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News Release


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

OTTAWA - Today, in response to the federal Conservative government introducing a bill to restrict loans to candidates, riding associations and political parties, Democracy Watch called on the Conservatives to strengthen the bill by setting a maximum limit on loans, and to introduce a bill containing the 22 promised measures the Conservatives failed to include in Bill C-2 (the so-called “Federal Accountability Act” (FAA)), and to implement the 15 of the 30 measures in the FAA that are still not in force despite the fact that the FAA was passed by Parliament five months ago.

The new bill, which amends the Canada Elections Act, is one step forward of many steps needed to ensure that candidates and parties do not owe wealthy interests undue amounts at any time.  However, while the bill bans loans from corporations, unions and other organizations, and limits the combined donations and loans from individuals to $1,100 annually, the bill should also limit the amount that financial institutions can loan to candidates, associations and parties.

Loans should be limited overall to ensure that candidates, associations and parties all have broad-based support from individuals on an ongoing basis, and also because of the conflicts of interest that could arise given that the federal government regulates financial institutions.

In addition, the bill should be strengthened by requiring parties to share with riding associations a portion of the annual public funding they receive based on the number of votes they obtained in the last election ($1.75 per vote), and to provide similar matching public funding to party leadership candidates who can demonstrate that they have a broad base of support (as in the U.S.).

Democracy Watch also called on all the federal political parties to work together to correct the dozens of other key, significantly undemocratic flaws that remain in the federal government by ensuring the passage of strong honesty, ethics, openness, representativeness and waste-prevention measures that are strongly enforced with high penalties for violators of the measures.(To see a summary of the 85 undemocratic loopholes, click here)

“The federal Conservatives’ proposal to restrict political loans is a small step that will make election and leadership races more democratic but does nothing to keep their promises to require candidates, riding associations, political parties, senior politicians and government officials to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  “The Conservatives proposing one small change now does not make up for their dishonest, unethical baiting of voters during the last election with false promises, let alone failing to close 37 loopholes they promised to close.”

The FAA only included 30 of the 52 measures the Stephen Harper and the Conservatives promised to include in the Act and also cut key Cabinet ethics rules (including the rule that requires them to be honest with the public) -- To see the details about the ethics complaint Democracy Watch filed about the Conservatives' breaking their election promises concerning Bill C-2, click here.  When Harper made the FAA promise in November 2005, he claimed that all 52 measures were needed to clean up the federal government and make it accountable. 

As a result of the Conservatives failure to include 22 promised measures in the FAA:

  • the proposed new “Conflict of Interest Act” does not require Cabinet ministers, their staff, and senior government officials to be honest, to avoid apparent conflicts of interest, or to avoid discussions on matters in which they have a financial interest;
  • the proposed new “Conflict of Interest Act” does not cover all part-time or unpaid advisers to ministers, and many ministerial advisers and staff will be allowed to become lobbyists soon after they leave their positions;
  • the public will not be allowed to file complaints directly with the proposed Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner;
  • Cabinet is not required to establish nor maintain a Public Appointments Commission to ensure appointments are merit-based; 
  • loopholes in the Access to Information Act (ATI Act) are still open, many government institutions are still not covered by the ATI Act, and the Information Commissioner does not have the power to order the release of documents;
  • not all whistleblowers will be protected from retaliation, not even all public servants, nor will key information revealed by whistleblowers be made public;
  • Cabinet is not required to establish nor maintain a Procurement Ombudsman to ensure that government purchases of products and services is fair;
  • secret, unethical lobbying will still be legal because ministers and senior government officials will not be required to disclose their contacts with lobbyists, and;
  • secret donations are legal to candidates in nomination, election and party leadership races, and nomination and party leadership processes are controlled by the parties and, as a result, are often be undemocratic and unfair with no clear right to appeal abuses and violations of rules.
Even though Parliament passed the FAA on December 12th, 15 of the 30 measures in the FAA are not in force and will only come into force when the federal Cabinet approves them, and the Cabinet is not ever required to approve the 15 measures. (To see a summary of the key measures in Bill C-2, the so-called Federal Accountability Act, click here)  The 15 key measures are as follows:
  • measures that weaken ethics rules for federal Cabinet ministers, their staff and senior government officials, but hopefully will lead to the appointment of a new Ethics Commissioner who, in contrast to recently resigned Commissioner Bernard Shapiro and former Ethics Counsellor Howard Wilson, will enforce ethics rules;
  • measures that increase disclosure requirements in the federal lobbying law and will turn the current lapdog Registrar of Lobbyists into an independent watchdog;
  • measures that add 50 government institutions to the list of institutions covered by the federal Access to Information Act
  • measures that establish the Public Appointments Commission to help ensure Cabinet appointments are made based on merit, and;
  • measures that establish the Procurement Ombudsman to help ensure government purchases of goods and services are done fairly.
Beyond these 37 measures the Conservatives promised but failed to implement, there are another 48 well-identified, undemocratic flaws in the federal government that allow politicians and officials to act dishonestly, unethically, secretively, non-representatively and wastefully and not be penalized in any way.

Democracy Watch and its nation-wide coalitions will continue pushing for these 85 key changes.

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

Democracy Watch's Clean Up the System webpage

To see a summary of the key measures in Bill C-2, the so-called Federal Accountability Act, click here

To see a summary of the 85 undemocratic loopholes in the federal government's accountability system that Bill C-2 does nothing to close, click here

To see the details about the ethics complaint Democracy Watch has filed about the Conservatives' breaking their election promises concerning Bill C-2, click here

To see an opinion piece about Bill C-2 by Democracy Watch Coordinator Duff Conacher which was published in two Canadian newspapers, click here

To see Bill C-2, the so-called“Federal Accountability Act”and related federal government documents go to: http://www.accountability.gc.ca

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