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News Release


Friday, December 16, 2005

OTTAWA - Today, after the missed opportunity in the first election debate last night, Democracy Watch called on the federal political party leaders to take the opportunity to gain voters’ trust in tonight’s debate by pledging “I will resign if I break my promises” and pledging to pass an “honesty in politics” law.

“If the party leaders don’t trust themselves enough to stake their own job on their promises, why should any voter believe that the leaders will keep their promises?” asked Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and chairperson of the nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition. "Clearly, if they want voters’ trust and support, 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.”

The leaders’ promise-making was put on the spot last night in three questions in a row by two voters (chosen from among 10,000 questions submitted by voters) and the moderator, Dominique Poirier.  The question from Mme. Cloutier from Ottawa, was first and she cornered the leaders by asking:

“Are you willing to swear on the Bible, or on what is most nearest and dearest to your heart, that you will keep your promises?” [translation]
All of the leaders dodged Mme. Cloutier’s question in one way or another, showing just how much they are used to misleading voters with vague commitments [NOTE: all answers are translated]: Moderator Dominique Poirier pressed the leaders, saying that they had not answered the question whether they will pledge to keep their promises.  Given a second chance, the leaders smartened up their answers, but Martin and Duceppe still tried to avoid a clear commitment [NOTE: all answers are translated]: Moderator Dominique Poirier pressed the leaders further, quoting another voter’s question about the right of voters to hold politicians and governments accountable for broken promises:
“People don’t believe politicians, they don’t believe politicians’ promises -- I have an email from Mr. Verville who says ‘Can citizens file a class-action suit if you don’t keep your promises?’” [translation]
Given a third chance, the leaders dodged again, with Stephen Harper citing his past as National Citizens Coalition (NCC) president when the NCC launched a court challenge under the B.C. election law of the provincial NDP’s promises, saying that such class actions are very difficult, while Jack Layton made the very dubious claim that a proportional representation voting system would bring honesty to politics, and Gilles Duceppe said that voters would have a chance to launch a class action against the corruption of the federal Liberals by voting against them.

Every poll taken during the federal election (and during the past decade) that has asked voters about their concerns about government (including all national polls, regional polls, phone-in media polls, and informal street polls) has shown clearly that “promise-breaking” is a top concern across Canada.

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.

"Several polls show clearly that 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 officials misleading 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."

Canadians have a right to a legal challenge of any Canadian corporation that lies in its advertising, and any corporation or corporate executive that misleads their shareholders, 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 an election candidate to sign a pledge that they will do something, or resign if they fail to do something, if elected.  As part of their promise to pass an honesty-in-politics law, all federal parties must also promise to remove this section as it is a barrier to the public holding politicians and governments to their election promises.

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

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