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Honesty in Politics Coalition

Join the “Honesty in Politics Coalition” to help push for an effective system to penalize candidates, politicians and government officials who mislead the public


Background

Election candidates, politicians, and government officials across Canada are addicted to lying to the public.

Whether making “bait-and-switch” promises during elections, or trying to cover-up wrongdoing or to push their agenda through misleading statements, these lies undermine good government in every way.

How are voters supposed to vote when they don’t know what they will get after the election because all the candidates are lying?  How are voters supposed to hold governments accountable if it is legal for politicians and government officials to lie?

Dishonesty in politics is the #1 reason why Canadians don’t vote.

Incredibly, during federal election campaigns, and during elections in every province and territory except Quebec and New Brunswick, it is illegal for anyone to lie about a candidate, but it is only illegal in B.C. for a candidate to lie about what they promise to do or what they have done.

The B.C. law is a good first step, but it requires voters to file a costly court application if they believe that a candidate has lied during an election, and there is no effective penalty even if the candidate did lie.

In complete contrast, if any Canadian corporation lies in its advertising, only 6 Canadians need to sign and send a letter to the Competition Bureau and the Bureau must investigate and determine whether the corporation lied, and what corrective measures are required, and the Bureau has the power to penalize a corporation that lies in its ads.  For example, the Competition Bureau ruled that Sears Canada was guilty of lying in its advertising in 2005, and Sears was fined millions of dollars.

And if any corporation or corporate executive lies to their shareholders, the shareholders have the right to go to court and seek compensation for the damage done by the lies.  Thousands of shareholders have received compensation for losses caused by the lies of corporate executives in the past decade in North America.

Every poll taken in the past decade in Canada shows that voters are sick of the ongoing lying by election candidates, politicians and government officials, and that they want it stopped.

Every government in Canada needs to pass an “honesty in politics” law that bans lying, gives voters an easy way to complain to an independent watchdog agency, and gives the watchdog agency full powers to investigate, rule and penalize the political “misleader” with a high fine (equal to at least 2 years’ salary).


The Opportunity

The pressure is increasing on the federal government and provincial governments (especially Ontario) to pass an honesty-in-politics law.

The federal Conservatives have broken many of their 2006 federal election promises, including in the area of strengthening government accountability, and the Ontario Liberals have also broken many of the election promises they made in the 2004 provincial election.

Incredibly, the federal Conservatives actually removed (through Bill C-2, the so-called “Federal Accountability Act”) the one rule in federal ethics rules that requires Cabinet ministers, their staff, and senior government officials to “act with honesty.”  To see the details, click here.

The federal New Democratic Party (NDP) pledged in the 2006 federal election to push for the creation of a Parliamentary Commissioner who would take complaints and audit the federal government in terms of promises made and promises kept or broken.  Unfortunately, the NDP’s proposal would not cover all federal politicians and government officials, just politicians in the ruling party.

Since then, all federal political parties have ignored the need for an honesty-in-politics law, while they continue to criticize each other for misleading voters.  The NDP MP Peter Stoffer does keep trying to get a bill passed that would require an MP who switches parties in between elections to resign and run in a by-election, but that is the only initiative that

The one honesty-in-politics system that does exist at the federal level, the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO – created by the 2006 Accountability Act) who reviews the statements about projected government spending, debt and deficits by the Finance Minister and Finance Department and other ministers, has shown how useful and necessary it is to have accountability for misleading.  Several times the PBO has revealed that the Finance Minister or other ministers are misleading the public about the actual cost of government initiatives.


Join the Honesty in Politics Coalition – Sign-on to Proposals

Join the coalition by signing on to the following honesty-in-politics proposal platform by sending an email to: dwatch@web.net (For more details, go to Democracy Watch’s  Honesty in Politics Campaign campaign page):

  1. any statement made by any federal nomination race candidate, election candidate, politician or government official at any time must be covered by the law;
  2. all Canadians must be allowed to file a complaint about dishonesty;
  3. complaints about false or fraudulent advertising or statements during elections should be reviewed by the federal Commissioner of Elections, who must have the power to penalize violators (as in B.C., and similar to the existing right to complain about false advertising or fraud by businesses);
  4. complaints about false or fraudulent advertising or statements in between elections should be reviewed by the federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner);
  5. the Ethics Commissioner must only be able to excuse a broken election promise if there is an emergency situation or a complete change of situation since the election that forced the government to break the promise;
  6. the Ethics Commissioner must have full investigative powers, and full power to fine political “misleaders”;
  7. the fine must be equal to at least 2 years’ salary of the candidate, politician or government official.

and the law must also contain a specific section covering party-switching by federal politicians, including the following key measures that will give politicians a clear (and important) right to defy their party leader and caucus, but only for justifiable reasons, not just because they have career ambitions:

  1. politicians should only be allowed to switch between elections if they can prove clearly that their party has broken election promises, or switched directions on significant policies, or if their party leader does not resign after being found guilty of ethical or other legal violations;
  2. in all other cases, the politician would have to resign and run in a by-election or (if a general election is called before the by-election is held) in a general election;
  3. politicians expelled from a party’s caucus would not have to resign because expulsion is not the politician’s decision — however, to respect voter rights any politician expelled should be required to consult with voters in his or her riding about whether they should sit as an independent or join another party;
  4. to ensure that justifiable reasons for a politician’s switching decision are not abused as a convenient excuse (as they often have been in the past), Democracy Watch also proposes that the federal government’s Ethics Commissioner be given the power to decide whether the switching is valid, and;
  5. if the reason a politician has been expelled from caucus is that politician has been found guilty of unethical or illegal behaviour, then the Ethics Commissioner should be given the power to penalize the politician with suspension or removal from Parliament