[Democracy Watch Logo]

News Release


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch criticized all four federal political party leaders who took part in the third election debate last night for failing to give voters any meaningful guarantees that they will clean-up the federal government and make it accountable in key ways.  The party leaders continued their pattern from the first two debates of demanding that voters trust them totally without question.

“The federal political party leaders all continue to practise politics as usual by making vague promises and offering no guarantees they will keep their promises,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and chairperson of the nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition. "The leaders are asking voters to trust that they will keep their promises but they won’t even stake their own jobs on keeping their promises, so clearly they don’t even trust themselves to keep their promises.”

Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper was the first to be challenged when moderator Steve Paikin asked him the following question:
“Mr. Harper, you have run a campaign of course very strongly based on the notion that the present government has been corrupted by a sense of entitlement, and that a Conservative government would be cleaner.  However, when you were a Reform MP, for example, you said your party would never accept MP pensions but most of them did, said that the leader would never live in Stornaway but he did, said your party wouldn’t take public cars, government cars, but they did.  So, doesn’t history tell us that the opposition always runs on cleaning things up but, often, doesn’t?”

In his answer, Harper missed a golden opportunity to give voters a guarantee that he would keep his promises, for example by pledging to resign if he failed make pledged changes:
“Well, I won’t deny there’s some truth in that, however I can point out that I never did opt back in to the pension plan that I opted out of in the first place.  I still will have to serve an awful long time before I am ever entitled to a pension.  But what we’re planning to do is bring in something called the Federal Accountability Act.  So you don’t just have to take our word for it, we’re actually going to make changes that will hold our government more accountable and future governments more accountable. . .”

As is obvious from Harper’s answer, in complete contrast to his claim voters do have to take the Conservatives’ word that they will make the changes they have promised to make.

 As the discussion continued, Liberal Party leader Paul Martin made the following statement:
"Governments have to be open.  They have to be transparent.  Government has to be accountable to the people.  And when a problem occurs, you can't shrink back from it.  Leadership is to say - OK, I will suffer whatever consequences are going to take, but I'm not going to allow the integrity of government to be besmirched.  And if people do wrong, they're going to pay for it.  That is, fundamentally, the way I believe that you must deal with this kind of issue."

Martin’s actions as Prime Minister directly contradict his rhetoric as he has:

In an earlier part of the debate, Martin also set out that his standard for when a Cabinet minister must resign is when there is an allegation against a minister that is based on evidence and an investigation is launched into the allegation.  By this standard, Martin himself should have resigned in the past as he has been under investigation and continues to be under investigation for ethics violations, with ample evidence of highly questionable activities in each case.

Later in the ethics and accountability section of the debate, NDP leader Jack Layton made the following statement:
"Well I believe that Canadians will want to send a message, and should send a message to the Liberals.  After all, rewarding what Justice Gomery called the culture of entitlement would simply encourage more of the same problem, and would also send a message to Quebecers that people somehow buying the support of Quebec, or attempting to -- it was a failure, an abject failure -- is somehow OK.  But there's another message that people will want to send Mr. Martin and his Liberals, and that is that it's not OK to break your promises all the time, to say one thing and do another. . ."

The question this statement raises is: If Jack Layton believes it’s not OK to break your promises, to say one thing and do another, why has Layton failed to give voters a guarantee that he and the NDP will keep their promises (again, for example, by pledging to resign if he doesn’t keep his promises), and why has the NDP failed to pledge to pass an honesty-in-politics law?

Finally, Bloc Québecois leader Gilles Duceppe simply failed to make any clear statements or pledges about working to clean up the federal government, and instead focused on pointing out the past failures of the other party leaders.

The current party leaders have less than two weeks left in the election campaign to give voters what they clearly want -- a meaningful reason to trust them.  It will be a true test of whether they are all addicted to politics as usual, as each of their parties’ election chances would clearly improve if they would reach out to the 20% of voters who have stopped voting mainly because of the lack of honesty and effective accountability in federal politics.

“Sadly, Canadians are still waiting for a federal political leader who understands that voters want guarantees before they will entrust any government with power over them,” said Conacher.

- 30 -

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

Democracy Watch's Federal Election Campaign webpage
Democracy Watch's December 1, 2005 news release re: the need for an honest--in-politics law and call on party leaders to offer promise guarantee
Democracy Watch's December 16, 2005 news release re: the first French debate and questions about honesty in politics
Democracy Watch's December 19, 2005 news release re: the first English debate and questions about honesty in politics
Democracy Watch's January 10, 2006 news release re: the second English debate and questions about honesty in politics

Democracy Watch's Voter Rights Campaign
Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch homepage