IF THRONE SPEECH IS A PACK OF LIES, CANADIANS NEED AN EASY WAY TO HOLD GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABLE
Tuesday, October 1, 2002
OTTAWA - Today as part of its ongoing Voter Rights Campaign and in response to yesterday's Speech from the Throne by the federal government, Democracy Watch challenged the federal government, and governments across Canada, to finally take steps to help ensure honesty in politics by establishing an easy way for Canadians to challenge lies by politicians and other public officials.
In the Speech from the Throne, the Chrétien government stated that it "will" do almost 100 general or specific things. Canadians deserve an easily accessible method to hold the government accountable if any of those "will do" promises are lies.
"The sickening, undemocratic, and cynicism-breeding habit of politicians lying will only be stopped if Canadians have an easy way to challenge lies, and have the politician punished, similar to the relatively easy way that exists to challenge corporations and corporate executives who lie," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.
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 will investigate and determine whether the corporation lied, and what corrective measures are required. 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.
During federal election campaigns, and during elections in every province and territory except Quebec and New Brunswick, it is illegal 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.
Among other rules, part I, sub-section 3(1) of the federal Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders (the Public Office Holders Code) states that public office holders must "act with honesty . . ." However, the Code is enforced by the Prime Minister, with assistance from the federal Ethics Counsellor who has no investigative powers and is completely under the control of the Prime Minister, and as a result the Code is almost never enforced.
To bring honesty to federal politics, Democracy Watch proposes the passage of a law making it illegal for a politician or other public official to lie, giving Canadians an easy way to file a complaint to a new, fully independent, fully empowered Ethics Commission made up of three commissioners, and very high fines for politicians and their political parties if they lie. Every other government in Canada should also set up a similar system, and their systems should also apply to municipal governments in each province or territory.
To ensure ethical behaviour in the federal government, the newly created Ethics Commission should also enforce the Public Office Holders Code, a strengthened Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, the promised ethics code for MPs and Senators, and the code of conduct and "whistleblower" system for public servants. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Chrétien made no promises in the Speech from the Throne to make the enforcement of federal ethics rules independent and effective.
"Yesterday, Prime Minister Chrétien continued to make his usual misleading, insincere claims about 'democratic traditions' and 'open, accountable' government," said Conacher. "But almost everything he has done in the past nine years has made the federal government more undemocratic, unethical, secretive and dictatorial."
The federal government is the only government in North America without an independent and fully empowered ethics enforcement system. Even the new government in Nunavut has established an independent Integrity Commissioner.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Coordinator
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Democracy Watch's Voter Rights Campaign
Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign