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Court should again find Ford government’s third-party ad spending limits unconstitutional, and also his use of notwithstanding clause

DWatch intervening in this week’s court hearing to argue that limits are needed for democratic, fair elections, but limits also need to be democratic

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it is intervening in the online court hearing this week on whether the Ford government’s Bill 307 that extended limits on third-party interest group ad spending for 12 months before each election are unconstitutional.

Democracy Watch is scheduled to present its arguments today, Tuesday, November 23, 2021, at about 12 noon. The public can watch the hearing live on Zoom by clicking here. Crawford Smith of the law firm LOLG will present Democracy Watch’s intervention, assisted by Matthew Law and Patrick Wodhams.

Unlike the unions who filed the court case, and other intervenors, Democracy Watch is arguing that limits on third-party interest group ad spending between elections can be constitutional if the limits are democratic, established democratically, and based on the actual cost of reaching voters through advertising on any issue.

In contrast, the limits set by the Ford government in Bill 307 allow a wealthy individual voter, or a private corporation with only a few shareholders, to spend $600,000 on issue ads – the same amount as a citizen group with tens of thousands of voters. That’s not democratic – individual voters and private corporations should have a much lower spending limit than broad-based citizen groups. Also, the Ford government did not consult with the public or study the actual cost of reaching voters on any issue – the government just imposed an arbitrary limit based on the arbitrary limit set in 2017 by the Wynne government.

The Ford government’s spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election should again be ruled unconstitutional by the court because they are undemocratic, arbitrary, and were rammed through the legislature without proper study or consultation,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “Restricting massive ad campaigns by wealthy interest groups and individuals in the 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 wealthy individuals and lobby groups all the time, but an independent commission should be set up to study the actual costs of reaching voters to ensure the ad spending limit is realistic, and the limit should be much higher for citizen groups that have lots of supporters than it is for an individual voter or private business.”

The court should also rule that it was undemocratic and dictatorial, and illegal, for Doug Ford to invoke the notwithstanding clause to impose his arbitrary and undemocratic spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election,” said Conacher.

Ford first imposed the limits last April in Bill 254 which was introduced without any consultation with opposition parties or stakeholders. However, in a case filed by several unions, the limits were struck down by Ontario’s Superior Court in June for unreasonably restricting Charter free expression rights (Charter s. 2(b)).

Then, in just a few days, despite many calling for a re-consideration of the limits, including Democracy Watch backed by 35,000 Ontario voters, Ford’s PC Party introduced and passed Bill 307 to impose the limits again, and included the notwithstanding clause in the bill in an attempt to prevent anyone from challenging the limits in court. However, several unions again challenged the limits as a violation of the right of voters under Charter s. 3 to play a meaningful role in elections. The notwithstanding clause cannot be used to shield violations of s. 3 from being challenged in the courts.

Bill 254 rigged Ontario’s political finance system in favour of Ford’s PC Party

In its submission to the Ontario legislature committee reviewing the Ford government’s Bill 254, Democracy Watch called for changes to reverse the many undemocratic, unethical and unconstitutional political finance measures in the bill that make Ontario politics and elections unfair, tilting the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party.

“The other measures in the Ford government’s Bill 254 that violate the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote must also be changed because they are unfair and tilt the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party,” said Conacher.

The Ford government’s Bill 254 also doubled 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 did 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, like Quebec has, which is an amount an average voter can afford.”

Bill 254 also extended and increased the annual per-vote funding for parties. Democracy Watch’s analysis, contained in its submission, revealed 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 adds up to 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 ensure the funding is fair and based on actual voter support,” said Conacher.

The only good parts in Bill 254 were 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 the power to fine violators of Ontario’s election law.

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign

Democracy Watch files lawsuit vs. Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that ignored PM Trudeau’s clear violation in WE Charity grant approval

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

Monday, November 15, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has filed a court case challenging Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s May 2021 ruling on Prime Minister Trudeau’s participation in the WE Charity grant approval process because the Commissioner made four key errors in letting Trudeau off even though Trudeau clearly violated the federal government ethics law.

Click here to see the Backgrounder summarizing the four key errors in the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling.

The case is Federal Court of Appeal file number A-169-21. David Yazbeck of Ravenlaw is representing Democracy Watch in the case. The Attorney General of Canada, which (strangely) defends the Ethics Commissioner in such cases, has filed a motion to have the case thrown out.

“Ethics Commissioner Dion contradicted himself, tied himself into knots, and cut the federal ethics law into pieces in his ruling letting Prime Minister Trudeau off even though he clearly violated the federal conflict of interest law by participating, and having his office staff participate, in the WE Charity grant approval,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Ethics Commissioner Dion rolled over like a lapdog and again failed to properly enforce the ethics law, and Democracy Watch is challenging his ruling in court because it sets a very bad precedent that will allow politicians and government officials to take part in future decisions to hand out money to individuals and organizations that have close relations with their families.”

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

Democracy Watch’s and Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Fraud Politician Spending Campaign

Democracy Watch files six more lawsuits vs. Integrity Commissioner for letting Ford/PC Party-connected lobbyists lobby Ford Cabinet

Since 2018, Commissioner has made 1,036 secret rulings, let an unknown number of lobbyists violate the law, and failed to penalize 85% of the lobbyists he found violated the law

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

Monday, November 8, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has filed six more applications in Ontario’s Divisional Court challenging five more rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake that allowed three lobbyists who worked on campaigns for Ontario politicians, or gave them gifts, to lobby the politicians soon afterwards, and failed to penalize one of those three lobbyists, and two other lobbyists, even though he ruled that they violated the law.

The six cases add to the nine other court cases Democracy Watch filed last December and mean that, in total, Democracy Watch is challenging 14 of the Integrity Commissioner’s unknown total number of decisions that have let dozens of people (and maybe more) unethically lobby Doug Ford and his Cabinet ministers soon after they campaigned, fundraised or worked for Ford and/or Ontario’s PC Party in the 2018 leadership race and election, and/or worked for Ford or one or more of his ministers since the election. A Divisional Court judge is currently considering whether to allow the first nine cases to proceed, which will determine whether the six new cases will be allowed to proceed.

Many of these lobbyists are still advising Ford and/or in senior PC Party positions while they continue to lobby Ford’s Cabinet on long-term care, property development, highway development, COVID-19 relief, mining, and other big issues. A Toronto Star report published in July documented how these Ford/PC Party-connected lobbyists had won many favours from the Ford government since the COVID crisis began in spring 2020.

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

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

The new cases challenge rulings #1 and 3 on page 52 of the Commissioner’s 2020-2021 Annual Report and rulings #5, 6 and 8 on pages 53-54 of the Report. The cases are Division Court file numbers 587/21 to 592/21. Nick Papageorge of Ross McBride LLP is currently representing Democracy Watch for the cases. Click here to see the Notice of Application challenging ruling #6 (the other five applications are very similar).

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

The 14 cases also ask the courts to rule that Commissioner Wake was biased when he issued the three rulings, given he knew that he would need the unanimous approval of Ford’s Cabinet and all MPPs to be re-appointed for a second five-year term, which happened last December 1st (although many MPPs were not present for that snap vote).

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

“Hopefully the courts will issue rulings that stop this unethical lobbying of Ford’s Cabinet and require the Commissioner to start enforcing the lobbying ethics rules strictly and strongly,” said Conacher. “Democracy Watch will continue challenging the Integrity Commissioner’s rulings in court, and his excessive secrecy including more than 1,000 secret decisions since 2018, as long as the Commissioner continues letting lobbyists lobby politicians unethically and violate the lobbying law in other ways, and continues to fail to penalize every violator.”

From April 2018 to March 2021, Commissioner Wake issued 281 secret Advisory Opinions, closed 197 secret compliance reviews at the initial stage, and resolved 558 cases informally in secret. At least some of those 1,036 secret decisions by Commissioner Wake have allowed dozens of other lobbyists to fundraise or campaign or give significant gifts to Ford’s Cabinet and then lobby them soon afterwards.

The Commissioner also only issued 81 public rulings out of 1,125 situation he investigated, and he let off without any penalty 28 of the 33 lobbyists he found guilty of violating the law. (Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2021).

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

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

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

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

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

Voluntary, vague disclosure and investment plans announced today by alliance of banks and other financial institutions too weak to stop polluting investments

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch, backed by thousands of Canadians that have sent a letter through its Stop Fossil Fuel Financing Campaign and/or signed its petition, called on Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ontario Premier Doug Ford to work together with all parties and make three key changes that will expose, and end, fossil fuel financing by Canada’s Big Banks and other key financial institutions, and empower financial consumers and retail investors to have a much greater say in what financial institutions are doing with their money.

Democracy Watch is one of 231 organizations in 38 countries calling for key changes to disclose and stop bank financing of fossil fuels and other major polluting industries that are causing the climate crisis.

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

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

At the ongoing international meeting addressing the climate crisis (COP26), an international alliance of banks and other financial institutions (GFANZ) led by former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney announced today a voluntary plan that will let them continue to hide their actual investments in fossil fuels and other polluting industries, and do little to stop those investments, for at least another decade.

Democracy Watch supports Reclaim Finance’s critical analysis of the weak and flawed plan proposed by GFANZ.

In April’s federal government budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland didn’t include any measures to require the Big Banks or other financial institutions to disclose their climate-related investments. The government only committed to talk to provincial and territorial governments about disclosure (p. 175).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democracy Watch case going ahead vs. Lobbying Commissioner rulings letting off lobbyists who helped Chrystia Freeland win election, then lobbied her officials and staff

Lobbying Commissioner trying to hide details of her investigation and ruling – judge will decide what Commissioner has to disclose

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that the Federal Court rejected the Trudeau government’s motion requesting that the court stop the cases Democracy Watch filed in August 2020 challenging the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s rulings about lobbyists Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI).

The cases are continuing, and the next step is that the Commissioner is trying to stop the court and Democracy Watch from seeing the details of her investigation and findings that led to her ruling. Under the Lobbying Act, investigations are conducted in private, but under Federal Court rules the Commissioner is required to disclose the record of her investigation so that the court can fully review whether it was conducted properly, and whether the rulings were also proper.

The Commissioner and Democracy Watch will file their submissions on the investigation disclosure issue over the next month, and then the court will issue its ruling sometime after that. Democracy Watch is represented by Andrew Montague-Reinholdt and Rhian Foley of Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP. The cases are Federal Court file nos. T-915-20 and T-916-20.

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

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

Democracy Watch’s case argues that Bergen and O’Born’s lobbying violated Lobbyists’ Code rules.

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

“By letting the CCI lobbyists off the hook, and issuing other similarly weak rulings in recent years letting off other unethical lobbyists, Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger is continuing the negligent enforcement record of her predecessor Karen Shepherd who let off 84% of the lobbyists who violated the law during her decade as commissioner,” said Conacher.

The case was delayed in fall 2020 waiting for the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) to decide whether to allow DWatch to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling on its case challenging former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd’s decision not to investigate the Aga Khan for giving Justin Trudeau’s family and friends a trip to his private Bahamas island. Incredibly, the FCA ruled that the public had no right to have a complaint ruled on by the Commissioner, and therefore no right to challenge a decision not to investigate a complaint.

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

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign

DWatch criticizes so-called Independent Senators Group for planning a kangaroo court hearing to expel Senator Marilou McPhedran for questioning weak, loophole-filled Senate ethics and harassment measures

Senate Ethics Officer has ignored how several senators’ business board and employee positions and investments violate key ethics code rules

Monday, October 18, 2021

OTTAWA –Democracy Watch criticized the so-called “Independent Senators Group” (ISG) for planning to hold a secretive, closed-door hearing today to decide whether to expel Senator Marilou McPhedran for questioning weak, loophole-filled Senate ethics and anti-harassment rules and enforcement.

“If they want to claim to be independent, senators in the so-called Independent Senators Group should have rejected the attempt to use a secretive, kangaroo court process to punish a senator for questioning the Senate’s weak, loophole-filled ethics and anti-harassment measures,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Senators in the ISG should be ashamed for trying to expel Senator McPhedran, and it shows yet again why the Senate should be abolished as senators continue to refuse to reform it in any meaningful ways to make it democratic, ethical and accountable.”

The Senate’s anti-harassment measures, like the measures across the federal government, are far from a best-practice system to protect complainants who blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

In terms of ethics, the Senate’s Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators is full of loopholes, and Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault continues to fail to issue guidelines for key (but vague) rules in the Code. In fact, in July 2021, the Ethics Officer finally issued the first guidelines ever issued since the office was created in 2005, but only for two of the many rules in the Code.

Specifically, the Senate Ethics Officer continues to fail to explain how more than 60 senators (To see list, click here) can be paid to be board members of businesses or organizations and/or have stock market or mutual fund investments (but not disclose which companies they are invested in) and/or other paid work, and yet not be in violation of:

  1. subsection 2(1) of the Code which requires senators to give precedence to their parliamentary duties and functions over any other duty or activity;
  2. subsection 2(2) which sets out principles senators are expected to uphold, including avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest,
  3. section 7.1 that requires senators to “uphold the highest standards of dignity” and prohibits acting in a way that “could reflect adversely” on the position of Senator or the Senate overall, and;
  4. section 7.2 requires senators to perform their parliamentary functions and duties with “dignity, honour and integrity.”

“No senator can claim to be independent or provide sober second thought on any issue when they are on the board of or working for a private business or firm or have secret financial investments in the stock market,” said Conacher. “Senators should be required to work only as senators, and should only be allowed to invest in term deposits and government bonds, to prevent conflicts with their duty to act in the public interest.”

Democracy Watch sent a letter in September 2018 to Ethics Officer Legault calling on him to issue a ruling that Senator Larry Campbell’s then-position as a board member with Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (with stock options in the company), a position he retired from only in June 2021, violated the purpose and rules 2(1), 2(2) and 7.2 of the Senate ethics code.

In the letter, Democracy Watch also called on the Ethics Officer Legault to review the board positions and investments of all senators, and to issue the same ruling for any senator who holds a position as a board member, executive or employee, or who has investments, in any corporation that has interests in the province they represent or interests affected by federal laws duties because their board and financial interests conflict with the overall public interest that senators have a duty to represent and uphold under their ethics code.

“The Senate ethics rules require senators to dedicate themselves to their duties as a senator over all other activities, and to always act with integrity and avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and no senator can comply with those rules when they are a board member, executive or investor in a corporation that is regulated by federal laws or operates in the province they are supposed to represent,” said Conacher. “Senators can unethically help their company’s interests not only by taking part in discussions, debates and votes that affect the company’s interests but also by not doing anything such as not making any public statements or proposals that would hurt the company’s interests.”

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Shut Down the Senate Campaign

No one should be surprised by low voter turnout in Trudeau’s selfish, unnecessary summer snap election

Snap election call during August holiday period, party misleaders, voting system, weak political ethics laws and platforms, and pandemic combine to lower voter turnout to about 62 percent

Friday, September 24, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, in response to low voter turnout in Prime Minister Trudeau’s selfish and unnecessary summer snap election, Democracy Watch called for democratic changes to the federal political system to increase voter turnout. Initial results show that the Trudeau Liberals have won 47% (159 out of 338) of the seats in the House of Commons with the support of only 20% of eligible voters, which raises serious questions about their mandate to govern, let alone implement any specific law or policy.

Only about 62% of eligible voters cast a ballot, which puts the election among the five federal elections with the lowest turnout in Canadian history (2011, 2008, 2004, 2000 and 1896). A total of about 32.5% of the ballots cast were for the Liberals.

Voter turnout likely decreased in part because of Trudeau’s summer snap election call which led to the cancellation of on-campus polling stations and the reduction in polling stations in many ridings that caused long lineups on election day, as well as problems with the mail-in ballot system. However, even the 67-68% turnout in the 2015 and 2019 elections is still significantly below the turnout levels of 75% or more in many elections in the 1970s and 1980s.

“With only about 62 percent of voters casting ballots in the federal election, the fifth lowest turnout ever, and only 20 percent of eligible voters supporting the winning party, alarm bells should be going off and questions raised about the legitimacy of the federal government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Voter turnout will go up significantly only if honesty is required in politics, the voting system is changed to a proportional system with the right to vote none-of-the-above, and political ethics and government accountability laws are strengthened.”

Federal parties must ensure make the following changes if they want to increase voter turnout to the past level of about 75% in many elections in the 1970s and 1980s, or even higher:

  1. Pass an honesty-in-politics law that gives voters an easy, low-cost way to file complaints to the Ethics Commissioner, and requires the Commissioner to penalize misleaders (and requires MPs who switch parties in-between elections to resign and run in a by-election), and also enact effective measures to stop false claims during elections, especially online;
  2. Add the right to vote “none of the above” and to give a reason on election and by-election ballots;
  3. Move the fixed election date to the last Monday in October to make it easier for people with kids, and students, to follow and participate in the election campaign and have the identification needed to vote. Democracy Watch has filed a court case challenging Trudeau’s snap election call as a violation of the fixed election date measures in Canada’s election law,
  4. Change the voting system to provide a more accurate representation of the popular vote results in each election in the seats held by each party in the legislature (as in many other countries) 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;
  5. Strengthen federal political ethics, political finance, lobbying, open government, and whistleblower protection laws (the Green Party received the best grade of C- in overall bad grades in DWatch’s Report Card on the parties’ election platforms);
  6. Mandate Elections Canada to spend the $5 million or so it spends each election on voter education advertising on ads that include the following two key messages in their voter education advertising and communications – the real reasons to vote – which its partner organization Democracy Education Network includes in its and voter turnout initiatives:
    1. “You never know when your vote may count” — with examples from past elections, and from specific ridings in various elections, which show clearly that election results cannot be predicted in advance, and;
    2. “If you don’t vote, you don’t count” — making it clear that politicians don’t really care about you if you don’t vote because non-voters do not help them get elected or defeated.

These changes will make it easy and give voters many more compelling reasons to vote as they will know that voting for a specific party will mean their vote will count and the party’s promises will be kept, and they will be more assured of democratic, accountable good government overall no matter which party wins.

“More and more voters know from their experience of the past few decades of elections that they are not going to get what they vote for, and are likely to get dishonest, secretive, unethical, unrepresentative and wasteful government no matter which party they vote for, and as a result no one should be surprised to see voter turnout at such a low level,” said Conacher.

These problems exist in all the provinces and territories across Canada. All of these changes should be made by the federal and provincial and territorial governments, and for their municipalities, before mandatory voting is even considered because forcing voters to vote creates false legitimacy for political parties and politicians (and mandatory voting must never be implemented unless “none of the above” is one of the options on the ballot). Internet voting should also not even be considered currently given it would dangerously undermine the integrity of the voting system.

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

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign

Green Party receives C- grade – best of overall bad grades in Report Card on Federal Parties’ 2021 Democratic Reform Platforms

NDP and Conservatives tie with D- while Liberals, Bloc and PPC all receive an F

Great to see Green Party promise to enact an honesty-in-politics law but, given lack of law and past pattern of ruling party breaking half of democratic reform promises, voters should be very skeptical of every promise made by every party

8 key, written rules needed to have a fair post-election, and fair minority government

Saturday, September 18, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its Report Card on the Federal Parties’ 2021 Democratic Reform Platforms (See the summary Report Card below, and click here to see the full Report Card).

The Green Party received a C- as the best grade of overall bad grades for all the parties, as their platform was weaker than their 2011 election platform when they received a B- grade.

The NDP and Conservatives tied with D- while the Liberals, Bloc and Conservatives received an F.

One breakthrough is that the Green Party promised to enact an honesty-in-politics law to ensure parties tell the truth during election and referendum campaigns – the first federal party to make such a promise – and the Green Party and NDP also both promised measures to address misinformation and disinformation, especially online.

However, given the current lack of an honesty-in-politics law, and the fact that Prime Minister Chrétien, Prime Minister Harper, and Prime Minister Trudeau all failed to keep half of their democratic reform promises (Prime Minister Martin didn’t make any), voters should be very skeptical of every promise made by every party.

The Liberals’ platform is a failure compared to their 2015 election platform that received a B grade, and is as weak as their democratic reform record since 2015:

  1. the Liberals broke most of their open government promises;
  2. Prime Minister Trudeau broke his electoral reform promise;
  3. they failed to make the political finance system more democratic;
  4. they ignored recommendations to strengthen whistleblower protection in a unanimous House Committee report;
  5. they ignored recommendations to stop secret, fake online election ads in a unanimous House Committee report, and;
  6. Prime Minister Trudeau and Liberal Cabinet ministers have been involved in many secrecy and ethics scandals.

The Conservatives platform was very weak compared to their 2006 election platform when they were elected into power – in that platform the Conservatives promised 60 democratic reform and government accountability changes in their so-called “Federal Accountability Act”, and earned them a B grade.

The NDP’s platform was also very weak compared to their 2015 election platform when they earned a B grade.

Many surveys over the past 15 years have shown that a large majority of voters do not trust politicians, and want honesty, ethics, lobbying, open government and other reforms to stop politicians from abusing their power. Hundreds of thousands of messages have been sent to federal party leaders and politicians through Democracy Watch’s campaigns calling for the 100 changes needed to ensure fully democratic and accountable federal government and politics.

“All the federal parties have unfortunately failed to respond to high voter concern about democracy and trust issues,” said Duff Conacher, Founding Director of Democracy Watch and chairperson of its four nation-wide coalitions. “The party leaders should not be surprised by the lack of support they will receive from voters on election day. One can only hope that the parties will actually address these concerns when Parliament opens again so that everyone in federal politics will, finally after 154 years, be effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste.”

“While it is notable that the Green Party has promised an honesty-in-politics law, given the current lack of such a law, voters should be wary of trusting any political promises,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch and the coalitions it leads will continue to push for all 100 key changes.

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

Democracy Watch’s Campaigns page


Bloc Québécois platform webpage
(NOTE: See part 16 “Éthique” on page 16 of platform)

Conservative Party of Canada platform webpage
(NOTE: See pages 68-70 of platform PDF)

Green Party of Canada platform webpage
(NOTE: See pages 87-89 of platform PDF)

Liberal Party of Canada platform webpage
(NOTE: See pages 164-167 of platform PDF)

NDP platform webpage
(NOTE: See pages 116-119 of platform PDF)

People’s Party of Canada platform webpage

Federal party leaders should agree on eight key rules for minority government to ensure fair post-election decisions

Rules should make it clear when the legislature will open, what a vote of non-confidence is, what will trigger next election etc.

Should issue public statement of agreement on rules before Monday, and then first bill passed by Parliament should make the rules law (as many other countries have)

Thursday, September 16, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, with all surveys pointing to another minority government, Democracy Watch called on federal party leaders to learn the lessons of past minority governments and reach an agreement this week on eight public, written rules for a fair, democratic minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want, and as the former Governor General called for in August 2016 in an interview with the Hill Times. Agreeing on the rules now will help ensure everything runs fairly, democratically and transparently in the days after the election, and through to the next election.

The rules should make clear: when the legislature will open; when it can be closed; what a vote of non-confidence is; when and how the opposition parties may get a chance to govern and; when and how the next election can be called before the fixed election date; which party will get to try governing first after the next election. (Click here to see Background listing the 8 rules)

The current rules are unclear because they are unwritten constitutional conventions – even constitutional scholars disagree what lines they draw. A large majority (78%) of constitutional scholars surveyed in fall 2012 supported writing down the conventions. The vagueness in the rules effectively allows the elected Prime Minister and ruling party to abuse their powers and violate the rules, as the only way to stop violations is for the unelected, unaccountable Governor General to decide that a violation has occurred and to try to stop the elected Prime Minister from doing what they want.

The Governor General, and lieutenant governors in several provinces, have almost never stopped a Prime Minister or Premier from doing whatever they want, and have allowed premiers to abuse their powers by not opening the legislature after an election, shutting it down arbitrarily for months, and calling snap elections in violation of fixed-election-date laws. The Governor General allowed Prime Minister Harper to call a snap election in 2008 in violation of the fixed-election-date law, to prorogue Parliament in a very questionable minority government situation, and to declare many votes in Parliament as confidence votes even though they were clearly not confidence votes. The Governor General also allowed Prime Minister Trudeau to call a snap election in August in violation of the fixed-election-date law.

In England, Australia and New Zealand, political party leaders and MPs agreed years ago to clear, public rules so what happens after an election is fair for all the parties, and for voters. Most countries in the world also have clear, public post-election rules.

As well, a survey of more than 2,000 Canadians by Harris-Decima in November-December 2012 showed that 84% of adult Canadians want enforceable rules to restrict key powers of the Prime Minister and provincial premiers.

“There are no legal or other justifiable reasons for Canada’s political party leaders and the Governor General to fail to approve eight key rules for a fair, democratic minority government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “It is clearly in the public interest that the rules be approved to stop unfair abuses of power by the Prime Minister and ruling party that violate the rights of Parliament and the democratic will of the majority of voters.”

After the eight rules are enacted into law, Parliament should, as the legislatures in England, Australia and New Zealand have, examine and enact other fairness rules to ensure the legislature and MLAs can hold the government accountable. The rules should cover the following key areas: what can be included in omnibus bills; the freedom and powers of individual politicians to vote how they want on resolutions and bills; how members of legislature committees are chosen, and; what a Cabinet can do during an election campaign period until the next Cabinet is chosen.

“As long as the federal rules for Parliament are unwritten and unclear, the Prime Minister and ruling party will be able to abuse their powers and Parliament’s ability to hold the government accountable will be undemocratically restricted,” said Conacher.

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

Democracy Watch’s Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign

Democracy Watch and Wayne Crookes file court case challenging PM Trudeau’s snap election call

UK Supreme Court set strong precedent by ruling in 2019 that PM Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament was illegal because it unjustifiably prevented Parliament from fulfilling its constitutionally protected role

Snap election call illegal for same reason, and also because measure in election law fixes election date for every four years, a vote of non-confidence had not occurred, and because a large majority in Parliament voted against having an election

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, on the International Day of Democracy, Democracy Watch announced that it and Integrity B.C. founder Wayne Crookes have filed a case in Federal Court (PDF of application) challenging Prime Minister Trudeau’s request that the Governor General call a snap election. The case is not aimed at stopping the current federal election. Instead, it is aimed at winning a ruling that the Prime Minister violated the fixed election date measure in Canada’s election law, and that the PM is only allowed to ask the Governor General to call an election every four years on the fixed election date, with the only exception being if a vote of non-confidence in the government occurs before that date.

Democracy Watch filed a similar case against then-Prime Minister Harper’s snap election call in September 2008. The Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal both ruled that a constitutional convention had not been created when Parliament added section 56.1 to the Canada Elections Act in 2007, and that the measure was not specific enough to prohibit the Prime Minister from calling an early election.

Democracy Watch’s position, and the position of Andrew Heard, one of Canada’s foremost experts on constitutional conventions, is that the courts made an incorrect decision in that case because section 56.1 says “each” election “must be held” every four years, and adding the measure to the law created a rule and a convention that the PM is required to comply with, unless a non-confidence vote occurs.

Democracy Watch’s position is also that its current case is stronger because the situation when Trudeau called a snap election call is different from Harper’s snap election call in September 2008 in several key ways, especially because:

  1. In a 327-1 vote on May 25, 2021, MPs (including Trudeau) voted against holding an election, and all opposition party leaders clearly and publicly expressed their opposition in July-August to holding an election;
  2. As opposition parties made clear with public letters and statements before Trudeau’s election call, a majority of MPs voted in favour of everything the Trudeau Liberals have proposed since the last election, including the 2021 Liberal budget, or were in the process of reviewing proposed measures on the usual legislative timeline. Opposition parties clearly supported the Liberals continuing to govern, and the Trudeau government had the confidence of Parliament, when Trudeau called the election.
    (Click here to see Backgrounder for details.)

The British Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 2019 that PM Boris Johnson’s decision to advise the Queen to shut down Parliament was unlawful as it “ha[d] the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive” (para. 50 of the ruling). The same principle applies to Trudeau’s snap election call, which shut down Parliament for no good reason.

As well, the fixed election date rule in Canada’s election law, and the Prime Minister following the law for the past three elections, have created a constitutional convention rule that the PM is required to follow. In 2011, the Conservative government led by PM Harper called an election only after losing a vote of confidence in Parliament. In 2015, PM Harper called an election on the fixed date, as did PM Trudeau in 2019.

“Prime Minister Trudeau’s snap election call was illegal because Canada’s election law fixes election dates for every four years unless there is a vote of non-confidence in the government, which did not happen before his election call in August, said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “MPs from all parties, including Prime Minister Trudeau, voted against holding an election, all opposition party leaders were against it, and the Liberal government had the clear confidence of Parliament in every way except for calling an election.”

In the same way the British Supreme Court rejected the British PM’s shutting down of Parliament as an illegal abuse of power that went against the will of Parliament, the courts should rule that Trudeau’s snap election was illegal because it violated the fixed election date law and convention, and the democratic will and constitutionally protected role of Parliament,” said Conacher.

“Two of the most important things Canadians want from their politicians is to obey the law and to tell the truth – Mr. Trudeau has done neither here,” said Wayne Crookes, founder of Integrity B.C. “To call an election during the Covid-19 health emergency which has cost 27,314 Canadians their lives at an unneeded expense of about $500 million reflects very poorly on Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal Party. He has put self-interest before his duty to Canadians.”

As well, a survey at the end of July showed only 26% of Canadians want an election, and in mid-July the PM also denied that he was going to call an election.

More than 20,000 voters signed Democracy Watch’s petition on calling on Governor General Mary Simon to say no to any snap election call by Prime Minister Trudeau before the next fixed election date. Snap elections are unfair to voters, people who want to run as candidates, and most parties. That’s why Parliament decided to fix the federal election date in Canada’s election law.

Because they are illegal, dishonest and unfair, Democracy Watch and Wayne Crookes also went to court to challenge the snap election calls last fall by the B.C. NDP Premier and the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Premier, both of which violated their provincial fixed election date laws. The New Brunswick case was heard in mid-March, and the B.C. case is scheduled to be heard in October.

– 30 –

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

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign and Stop PM/Premier Abuses Campaign