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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

2020 donations show Ontario political finance system still undemocratic – almost 50% of PC donations from 20% of donors who donated $1,000+

Other main parties’ top donors also provided too-high amount of funding

Doubling donation limit as Bill 254 proposes will allow wealthy donors to buy even more influence over parties and politicians, and will likely benefit Ford’s PC Party the most

To make system democratic and ethical, Bill 254 should limit donations and loans to $100 annually (as in Quebec) and per-vote funding should be reviewed to prove it is needed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, March 26, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its analysis that shows Ontario’s provincial political finance system is still undemocratic as initial 2020 donations data from Elections Ontario show 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 a disproportionate amount of funding. The Ontario Liberals received 15% of their donations from 5% of their donors who donated $1,000 or more. The NDP received almost 8% of donations from only 1.5% of their donors, and the Greens received 14.5% of donations from only 2.85% of their donors. The PC Party’s and Liberal Party’s average donation is roughly double the average for the NDP and the Green Party.

Democracy Watch’s analysis 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 to donate, is: PCs ($200), Liberals ($50); NDP ($25); Greens ($25). Click here to see chart with details of Democracy Watch’s analysis.

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. The Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly is holding hearings on Bill 254 this Monday, March 29.

“Ontario’s donation limit is much higher than the average voter can afford and the parties are relying on wealthy donors for a lot of the money they raise, which gives those wealthy donors unethical influence over the parties,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “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, and will likely benefit Ford’s party the most.”

Based on the donation patterns in 2020, Democracy Watch and the Money in Politics Coalition (made up of 50 groups with a total of more than 3 million members), joined by thousands of Ontario voters who support the call for these changes, called on Ontario’s political parties to make the following changes to Bill 254 to get big money out of Ontario politics finally:

  1. set an individual donation limit of $100 per year (as in Quebec);
  2. set a limit of what candidates can give to their own campaign of $100 per year;
  3. prohibit loans to parties except from a public fund;
  4. review the per-vote annual public funding and, if the parties can actually prove they need it, set it at most $1 per vote (and instead use annual donation-matching public funding if parties prove it is needed as that is a better system), and;
  5. strengthen enforcement and penalties for violations.

Democracy Watch also called on Elections Ontario to conduct an audit to ensure that businesses were not funneling donations through their executives and family members, and to ensure that lobbyists are not holding fundraising events to be “bundlers” of donations as a way of having undue influence over parties or politicians.

To see a summary of donation funneling scandals across Canada, click here.

“Ontario’s too-high donation limit is also likely encouraging funneling of donations from businesses through their executives and employees and their families, and bundling of donations by lobbyists, both of which happened in Quebec and at the federal level, and Elections Ontario must conduct an audit to ensure these things are not happening,” said Conacher.

Years of experience and scandals across Canada show clearly that setting a donation limit that allows individuals to donate more than $1,000 each year allows the unethical influence of big money donations, and cash-for-access fundraising schemes, to continue.

“As donation scandals across Canada show clearly, the only way to stop the unethical, undemocratic influence of money in Ontario politics is to stop big money donations by allowing only individuals to donate only $100 a year,” 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 Money in Politics Campaign

Ethics Commissioner issues misleading letter in cover-up of his ruling on appointments of judges connected to Dominic LeBlanc – Democracy Watch writes back calling for public ruling based on new info

Commissioner committed to issue public rulings on all complaints, but his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law – is that why he is refusing to issue a ruling?

Democracy Watch filed court case last November challenging federal judicial appointment system for being too political

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 24, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it received recently from federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in response to the letter Democracy Watch sent last month calling on the Ethics Commissioner to issue a ruling, finally, on Democracy Watch’s complaint filed in July 2019. The complaint requested an independent investigation into whether Trudeau Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc violated the federal government’s ethics law by participating in the appointment process for judges in New Brunswick with financial and other connections to him.

In his letter, Ethics Commissioner Dion claims that examinations and inquiries he conducts are confidential. However, he doesn’t mention that when he concludes an examination/investigation he is required to issue a public ruling if an MP or Senator has filed the complaint (under subsection 44(8) of the Conflict of Interest Act), and under section 45 of the Act if he has self-initiated the investigation and not tried to bury the results by discontinuing the investigation.

As well, when testifying before the House Ethics Committee in December 2017 about his appointment, Commissioner Dion committed to issue a public ruling on every complaint he received.

Democracy Watch also released the letter it has sent back to the Ethics Commissioner, pointing to all of the new information that been revealed since July 2019 by a federal government whistleblower showing that the Minister of Justice and/or Prime Minister’s Office consult with Cabinet ministers and MPs from each province before appointing judges in their province.

“Ethics Commissioner Dion’s letter amounts to a cover-up of his ruling on Dominic LeBlanc’s participation in appointing New Brunswick judges who have connections to him,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given what has been revealed over the past year about how the Minister of Justice and PMO consult with Cabinet ministers and Liberal MPs about the appointments of judges in their provinces, it is difficult to believe that Dominic LeBlanc did not participate in the process appointing these judges who have financial and other connections to him.”

“Is Commissioner Dion refusing to issue a ruling because he was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a biased, secretive, dishonest process, and his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law? Commissioner Dion should have long ago delegated the investigation to someone independent of his office and all parties,” said Conacher.

See Democracy Watch’s February 25, 2021 news release and letter for more details about:

  • its July 2019 complaint;
  • the connections between Minister LeBlanc and the judges appointed in New Brunswick;
  • how LeBlanc’s participation in the decision-making process to appoint the judges would be a clear violation of the Conflict of Interest Act, and;
  • how the Ethics Commissioner is biased.

Democracy Watch filed a court case last November challenging the federal judicial appointment process for being too political because the Minister of Justice controls the process too much, including consulting with other ministers, and Liberal MPs and party members before making the final choice about who will be appointed.

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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 Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign

Whether Rogers-Shaw deal is approved, consumer-run telecom watchdog group must be created using method that has worked in U.S. (More than 35 consumer and citizen groups and the CRTC support creating the group)

Strengthening rules, enforcement and competition won’t stop gouging and abuse by telecom companies – empowering consumers with their own watchdog group will

Government would pass law to establish group and require telecom companies to send notices to customers inviting them to join group – likely 1 million would join

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, March 22, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the federal government, whether or not the Rogers-Shaw deal is approved, to create a broad-based, well-resourced, consumer-run Telecom Consumer Organization (TCO) using an innovative, low-cost, effective method that has worked in the U.S.

During CRTC hearings in October 2018 about hundreds of stories about abusive sales practices and gouging by Canada’s large telecom companies, Democracy Watch and more than 30 citizen and consumer groups called for the creation of the TCO. The CRTC recommended the creation of the TCO in its February 2019 report (p. 37).

The TCO could easily be created by the federal government at no cost, and no cost to telecom companies. Creating the TCO is the most low-cost, effective way to protect consumers and ensure companies serve everyone fairly and well at fair prices.

“Whether the Rogers-Shaw deal is approved, or competition increased, to really stop ongoing gouging and abuse by Canada’s big telecom companies the federal government must create a national, consumer-run telecom watchdog group that will empower and provide free help to consumers with shopping around, complaining and suing to get good, fairly priced service from the companies,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and the Corporate Responsibility Coalition, which has 31 member groups from across Canada that all endorse the call for the creation of a TCO. “States in the U.S. have successfully used a low-cost, effective method to create consumer-run industry watchdog groups, and the federal government should use this method to create a telecom watchdog group for Canadians.”

“If the Trudeau Liberals don’t require telecom companies to send out email and other notices inviting their customers to join a national, consumer-run telecom industry watchdog group, they will make it clear they don’t really care about protecting consumers from gouging and abuse,” said Conacher. “Telecom consumers pay all the costs for telecom companies’ ads, lawyers, lobbyists and other advocacy efforts, and requiring the companies to help create a consumer-run telecom watchdog group is most low-cost, effective thing to do to empower and educate consumers, give them a place to call that will give them free, effective help when they are gouged or abused, and ensure telecom companies serve everyone fairly and well at fair prices.”

In October 2018, in addition to the more than 30 citizen groups in the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (see its submission to the CRTC here), the four groups in the ad hoc Fair Communications Sales Coalition (FCSC) also called for the creation of the TCO. The FCSC was made up of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), ACORN Canada, the National Pensioners Federation, and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP). To see the FCSC’s submission calling for the creation of the TCO, click here and download the second Intervention document.

How can the TCO be created and what will it do?

The Telecom Consumer Organization (TCO) can be created by the federal government passing a law establishing the organization (at no cost, with an interim board appointed by the government) and requiring telecom companies to send out notices by email and mail to their customers. Sending out the emails would not cost anything, and the TCO would pay for the printing costs for the pamphlet the telecom companies would mail 1-2 times each year to customers who still receive bills and notices by mail.

The notices about the TCO would describe the group and invite customers to join, with a nominal annual membership fee of $30 average. Such groups have been created in some U.S. states to watch over state utilities, with usually about 5% of consumers joining, which would create a group with 1 million members and a $30 million annual budget. To see more details about the TCO, click here.

The TCO would be consumer-directed, with a board elected from among its members.

The TCO would provide telecom customers across Canada with free help shopping around, filing complaints, free lawyers for lawsuits to stop gouging and abuse, and would represent telecom customers in all government policy-making and regulatory processes.

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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 Questions and Answers about the Telecom Consumer Organization (TCO) and Democracy Watch’s Citizen Association Campaign

New honesty rules needed as court and elections commissioner refuse to enforce false claims rules in federal election law

Trudeau Liberals ignored experts, House Committee, Chief Electoral Officer, Commissioner, and tens of thousands of Canadians, who all called in 2018 for effective measures to stop false claims

Will Liberals continue to protect their social media company friends, or will they work with other parties to require honesty in politics and online?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 17, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, in the wake of a recent court ruling that deleted the rule prohibiting false claims about candidates from the Canada Elections Act (CEA), and in response to the refusal by the Commissioner of Canada Elections to enforce the CEAt’s rule requiring candidates to be honest with voters, Democracy Watch called for new rules to be added to the CEA to require honesty in politics, finally.

The court’s decision striking down the one false claims rule, and the Commissioner’s refusal to enforce the other false claims rule, mean that unless the CEA is changed it will be legal in the next election for anyone to lie about candidates (including in false online social media posts), and it will be legal for party leaders and candidates to lie to voters.

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 changes to stop secret, false online election ads.

“As tens of thousands of Canadians are calling for, new honesty in politics rules are needed before the next election because a court ruling has removed the rule in Canada’s election law that prohibited false claims about candidates, and the Commissioner of Canada Elections has refused to enforce the rule that prohibits anyone, including a party leader or candidate, from using a false claim to bait a voter to vote for them,” said Conacher.

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 gutted the rule in the CEA prohibiting on false claims about candidates, even though the CEO and Commissioner warned that the Bill would have that bad effect. Bill C-76 also increased the advertising spending limit for wealthy, big money third party interest groups by 250% — a really bad move in the wrong direction given social media advertising costs are 50-90% lower than traditional TV, radio and print media ad costs.

Meanwhile, 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 refused to enforce the rule in the CEA (subsection 282.8(b)) – formerly 482(b)) that prohibits using a false claim to bait a voter to vote for a candidate.

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.

“The Trudeau Liberals severely weakened the rule that prohibits false claims about election candidates, more than doubled the spending limit for wealthy interest groups, and didn’t do enough to stop false, online election ads, false election promises or big money donations,” said Conacher. “As a result, the fall 2019 federal election was much like the 2016 U.S. presidential election – dishonest, unfair and driven by false claims of wealthy interest groups, party leaders and parties.”

“If the Trudeau Liberals actually want to ensure that the next election is fair and democratic, they should introduce a short, simple bill as soon as possible to reverse the bad, weak changes made by Bill C-76 and to strengthen other key rules,” said Conacher. “The bill should prohibit all false claims and false promises, lower donation limits, reverse the increase in interest group ad spending, require all media and social media companies to disclose to the Commissioner of Canada Elections all election-related ads, empower the Commissioner to delete any false post or ad from social media, and extend the privacy law to political parties, with penalties high enough to actually discourage violations by social media companies that have tens of billions in annual profits.”

“All parties should support the introduction and quick passage of this bill as soon as possible to ensure the next election is honest, fair and democratic, and to ensure the privacy of Canadians is protected,” said Conacher.

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.

See Backgrounder for details about the key changes needed to:

  1. Stop secret, false, online election ads;
  2. Require honesty during pre-election and election periods;
  3. Stop wealthy interests from dominating pre-election and election periods, and;
  4. Protect the privacy of voters’ and all Canadians.

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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 calls on Commissioner of Canada Elections to issue public update or ruling on investigation into RightNow anti-abortion group collusion with Conservative Party candidates during 2019 election

RightNow confirmed it was being investigated in February 2020 – public ruling needed to clarify the rules before the next election

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, March 15, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch release the letter it has sent to Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté requesting that he issue, as soon as possible, a public update or ruling on allegations of illegal election collusion between the anti-abortion group RightNow and Conservative Party candidates during the 2019 federal election.

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.

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.

The Post article states that the letter from the Commissioner’s investigations director raises the question of whether the recruitment, training and coordination by RightNow was a non-monetary donation of services to the Conservative candidates, which would be 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)).

The Post article also indicates that RightNow was planning to resist requests from the Commissioner’s investigators for documents and interviews about their activities.

Democracy Watch’s opinion is that the only way RightNow could legally provide 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.

Another issue that the investigation may be looking into is whether RightNow and Conservative candidates violated the rule added in spring 2019 to the CEA (subsection 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 is 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 needs to find is evidence that information was shared “in order to influence” RightNow’s activities.

“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. “It is important for the commissioner to issue a ruling on this situation as soon as possible so that any wrongdoing that may have occurred is confirmed publicly, and so the rules are made clear before the next election campaign starts, which could happen at any time.”

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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

Democracy Watch calls on Ford government to stop changes that will increase patronage and cronyism in Ontario’s judicial appointments

Bill 245 will, among other changes, make system too open to political interference, violating judges’ independence and Charter right to impartial courts

Democracy Watch will file a court case against the changes if they become law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, March 11, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the submission it will make via Zoom at 4 pm to the Committee on the Legislative Assembly that calls on the Ford government to reverse the changes made by Bill 245 that will give the Attorney General too much control and political discretion in appointments of Ontario judges.

While not ideal, Ontario’s current judicial appointment system is considered to be one of the leading systems in the world because of its independence from, and restriction of, political influence. The changes proposed to the Courts of Justice Act in Schedule 3 of Bill 245 will:

  1. increase the number of members of Ontario’s Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee (JAAC) that the Attorney General appoints from 7 to 10 (of 13 total), and;
  2. increase the number of candidates the JAAC sends to the Attorney General for each judge position from two or more to 6 or more (with the Attorney General allowed to reject all 6 recommended candidates and ask for a new list of 6 candidates as many times as s/he wants).

These two changes will politicize the appointment of judges in Ontario, opening it up to patronage and cronyism that will undermine the public’s confidence in the independence and impartiality of the courts.

Democracy Watch’s position is that the changes will make Ontario’s system for appointing judges unconstitutional, as it will violate the constitutional principle that guarantees the independence of courts, and will violate the public’s Charter right to impartial courts.

Last November, Democracy Watch filed a court case in Federal Court challenging the federal government’s system for appointing judges because it is also open to political interference that violates the constitutional principle that guarantees the independence of courts, and the public’s Charter right to impartial courts.

If Bill 245 is enacted in its current form, Democracy Watch will also file a court case challenging the constitutionality of Ontario’s new appointments system.

The Advocates’ Society, the Federation of Ontario Law Associations, the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and several associations representing racialized lawyers have all expressed concerns about the negative effect of the proposed Bill 245 changes on the independence and impartiality of Ontario judges.

The Ford Cabinet is proposing dangerously unethical changes to Ontario’s appointment system for judges that will make the system open to patronage and cronyism,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Democracy Watch will challenge the new appointments system for judges in court if it is implemented as set out in Bill 245 because it violates the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the courts, independence that is needed to ensure democratic good government and fair law enforcement for all.”

“The current appointments system is not ideal, and it should be changed to decrease the control that the Attorney General has over the appointment process, not increase it as Bill 245 proposes,” said Conacher.

The constitutional principle that guarantees the independence of judges and the courts has been upheld in several rulings on the measures in Part VII of the Constitution. And sections 7 and 11(d) (and, indirectly, 24(1)) of the Charter have been applied in rulings to ensure impartial court hearings.

Like Ontario’s current system, Cabinet ministers in Manitoba (s. 3.3) and B.C. (s. 21) choose a minority of the members of the advisory committee for their provincial courts (ideally the Cabinet should not choose any of the members).

Also like Ontario’s current system, the advisory committees in Quebec and the UK submit only 1-3 candidates for each open judge position, and the minister is required to choose from that short list. In the UK where the committee only submits one candidate, the minister must explain in writing to the committee if s/he rejects the recommended candidate.

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

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