissioners refused to issue public rulings — then-Commissioner Linden in late March 2019, and Commissioner Wake in early April 2019. Commissioner Linden retired on May 1, 2019 when his office was merged into Integrity Commissioner Wake’s office. On September 30, 2019, Democracy Watch sent another letter to Commissioner Wake requesting a public ruling. Commissioner Wake responded with the same position he had expressed in April 2019.

There is nothing in the PSOA that prohibits Commissioner Wake from issuing a public ruling, and the public has a clear right to know if these public servants violated the law.

“There is clear evidence in Integrity Commissioner Wake’s ruling on the OPP Commissioner appointment process that Premier Ford’s former Chief of Staff Dean French and his former deputy minister violated Ontario government ethics rules by giving preferential treatment to Ron Taverner, and also to Mario Di Tommaso, and that French also gave preferential treatment to Chris Froggatt. Other Ford staff may have also violated the rules,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully the court will order Integrity Commissioner Wake to issue a public ruling finding Premier Ford’s staff guilty of violating provincial ethics rules.”

Commissioner Wake’s March 20, 2019 ruling on Premier Ford’s actions concerning Ron Taverner’s proposed appointment contained clear evidence that Mr. French and Mr. Orsini provided preferential treatment to Mr. Taverner in the offer of an executive job with the government’s Ontario Cannabis store, and to him and Mario di Tommaso also throughout the OPP Commissioner appointment process.

The ruling also contained clear evidence that Mr. French also provided preferential treatment to Chris Froggatt by connecting him (and him only) to give communications advice to Mr. Taverner. There was also some evidence in Commissioner Wake’s ruling that Derek O’Toole, then-Senior Policy Advisor in Premier Ford’s office, and Greg Harrington, then-Policy Advisor to Mr. French, also provided preferential treatment to Mr. Taverner.

See the Evidence from the Integrity Commissioner’s Ruling on Premier Ford that, in Democracy Watch’s view, details the extent of this preferential treatment.

All public servants in the Ontario government, including ministers’ staff and the Secretary to the Cabinet, are prohibited by regulations under the Public Service of Ontario Act from giving preferential treatment to any person or entity, and are required to “endeavour to avoid creating the appearance that preferential treatment is being given to a person or entity…” See the Summary of the Ontario Government Ethics Law and Regulations for details.

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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

Liberals’ $160 million Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund over 4 years, in partnership with 8 financial institutions, is 0.9% of $13.4 billion in 2019 outstanding small business loans in Canada

Black Canadians are at least 3.5% of Canadian population, likely more, and visible minorities 22% in total, so the Fund should be $600 million+

Would be much more effective to enact key measures to stop discrimination and abuse by Canada’s banks – as 95,000+ voters call for

For more than 40 years, U.S. government has required banks, including banks owned by 4 of Canada’s Big 6 Banks, to disclose lending and service records by race, gender, income and neighbourhood, and has also required trillions of dollars in corrective lending after discrimination was revealed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, in response to the federal Liberal government’s announcement last week of the Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund for small businesses of a minimal $160 million over four years, Democracy Watch, along with the more than 95,000 people from across Canada who have joined its letter-writing campaign and/or signed its Change.org petition, called on all federal parties to work together in this minority government situation to enact key measures to stop Canada’s big banks from discriminating against any customer.

The U.S. enacted such measures more than 40 years ago, and they apply to the U.S. banks that 4 of Canada’s Big 6 Banks own. As a result of these measures, trillions of dollars in lending and investment from banks and other financial institutions has flowed just since 1996 to visible minority entrepreneurs and low-income communities across the U.S. (See Summary below of the key measures needed)

The approximately $160 million Fund over four years, announced by Prime Minister Trudeau in partnership with Canada’s Big 6 Banks and also VanCity and Alterna Savings credit unions, and some Black-led business organizations adds up to 0.9% of the total $13.4 billion in small business loans outstanding at the end of 2019.

According to the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, Black Canadians make up at least 3.5% of Canada’s total population (approx. 1.2 million people), and possibly more given how the data is collected, and all visible minorities make up a total of 22% of the population (approx. 7.6 million people), plus an additional 5% indigenous peoples (approx. 1.7 million people).

As a result, the Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund should be at least $600 million over four years, and even more to support other visible minorities and indigenous peoples who suffer from discrimination in business financing. But it would be much more effective to enact measures to stop banks and other business and home finance companies from discriminating.

“The Trudeau Liberal Black business funding program is much too little, much too late, and will do nothing to stop discrimination in lending and financing by Canada’s big banks,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “As the U.S. government did more than 40 years ago, it would be much more effective if the federal government required Canada’s banks to disclose their loan records by the race, gender, income and neighbourhood of borrowers, and required them to make corrective loans and investments if they discriminate against any customers.”

Instead of enacting measures like the U.S. decades ago, and despite broad support across Canada for key changes for more than 20 years (mainly by the Canadian Community Reinvestment Coalition (CCRC) coordinated by Democracy Watch), Canadian governments have done nothing to stop discrimination by our big banks.

Canada’s Big Banks track their lending and service in Canada by the characteristics of customers – so they could easily be required to disclose in their annual Public Accountability Statements the same information that the U.S. banks are required to disclose annually.

“If past and current federal Conservative and Liberal party leaders were actually concerned about the economic well-being of visible minorities in Canada, their governments would have long ago enacted measures to track and stop discrimination in lending by our big banks,” said Conacher. “Hopefully, they will soon finally make the changes needed to hold Canada’s big banks accountable for discrimination in lending.”

Former Finance Minister Bill Morneau boasted 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 (which are not being used very much by many small businesses), 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, 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 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 Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “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 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.”

Just like the initial spending actions taken by the federal and provincial governments were not enough to address the coronavirus crisis, the banks must do more. The Big 6 Banks’ decade of record 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.

See Full List of Key Bank Accountability Changes. See Canada’s Big Banks Backgrounder.

As well, 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).

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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



Brief Summary of Key Bank Accountability Measures

  1. Discrimination in lending accountability measures

For more than 40 years, the U.S. has required under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) banks, including the U.S. banks owned by four of Canada’s Big 6 Banks, to disclose their lending and service record by race, gender, income and neighbourhood, and required them to make corrective loans and investments if they are found to be discriminating against any of their customers.

In the U.S., Bank of Montreal (BMO) owns BMO Harris Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) owns CIBC U.S., Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) owns City National Bank, and Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) owns TD Bank.

The CRA needs to be strengthened, but just since 1996 it has resulted across the U.S. in more than $1 trillion of lending to credit-worthy visible minority and women entrepreneurs, and more than $1 trillion in community development and housing loans, and the CRA has also helped ensure low-income neighbourhoods have access to banking services instead of finding only predatory payday lender outlets in their area.

  1. Fee and interest rate gouging accountability measures

As well Canadian governments have done nothing to stop gouging by our big banks. Canada’s Big 6 Banks reported record profits of more than $46 billion in 2019 – the 10th year in a row, and more than double their 2010 profits. The Big 6 Banks reaped record profits every year for the past 10 years in part 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).

“The federal Conservatives and Liberals have done nothing since 2010 to stop Canada’s big banks from hiking fees and credit card interest rates to gouge Canadians and more than double their profits to the highest levels of banks world-wide, while reducing service, treating many customers unfairly, and exploiting loopholes to lower the amount they pay in taxes,” said Conacher. In this time of crisis, and with the minority government, all parties must work together to make key changes to make banks help more now, to finally stop their excessive profits, gouging and abuse of consumers, and to make banks pay their fair share in taxes.”

See Full List of Key Bank Accountability Changes Needed in Canada.

See Canada’s Big Banks Backgrounder.

See Backgrounder on Weak Bank Accountability Enforcemen in Canada.

On International Democracy Day, Democracy Watch calls for key changes to make Canada an actual, leading democracy

Changes needed across Canada to effectively require everyone in politics, law enforcement and business to be honest, ethical, open, representative and waste-preventing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

OTTAWA – Today, on International Democracy Day 2020, Democracy Watch called on political parties across Canada to work together to make key changes to make Canada an actual, leading democracy, and to make provinces, territories and municipalities leading democratic jurisdictions.

“No one in Canadian politics, law enforcement or big business is effectively required to be honest, ethical, open, representative or waste-preventing, and until key changes are made Canada will continue to fail to measure up to international best-practice democracy, good governance and corporate responsibility standards,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“The system is the scandal in Canada and, as a result, it is not surprising to see scandalous actions and decisions by politicians, government and law enforcement officials and big business executives regularly across the country,” said Conacher.

The top 10 key needed changes to make Canada, and provinces, territories and municipalities actual, leading democracies are as follows (and click here to see a summary of many of these key changes):

  1. Enact an honesty-in-politics law that allows for complaints to a fully independent commissioner about broken promises, and about dishonest statements made anywhere (including in the legislature, and during elections) by anyone involved in politics, with mandatory high fines as the penalty;
  2. Require all regulated industry and service sectors (banks, insurance, airlines, telecom, 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, and make corporate responsibility requirements and bank accountability requirements strong and effective;
  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;
  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 MPs 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 now exist) and prohibit lobbyists from helping with political campaigns or fundraising;
  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 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 at the federal level, and 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; and
  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-budgetting; 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.

And also make key law enforcement changes to ensure that all the above rules are enforced effectively by fully independent (and independently chosen — see #3 above), fully empowered and accountable law enforcement agencies, and that law enforcement is fair and impartial across Canada.

Last, but not least, shut down the undemocratic, unaccountable Senate, and choose the Governor General and provincial Lieutenant Governors through an all-party, democratic process to ensure they have the independence and legitimacy to fulfill their key role of impartially stopping abuses of power by the Prime Minister and provincial premiers.

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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

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