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BACKGROUNDER

Backgrounder on 4 Errors Made by federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in his ruling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s participation in approving the WE Charity grant in spring 2020

(November 10, 2021)

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s May 2021 ruling on Prime Minister Trudeau’s participation in the WE Charity grant approval process made four key errors in letting Trudeau off even though Trudeau clearly violated the federal government ethics law.

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

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

  1. Failure to rule that Trudeau had a real conflict of interest

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

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

  1. Failure to rule that Conflict of Interest Act covers apparent conflicts of interest

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

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

  1. Failure to rule that Trudeau and Keilburger borthers, who head up WE Charity, are friends

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

  1. Failure to find that Trudeau acted improperly, which is a violation of the Act

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

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

List of Senators

List of Senators Who Hold or Have Recently Held Business/Organization Board Positions and/or Employee Positions and/or Who Have Stock Market Investments

(according to the senators’ most recent disclosures in the Senate’s Public Registry)

NOTE 1: In Democracy Watch’s opinion, the most serious conflicts with a senator’s work duties and duty to uphold the public interest are caused by working for, or being on the board of, a private company (especially investment firms) or organization that is federally regulated or affected by federal spending, taxes, subsidies or other programs and/or having stock market investments or mutual fund investments in companies that are federally regulated. Working for, or being on the board of, a company or organization that is provincially regulated can also cause conflicts, as can having stock market or mutual fund investments in companies that are provincially regulated.

NOTE 2: Senators are required to disclose publicly whether they have stock market investments (i.e. investments in “publicly traded securities”) or mutual fund investments, but are not required to disclose which companies they are invested in. In contrast, U.S. senators are required to disclose details of their stock market and mutual fund investments, and changes to those investments, worth more than $1,000.

NOTE 3: Eight senators appointed in June and July 2021 have not yet made their first disclosure of their business/organization work and board positions, investments, assets and liabilities. These senators are as follows: David M. Arnot, Michèle Audette, Bernadette Clement, Amina Gerba, Clément Gignac, Jim Quinn, Karen Sorenson and Hassan Yussuff.

Denise Batters – has stock market investments

Douglas Black – works for Dentons Canada LLP, works for Clearspring Capital Partners, and has stock market investments

Patricia Bovey – has a consultancy, has stock market investments

Larry Campbell – was board member of Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (up to June 1, 2021)

Claude Carignan – practises law; has stock market investments

Daniel Christmas – has stock market investments

Jane Cordy – has stock market investments

Brent Cotter – has consultancy

Mary Coyle – has stock market investments

Pierre J. Dalphond – practises law, has stock market investments

Donna Dasko – has stock market investments

Dennis Dawson – has stock market investments

Colin Deacon – has stock market investments

Marty Deacon – on several organization boards, has stock market investments

Tony Dean – has stock market investments

Pat Duncan – has mutual fund investments

Renée Dupuis – has mutual fund investments

Éric Forest – has stock market investments

Josée Forest-Niesing – has stock market investments

Brian Francis – has stock market investments

George Furey – has stock market investments

Raymonde Gagné – has stock market investments

Rosa Galvez – has mutual fund investments

Marc Gold – on several organization boards, has stock market investments

Stephen Greene – has mutual fund investments

Diane Griffin – on a few organization boards, has stock market investments

Peter Harder – on board of Magna International Inc., has stock market investments

Nancy Hartling – has mutual fund investments

Leo Housakos – has stock market investments

Mobina Jaffer – partner in a law firm, on board and owns shares in three property corporations and a poultry farm

Marty Klyne – on board of FHQ Developments, has stock market investments

Stan Kutcher – has stock market investments

Patti LaBoucane-Benson – consultant, board member of House of Anansi Press, has mutual fund investments

Frances Lankin – has mutual fund investments

Tony Loffreda – has stock market investments

Michael L. MacDonald – has mutual fund investments

Elizabeth Marshall – has stock market investments

Yonah Martin – board member of several organizations

Sarabjit Marwah – on board of Cineplex Inc. and George Weston Ltd., and has stock market investments

Paul Massicotte – board member of several private investment firms, has several private investments

Marilou McPhedran – board member of one organization, has mutual fund investments

Marie Françoise Mégie – board member of a business and two organizations, has stock market investments

Terry Mercer – has mutual fund investments

Julie Miville-Dechêne – has mutual fund investments

Rosemary Moodie – practicing medicine, board member of three organizations, has mutual fund investments

Victor Oh – honourary positions with 16 organizations

Ratna Omidvar – board member of several organizations, has stock market investments

Kim Pate – adjunct law professor, member of organization advisory committee, has mutual fund investments

Dennis Glen Patterson – board member of Nunatta Environmental Services Inc., has stock market investments

Chantal Petitclerc – board member and works for Chantal Petitclerc Inc., board member of several organizations, including a new one in June 2020 and another new one in June 2020, has mutual fund investments

Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia – has private company and stock market investments

Raymonde Saint-Germain – has stock market investments

Judith G. Seidman – board member of a consultancy, has stock market investments

Paula Simons – has mutual fund investments

Larry W. Smith – works for and board member of consultancy, has stock market investments

Scott Tannas – works for Western Financial Group Inc. (insurance company), board member of nine private companies and one organization, has stock market investments

Josée Verner – has mutual fund investments

Pamela Wallin – board member of two organizations, has stock market investments

David M. Wells – board member and works with consultancy, part owner of Battery Management Corp., has private investments and stock market investments

Howard Wetston – member of Toronto Hydro Corporation Board of Directors and Westcourt Capital Corporation Advisory Board, member of three organizations (including as Senior Fellow of C.D. Howe Institute), has stock market investments

Vernon White – has consultancy, adjunct professor at three universities, Fellow at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, external advisor to Fabriik (crypto-currency trading company), board member of eight organizations

Yuen Pau Woo – Senior Resident Fellow, Jack Austin Centre for Asia Pacific Business Studies (at Beedie School of Business Simon Fraser University), board member of 10 organizations, has mutual fund investments

Report Card on the 2021 Democratic Reform Platforms of the Federal Political Parties

Set out below are the 16 sub-categories for the five issue area categories that are the basis for the Report Card.

GRADING SYSTEM

A – Platform makes clear promise to implement proposal
B – Platform makes vague or partial promise to implement proposals
C – Platform makes clear promise to explore proposal
D – Platform makes vague or partial promise to explore proposal
D- – Platform mentions proposal
F – Platform mentions theme of proposal
I – Platform does not mention proposal



I. Honest, Ethical Government Measures

SECTION I OVERALL GRADES

Bloc Québécois – D
Conservative Party – D-
Green Party – B
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – D

1. Requiring honesty-in-politics – Pass a law that requires all federal Cabinet ministers, MPs, Senators, political staff, Cabinet appointees and government employees (including at Crown corporations, agencies, boards, commissions, courts and tribunals) nomination race, party leadership race and election candidates to tell the truth, with an easily accessible complaint process to a fully independent watchdog agency that is fully empowered to investigate and penalize anyone who lies (including during elections through online election posts or ads). (Go to Honesty in Politics Campaign, and Stop Fake Online Election Ads Campaign, for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – A-
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – C

2. Strengthening ethics standards for politicians, political staff, Cabinet appointees and government employees, and ethics enforcement – Close the loopholes in the existing ethics rules (including requiring resignation and a by-election if an MP switches parties between elections) and apply them to all government institutions (including all Crown corporations), and as proposed by the federal Department of Finance place anyone with decision-making power on the anti-corruption watch list of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (Fintrac) so deposits to their bank accounts can be tracked, and; strengthen the independence and effectiveness of politician and government employee ethics watchdog positions (the Ethics Commissioner for Cabinet and MPs, the Senate Ethics Officer for senators, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner for government employees, the Commissioner of Lobbyists for lobbyists) by giving opposition party leaders a veto over appointees, having Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve their annual budgets (as is currently the process for the Ethics Commissioner), prohibiting the watchdogs from giving secret advice, requiring them to investigate and rule publicly on all complaints (including anonymous complaints), fully empowering and requiring them to penalize rule-breakers, changing all the codes they enforce into laws, and ensuring that all their decisions can be reviewed by the courts. (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – C
Conservative Party – C
Green Party – C
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I

3. Making the political donations system democratic – Prohibit secret, unlimited donations of money, property or services by anyone for any reason to nomination and party leadership candidates (only such donations are now only prohibited if given to election candidates); limit loans, including from financial institutions, to parties and all types of candidates to the same level as donations are limited; require disclosure of all donations (including the identity of the donor’s employer (as in the U.S.) and/or major affiliations) and loans quarterly and before any election day; limit spending on campaigns for the leadership of political parties; maintain limits on third-party (non-political party) advertising during elections; lower the public funding of political parties from $2 per vote received to $1 per vote received for parties that elect more MPs than they deserve based on the percentage of voter support they receive (to ensure that in order to prosper these parties need to have active, ongoing support of a broad base of individuals) and; ensure riding associations receive a fair share of this per-vote funding (so that party headquarters don’t have undue control over riding associations). (Go to Money in Politics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – B
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – A-
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – B-

4. Closing down the revolving door – Prohibit lobbyists from working for government departments or serving in senior positions for political parties or candidates for public office (as in New Mexico and Maryland), and from having business connections with anyone who does, and close the loopholes so that the actual cooling-off period for former Cabinet ministers, ministerial staff and senior public officials is five years (and three years for MPs, senators, their staff, and government employees) during which they are prohibited from becoming a lobbyist or working with people, corporations or organizations with which they had direct dealings while in government. Make the Ethics Commissioner, Commissioner of Lobbying and Senate Ethics Officer more independent and effective by requiring approval of opposition party leaders of the person appointed to each position, by having Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the Commissioner of Lobbying’s annual budget (as is currently the process for the Ethics Commissioner), by prohibiting the Commissioners from giving secret advice, by requiring the Commissioners to investigate and rule publicly on all complaints (including anonymous complaints), by fully empowering and requiring the Commissioners to penalize rule-breakers, by ensuring all decisions of the Commissioners can be reviewed by the courts, and by changing the codes they enforce (MPs Code, Lobbyists’ Code and Senate Code of Conduct into laws. (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – B-
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I


II. Open Government Measures

SECTION II OVERALL GRADES

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – C-
Green Party – C-
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I

5. Strengthening access-to-information system – Strengthen the federal access-to-information law and government information management system by applying the law to all government/publicly funded institutions, requiring all institutions and officials to create records of all decisions and actions and disclose them proactively and regularly, creating a public interest override of all access exemptions, giving opposition party leaders a veto over the appointment of the Information Commissioner, having Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the Information Commissioner’s annual budgets (as is currently the process for the federal Ethics Commissioner), and giving the federal Information Commissioner the power and mandate to order the release of documents (as in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.), to order changes to government institutions’ information systems, and to penalize violators of access laws, regulations, policies and rules. (Go to Open Government Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – C+
Green Party – C+
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I

6. Exposing behind-closed-door communications – Require in a new law that Ministers and senior public officials to disclose their contacts with all lobbyists, whether paid or volunteer lobbyists. (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – I
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I

7. Strengthening lobbying disclosure and ethics, and the enforcement system – Strengthen the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct disclosure system by closing the loophole that currently allows corporations to hide the number of people involved in lobbying activities, and by requiring lobbyists to disclose their past work with any Canadian or foreign government, political party or candidate, to disclose all their government relations activities (whether paid or volunteer) involving gathering inside information or trying to influence policy-makers (as in the U.S.) and to disclose the amount they spend on lobbying campaigns (as in 33 U.S. states), and; strengthen the ethics and enforcement system by adding specific rules and closing loopholes in the Lobbyists’ Code and making it part of the Act, by extending the limitation period for prosecutions of violations of the Act to 10 years, and; by giving opposition party leaders a veto over the appointment of the Commissioner of Lobbying, by having Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the Commissioner’s annual budget (as is currently the process for the Ethics Commissioner), by prohibiting the Commissioner from giving secret advice, by ensuring that the Commissioner must investigate and rule publicly on all complaints (including anonymous complaints), by fully empowering the Commissioner to penalize rule-breakers, and by ensuring all Commissioner decisions can be reviewed by the courts. (Go to Government Ethics Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – B-
Green Party – B-
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I


III. Efficient Government Measures

SECTION III OVERALL GRADES

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – D
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I

8. Increasing powers of Auditor General and Parliamentary Budget Officer – Increase the independence of the Auditor General and Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) by requiring approval of appointment from opposition party leaders, and by making the PBO a full Officer of Parliament with a fixed term who can only be dismissed for cause; increase auditing resources of the Auditor General and PBO by having Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the Auditor General’s annual budget (as is currently the process for the federal Ethics Commissioner), and; empower the Auditor General to audit all government institutions, to make orders for changes to government institutions’ spending systems, and empower the Auditor General and PBO to penalize violators of federal Treasury Board spending rules or Auditor General or PBO orders o requests for information. (Go to Stop Fraud Politician Spending Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – C-
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I

9. Restricting government advertising – Empower a government watchdog agency to preview and prohibit government advertising that promotes the ruling party, especially leading up to an election (similar to the restrictions in Manitoba and Saskatchewan). (Go to Stop Fraud Politician Spending Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – I
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I


IV. Representative, Citizen-Driven Government Measures

SECTION IV OVERALL GRADES

Bloc Québécois – D-
Conservative Party – D-
Green Party – C-
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – C-

10. Increasing meaningful public consultation – Pass a law requiring all government departments and institutions to use consultation processes that provide meaningful opportunities for citizen participation, especially concerning decisions that affect the lives of all Canadians. (Go to Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – C-
Green Party – C-
Liberal Party – D-
New Democrat Party – C-

11. Restricting power of Cabinet to make appointments – Require approval by opposition party leaders for the approximately 3,000 judicial, agency, board, commission and tribunal appointments currently made by the Prime Minister (including the board and President of the CBC), especially for appointees to senior and law enforcement positions, after a merit-based nomination and screening process conducted by finally setting up the Public Appointments Commission that was given a legal basis to exist under the so-called “Federal Accountability Act”. (Go to Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign, and Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign, for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – B
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – I
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I

12. Making the House more democratic, and making the Senate democratic or abolish it – Change the Parliament of Canada Act to restrict the Prime Minister’s power to shut down (prorogue) Parliament to only for a very short time, and only for an election (dissolution) or if the national situation has changed significantly or if the Prime Minister can show that the government has completed all their pledged actions from the last Speech from the Throne (or attempted to do so, as the opposition parties may stop or delay completion of some actions). Give all party caucuses the power to choose which MPs and senators in their party sits on House and Senate committees, and allow any MP or senator to introduce a private member bill at any time, and define what a “vote of confidence” is in the Parliament of Canada Act in a restrictive way so most votes in the House of Commons are free votes. Attempt to reach an agreement with provincial governments (as required by the Constitution) to either abolish the Senate or reform the Senate (with a safeguard that Senate powers will not be increased unless senators are elected and their overall accountability increased). (Go to Stop Muzzling MPs Campaign, and Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign, and Shut Down the Senate Campaign, and Democratic Head Campaign, for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – I
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – B-

13. Ensuring free, fair and representative elections – Change the current voting law and system (the Canada Elections Act) to specifically restrict the Prime Ministers’ power to call an unfair snap election, so that election dates are fixed as much as possible under the Canadian parliamentary system. Change the Act also so that nomination and party leadership races are regulated by Elections Canada (including limiting spending on campaigns for party leadership), so that Elections Canada determines which parties can participate in election debates based upon merit criteria, so that party leaders cannot appoint candidates except when a riding does not have a riding association, so that voters are allowed to refuse their ballot (ie. vote for “none of the above”, as in Ontario), and to provide a more equal number of voters in every riding, and a more accurate representation in Parliament of the actual voter support for each political party (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with low-level, narrow-base support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in Parliament). (Go to Democratic Voting System Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – B-
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – B-


V. General Government Accountability Measures

SECTION V OVERALL GRADES

Bloc Québécois – D
Conservative Party – C
Green Party – D
Liberal Party – D-
New Democrat Party – D

14. Facilitating citizen watchdog groups over government – Require federal government institutions to enclose one-page pamphlets periodically in their mailings to citizens inviting citizens to join citizen-funded and directed groups to represent citizen interests in policy-making and enforcement processes of key government departments (for example, on ethics, spending, and health care/welfare) as has been proposed in the U.S. and recommended for Canadian banks and other financial institutions in 1998 by a federal task force, a House of Commons Committee, and a Senate Committee. (Go to Citizen Association Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – I
Conservative Party – I
Green Party – I
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I

15. Ensuring effective whistleblower protection – Require everyone to report any violation of any law, regulation, policy, code, guideline or rule, and require all watchdog agencies over government (for example: Auditor General, Information Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner, Public Service Commission, the four ethics watchdogs (especially the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner), Security and Intelligence Review Committee, the National Health Council) to investigate and rule publicly on allegations of violations, to penalize violators, to protect anyone (not just employees) who reports a violation (so-called “whistleblowers”) from retaliation, to reward whistleblowers whose allegations are proven to be true, and to ensure a right to appeal to the courts. (Go to Protect Whistleblowers Who Protect You Campaign for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – B-
Conservative Party – B-
Green Party – B-
Liberal Party – I
New Democrat Party – I

16. Ensuring loophole free laws and strong penalties for wrongdoers – Close any technical and other loopholes that have been identified in laws, regulations, policies, codes, guidelines and rules (especially those regulating government institutions and large corporations) to help ensure strong enforcement, and increase financial penalties for violations to a level that significantly effects the annual revenues/budget of the institution or corporation. (Go to Stop Unfair Law Enforcement Campaign, and Corporate Responsibility Campaign, for details about Democracy Watch’s proposals)

Bloc Québécois – C-
Conservative Party – C
Green Party – D
Liberal Party – C
New Democrat Party – B-

Stop Snap Elections Fund

Please support Democracy Watch’s court cases and campaign to stop snap elections across Canada!

Whenever a snap election is called, it is unfair because voters have no time to plan and arrange their lives so they can run as a candidate, volunteer or participate in the election in other ways. The ruling party also usually calls a snap election when surveys show that it has the best chance of winning – that’s also unfair. That’s why Parliament and most provincial legislatures decided to fix the election date in election laws. It makes the election fairer for everyone.

The federal and most provincial election laws have measures that fix each election date for four years after the last election, unless the government loses an important vote in Parliament (called a “non-confidence vote” – like a vote on government’s budget or another major issue).

Snap election calls violate these measures. At the federal level, Prime Minister Trudeau’s snap election call in August also violated the constitutional convention rule that has been created by the Prime Minister and Parliament following the fixed election date law in 2011 (when the Harper Conservative government only called an election after losing a vote of confidence in Parliament), and in 2015 and 2019. This convention rule also exists in several provinces where the provincial legislature and premier have followed the provincial fixed election date law for several elections in a row.

The British Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2019 that it was illegal for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to shut down Parliament for no justifiable reason when a majority of MPs wanted Parliament to stay open and operating.

Prime Minister Trudeau and almost all MPs in the House of Commons, including all Liberals, voted in May against holding an election while COVID is still a danger, which it is. In mid-July, the PM also denied that he was going to call a snap election.

And in July and August, all federal opposition party leaders, who represent a clear majority of MPs in Parliament clearly and publicly said they were against holding an election, and called on Prime Minister Trudeau to open Parliament after the summer break. To see details, click here.

For all these reasons, Democracy Watch has filed a court case challenging Prime Minister Trudeau’s snap election call in August, just like it challenged Prime Minister Harper’s snap election call in September 2008. To see details about the case, click here.

Democracy Watch also filed court cases last fall challenging the snap election calls by B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan and by New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs, both of which violated their provincial fixed election date laws.

If Democracy Watch loses these court cases, it will continue campaigning for stronger measures to fix election dates across Canada.

Please use the links on this page to support Democracy Watch’s court cases and campaign to stop snap elections across Canada!


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

Backgrounder

8 Key Rules for Fair, Democratic Minority Government

  1. Until the Governor General has communicated directly with all the party leaders, the Governor General will not make a decision about which party or parties (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement) will be given the opportunity to govern first (i.e. to appoint a Cabinet and introduce a Speech from the Throne in Parliament);
  2. The party that wins the most seats in the election will be given the first opportunity to govern, including in partnership or coalition with another party, unless the leaders of other parties representing a majority of members of the legislature indicate clearly to the Governor General that they will not support that party and that they have agreed to form a coalition government or have agreed on a common legislative agenda;
  3. Within 30 days after the Governor General decides which party or parties will be given the first opportunity to govern, the Governor General and the governing party/parties will open Parliament with a Speech from the Throne;
  4. Even if the leaders of parties that represent a majority of members of the House of Commons do not indicate lack of support for the party that wins the most seats before that party’s Speech from the Throne, if they subsequently indicate lack of support for the Speech, the Governor General will not allow the Prime Minister-designate to prorogue the legislature before the Speech from the Throne is voted on by members of the House of Commons;
  5. If a majority of members in the House of Commons vote against the Speech from the Throne, the Governor General, before agreeing to any request by the Prime Minister’s to call an election, will give the opposition parties an opportunity to govern if they present a written agreement to the Governor General for either a formal coalition or legislative agreement;
  6. After the vote on the Speech from the Throne, the only vote in House of Commons that shall be a vote of non-confidence is a vote on a motion that states: “The House of Commons does not have confidence in the government.”
  7. If opposition parties introduce a motion of non-confidence in the governing party at any time after election day, the Governor General will not allow the Prime Minister to prorogue the legislature before the motion is voted on by the House of Commons, and;
  8. If a majority in the House of Commons votes to approve a motion of non-confidence in the governing party before the next fixed-election date, the Governor General will, before agreeing to any request by the Prime Minister that the Governor General call an election, give the opposition parties an opportunity to govern if they present a written agreement to the Governor General for either a formal coalition or legislative agreement.
   

BACKGROUNDER

Backgrounder on how a majority in Parliament clearly supported the Trudeau government, and clearly opposed Prime Minister Trudeau’s snap election call

(September 15, 2021)

  1. Prime Minister Trudeau and almost all MPs in the House of Commons, including all Liberals, voted at the end of May against holding an election while COVID is still a danger, which it clearly is.
  2. All opposition leaders opposed holding an election. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on July 27th, and the Green Party caucus on July 29th, wrote to Governor General Mary Simon calling on her to say no if Trudeau requested that an election being called because the government clearly had the confidence of Parliament, and an election would increase the risk to Canadians because of COVID.
  3. Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said on August 9th, before the election call that “My biggest concern right now is the potential fourth wave of COVID-19. We shouldn’t be rushing to an election” and then he reacted on August 15th to Trudeau’s election call by saying it was “unnecessary” and “dangerous” and for “political gain.”
  4. On August 3, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said that “Parliament is functioning, and can function” and “The Bloc Quebecois did not ask for an election” and that calling an election would be “irresponsible” and would “increase the level of danger” for voters (See English version of article here).
  5. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wrote Trudeau on August 9, 2021, summarizing the support that the NDP had given to government bills since the last elections, affirming the NDP’s ongoing support for government bills that had not been passed before Parliament adjourned for the summer, and asking him to open Parliament.
  6. Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said on August 15, 2021 that the election call was “unimaginable” given various emergency situations, and “unwarranted and unwanted” and that “Unfortunately public health has lost out to partisan ambition and common sense has lost to the quest for power.”
 

Backgrounder – Weak Enforcement of Financial Consumer and Investor Protection in Canada

(August 2021)

Both watchdogs too weak in powers, and enforcement attitude, to protect financial consumers and investors

The federal government’s Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has a very weak enforcement record since it was created in 2003.

It has made only 140 compliance rulings, is prohibited from naming a law-violating bank unless it prosecutes the bank, and it has only prosecuted 2 banks (neither of them a Big 6 bank). The FCAC not only lacks resources by comparison to the similar watchdog agencies in Britain and the U.S., it is also clearly a lapdog compared to these two other agencies.

According to an article by Reuters in March 2017, and Democracy Watch’s research of fines imposed since then, the FCAC has issued fines totaling just $5.5 million since 2001 in the 140 rulings it has issued.

In contrast, since 2013 when it was created, Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has already issued penalties totalling more than US$5.2 billion, and since 2011 when it was created, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has already imposed fines of more than US$13 billion.

Key consumer protection rules need to be strengthened, and the FCAC must be required to do unannounced, mystery-shopper audits to find violations, required to publicly identify financial institutions who violate the rules, and required to impose high fines on violators. The FCAC hasn’t done unannounced audits since 2005, tipped off the banks in March 2017 about the audit they did through the rest of 2017 on abuses, and then allowed the banks to see the draft audit results and suggest changes that weakened the report.

Meanwhile, former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, and former Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and current Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, have done nothing to require TD, Royal, Scotiabank or National Bank to stop using their own complaint judges and return to the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI).

All banks and investment companies should be required to use OBSI, and allow financial consumers and investors to complain directly to OBSI without having to go through a financial institution’s internal complaint system, and OBSI’s rulings on complaints by bank customers and investors must be made binding in every case.

An FCAC report released in February 2020 showed that the banks have a horrible record of dealing with financial consumer and investor complaints, especially the banks that use their own complaint judges.

The maximum fine allowed under the Bank Act is $10 million, which is still low for the big banks who each make more than $10 billion in revenue annually, especially given that it is very unlikely the FCAC or a court will ever impose the maximum fine.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) and the Ombudsman (OBSI) will continue to be ineffective until the federal government gives them key powers and requires them to use those powers to audit banks and other financial institutions regularly and to penalize every violation with a high fine (there should be minimum fines for various violations of at least $1 million, and the maximum fine should be $50 million) and public naming and shaming.

Finally, to ensure the FCAC and OBSI do their jobs properly, and to ensure that financial consumers and investors have help when complaining to the FCAC and OBSI, require banks, trust and insurance companies to promote in their mailings and emails to customers that they can join an independent, consumer-run Financial Consumer Organization (FCO – as recommended in 1998 by the MacKay Task Force, and the House Finance and Senate Banking committees) so consumers have a place to call for help if they are gouged or treated unfairly, and to get fully independent, expert advice (See details at: https://democracywatch.ca/question-and-answers-about-the-proposed-financial-consumer-organization/). Also, banks and the largest mutual fund companies must be required to promote in their mailings and emails to customers that they can join an independent, consumer-run Individual Investor Organization (IIO – as recommended by an Ontario legislative committee in 2006) so they have have a place to call for help if they are ripped off or treated unfairly, and to get fully independent, expert advice (See details at: https://democracywatch.ca/question-and-answers-about-individual-investor-organization-iio/).

For more information, see Democracy Watch’s
Big Bank Coronavirus Accountability Campaign

Backgrounder – Weak Enforcement of Financial Consumer and Investor Protection in Canada

(April 2020)

Both watchdogs too weak in powers, and enforcement attitude, to protect financial consumers and investors

The federal government’s Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has a very weak enforcement record since it was created in 2003.

It has made only 134 compliance rulings, is prohibited from naming a law-violating bank unless it prosecutes the bank, and it has only prosecuted 2 banks (neither of them a Big 6 bank). The FCAC not only lacks resources by comparison to the similar watchdog agencies in Britain and the U.S., it is also clearly a lapdog compared to these two other agencies.

According to an article by Reuters in March 2017, and Democracy Watch’s research of fines imposed since then, the FCAC has issued fines totaling just $3.2 million since 2001 in the 134 rulings it has issued.

In contrast, since 2013 when it was created, Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has already issued penalties totalling more than US$3.5 billion, and since 2011 when it was created, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has already imposed fines of more than US$5 billion.

Key consumer protection rules need to be strengthened, and the FCAC must be required to do unannounced, mystery-shopper audits to find violations, required to publicly identify financial institutions who violate the rules, and required to impose high fines on violators. The FCAC hasn’t done unannounced audits since 2005, tipped off the banks in March 2017 about the audit they did through the rest of 2017 on abuses, and then allowed the banks to see the draft audit results and suggest changes that weakened the report.

Meanwhile, former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, and current Finance Minister Bill Morneau, have done nothing to require TD, Royal, Scotiabank or National Bank to stop using their own complaint judges and return to the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI).

An FCAC report released in February 2020 showed that the banks have a horrible record of dealing with financial consumer and investor complaints, especially the banks using their own complaint judges.

The maximum fine allowed under the Bank Act is $10 million, which is still low for the big banks who each make more than $10 billion in revenue annually, especially given that it is very unlikely the FCAC or a court will ever impose the maximum fine.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) and the Ombudsman (OBSI) will continue to be ineffective until the federal government gives them key powers and requires them to use those powers to audit banks and other financial institutions regularly and to penalize every violation with a high fine (the maximum fine should be $50 million) and public naming and shaming.

For more information, see Democracy Watch’s
Big Bank Coronavirus Accountability Campaign

Backgrounder – Canada’s Big Banks

(February 2021)

Controlling the market, and gouging out world-leading, record profits year after year for the past decade, while reducing service and treating many customers unfairly

According to Finance Canada, despite the lowering of barriers to competition 15 years ago under a World Trade Organization agreement, Canada’s Big 6 Banks:

  • Bank of Montreal (BMO)
  • Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
  • National Bank
  • Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
  • Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank)
  • Toronto Dominion Bank (TD)

control 93 per cent of all banking assets, and are more profitable than comparable banks in other countries, and than small banks in Canada, and Canada’s corporate sector overall. The big banks control of the market essentially allows them to gouge and abuse customers with excessive fees, high interest rates (especially on credit cards). As a result, government regulation is needed to stop them.

The federal government bailed out the banks with $114 billion in mortgage purchases during the financial industry fraud crisis in 2009. It hasn’t required the banks to do anything in return for that bailout, or for the protections from foreign competition that the government has given the banks since 1967.

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

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

Canada’s big banks also paid their CEOs about $12.5 million each in 2019 in salary and bonuses (55% higher than in 2008).

According to Fortune magazine’s Global 500 for 2017, three of Canada’s Big Six Banks ranked in the top 500 based on their revenues but are in the top 90 most profitable companies in the world: Royal Bank ($8.735 billion in 2017 profits; ranked #55 in total profits, #292 in revenue); TD Bank ($7.947 billion in 2016 profits; ranked #65 in profits, #337 in revenue); Scotiabank ($6.12 billion ranked #88 in profits, #430 in revenue). The profits of all three, and the other three Big Six Banks in Canada, all increased in 2018 and 2019 so they were all ranked even higher in the Global 500 for 2019. The three banks were the most profitable of the 11 Canadian companies in the Global 500 for 2017.

The federal government also continues to refuse to make the Big Banks pay their fair share of taxes to help pay the costs of the crisis. Canada’s Big Banks paid a tax rate of only 16% over the past 6 years — lower than banks in other G7 countries. The Big Banks also exploit tax loopholes more more than all other Canadian big businesses.

For more information, see Democracy Watch’s
Big Bank Coronavirus Accountability Campaign

Backgrounder – Full List of Key Bank Accountability Changes

(April 2020)

Democracy Watch’s letter-writing campaign and petition call for the following key bank accountability changes needed to make Canada’s Big Banks give everyone a break on interest rates and fees, pay their fair share in taxes, and treat everyone fairly, now and after the coronavirus crisis is over:
  1. Require banks to cut all their interest rates and fees in half now, and to cut loan payments entirely for anyone who needs it for the next few months, without requiring payment or extra interest later;
  2. Require banks to disclose the profit level of every part of their business (credit cards, mortgages, lines of credit, each other type of loan, bank machines, and investment and insurance divisions) after fully independent audits (overseen by the Auditor General);
  3. Require banks to keep all their interest rates and fees at a level that gives them no more than a reasonable profit (for example, many U.S. states cap credit card interest rates);
  4. Require banks to disclose detailed information how many people and small businesses apply for credit cards and loans or all types, and loan interest rate cuts or other relief, and accounts, and how many are approved and rejected, by type of borrower and customer, and require corrective actions if a bank discriminates against any type of borrower or customer (as the U.S. has required banks to do for 40 years);
  5. Require the Big 6 Banks 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 low-cost banking at Canada Post outlets should also be allowed);
  6. Require banks, trust and insurance companies to promote in their mailings and emails to customers that they can join an independent, consumer-run Financial Consumer Organization (FCO – as recommended in 1998 by the MacKay Task Force, and the House Finance and Senate Banking committees) so consumers have a place to call for help if they are gouged or treated unfairly, and to get fully independent, expert advice (See details at: https://democracywatch.ca/question-and-answers-about-the-proposed-financial-consumer-organization/) and also require the banks and largest mutual fund companies to promote in their mailings and emails to customers that they can join an independent, consumer-run Individual Investor Organization (IIO – as recommended by an Ontario legislative committee in 2006) so they have have a place to call for help if they are ripped off or treated unfairly, and to get fully independent, expert advice (See details at: https://democracywatch.ca/question-and-answers-about-individual-investor-organization-iio/);
  7. Strengthen key consumer protection rules, and require the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) to do unannounced, mystery-shopper audits to find violations, and to identify violators and fine them (the FCAC hasn’t done unannounced audits since 2005, tipped off the banks in March 2017 about the audit they did through the rest of 2017 on abuses, and then allowed the banks to see the draft audit results and suggest changes that weakened the report);
  8. Require all banks to be covered by the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (the Finance Minister has done nothing to require TD, Royal, Scotiabank or National Bank to stop using their own complaint judges and return to OBSI), and allow financial consumers and investors to complain directly to OBSI without having to go through a financial institution’s internal complaint system, and make OBSI’s rulings binding;
  9. Require the FCAC to name every bank and financial institution that it finds has violated any rule and, given the big banks each make billions in profit annually, to fine violators a minimum of $1 million on a sliding scale for various violations, and increase the maximum fine for violations to $50 million, which should be high enough to discourage violations;
  10. Close all the loopholes that allow Canada’s banks (and other big businesses) to evade paying taxes in Canada by pretending they make their money through companies they own in low-tax countries, and impose a special tax (as England and Australia have) on any Canadian business or bank that has excessively high profits like Canada’s Big Banks have had in the past several years, and;
  11. Require the Big Banks and other financial institutions to cut the pay of their CEO and other top executives to no more than 40 times their lowest paid employee (as in some European countries).

To see more details about why enforcement needs to be strengthened as proposed above in points #6-9, please click here.

For more information, see Democracy Watch’s
Big Bank Coronavirus Accountability Campaign