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"You can't allow governments, politicians, to work in a way that they do not have to keep their word."
Prime Minister Paul Martin, June 29, 2005

“We need change to make government more honest, more accountable, more democratic.”
Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, November 29, 2005

“Honesty, fairness and transparency should be the rule, not the exception in our political life.”
NDP Leader Jack Layton, November 1, 2005

Thursday, December 1, 2005

OTTAWA - Today, with the election promises already rolling out from all the federal political parties, Democracy Watch called on media outlets across the country to ask federal political party leaders and candidates whether they will resign if they break their promises to voters, and whether they will pass an “honesty in politics” law if they form the next government.

"If they want voters’ trust, all party leaders must pledge to resign if they break their promises, and pledge to pass a law making it easy for voters to challenge dishonesty by politicians and other public officials,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and chairperson of the nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition.  “If the media fail to challenge party leaders on these key pledges they will be helping the leaders mislead voters and escape effective accountability for promise-breaking.”

“I believe it is very important for political leaders to keep their promises.  But don’t over promise, and then whatever you say you’re going to do -- do.”
Prime Minister Paul Martin, May 29, 2004

Democracy Watch called on all the federal parties to promise they will pass a law making it illegal for all federal politicians, political staff, Cabinet appointees and all other federal public officials to mislead the public or be dishonest, and giving citizens an easy way to file a complaint with the federal Ethics Commissioner, and giving the Commissioner the power to impose very high fines for dishonesty.

Democracy Watch will be writing to each of the party leaders asking them to pledge to resign if they break their promises, and to pledge to pass an honesty-in-politics law.

"Canadians are sick of politicians baiting voters with promises, and then switching direction when they win power,” said Conacher. "The cynicism-breeding habit of politicians and public officialsmisleading the public will only be stopped if Canadians have an easy way to challenge dishonesty, and have the misleader punished, similar to the relatively easy way that exists to challenge corporations and corporate executives that are dishonest."

If any Canadian corporation lies in its advertising, only six 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.  If any corporation or corporate executive misleads their shareholders, the shareholders have the right to go to court and seek compensation.

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 make false statements about what they promise to do or what they have done.  However, the B.C. system for challenging election lies is too costly and inaccessible to citizens.

Perversely, the federal Elections Act actually makes it illegal for a candidate to sign a pledge:

"if the document requires the candidate to follow a course of action that will prevent him or her from exercising freedom of action in Parliament, if elected, or to resign as a member if called on to do so by any person or association of persons."
All parties must also promise to remove this section from the Act as it is a barrier to the public trying to hold any politician to their promises.  One of the few examples of a Canadian politician resigning for breaking a promise is when Sheila Copps resigned after the federal Liberals broke their 1993 election promise to eliminate the Goods and Services Tax (GST), although she won a by-election soon afterwards.

The only measures that currently require honesty by federal politicians and other public officials are the various ethics codes (although the Senate’s ethics code does not require senators to act honestly), but none of the codes explicitly allow complaints from the public, and there are no effective penalties for violating any of the codes.

According to Elections Canada-commissioned polls of almost 1,000 non-voters from the 2000 federal election (the only recent, comprehensive poll of non-voters), the highest-ranked reason for decreased interest in politics by non-voters was “false promises / dishonesty / lack of confidence in politicians,” while the second-highest ranked change that would make non-voters more interested in politics was “more honesty, responsibility, accountability” in government. (Post-2000 Federal Election Survey by Elections Canada)

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Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179

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