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News Release

Group calls for “Political Hot Air Tax” to penalize broken promises and false claims
All party leaders asked to pledge to pass an honesty-in-politics law,
and to pledge to resign if they break any election promise

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

“We’re only making promises we can keep . . . read our platform, and you’ll see promises that we will keep.”
Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, December 15, 2005
(NOTE: the Conservatives broke at least 30 of their election promises)

“Leadership demands honesty.”
Liberal Party Leader Stéphane Dion, February 6, 2008
(NOTE: Liberals have done nothing to ensure honesty can be demanded from leaders)

“Honesty, fairness and transparency should be the rule, not the exception in our political life.”
NDP Leader Jack Layton, November 1, 2005
(NOTE: the NDP did almost nothing since the last election to make honesty the rule)

“A government that cannot keep its promises is a government that will not have the moral authority to govern.” [translated]
Bloc Québecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, December 15, 2005
(NOTE: the Bloc has done almost nothing to ensure governments are required to keep promises)

“I have made a commitment to myself, to may family, and I make the same commitment to voters, that I’ll tell the truth all the time.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, March 5, 2008
(NOTE: but will the Green Party platform include measures to require people in politics to tell the truth?)

OTTAWA - Today, with the election promises and false advertising rolling out from all the federal political parties, Democracy Watch called on all party leaders to show respect for voters by pledging to enact a “Political Hot Air Tax” through an honesty-in-politics law that ensures broken promises, and false statements by anyone involved in federal elections and the federal government, are penalized with high fines.
Democracy Watch has sent (and will send daily) a message to all party leaders asking that they make this pledge and also pledge to resign if they break any election promises (unless unforeseen circumstances arise, or in a minority government situation during which opposition parties change the ruling party's proposals).
Democracy Watch also called on reporters, and voters, across Canada to ask federal political party leaders and candidates again and again, every time they make a promise, whether they will make these two pledges.
"If they want voters’ trust, party leaders must show they trust themselves by pledging to resign if they break any promise, and by pledging to pass a law making it easy for voters to challenge dishonesty by politicians and government officials," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.
It is, in fact, impossible for voters to choose from amongst the parties as long as it is legal for the party leaders to lie.  No matter how much time a voter spent comparing the parties’ election platforms, a voter cannot make a choice when they know that some of the platform pledges are false.  That’s why dishonesty in politics is a fundamental voter rights issue and the top government accountability issue.

The federal Conservatives’ broke half of their 55 so-called “Accountability Act” promises, including by removing the rule from the ethics code for Cabinet ministers, their staff, and Cabinet appointees that required them to “act with honesty” (the rule was never enforced because of negligence by past ethics commissioners and prime ministers - For example, to see details about former Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro's reign of error, click here) -- To see Democracy Watch's December 2007 Report Card on the Accountability Act, click here

Federal MPs all agreed in June 2007 to amend their 2004 ethics code to ensure the rule that requires them to be honest is unenforceable.  And senators didn’t even put a rule in their 2005 ethics code concerning honesty.
Only small steps forward have been taken in the area of honesty in federal politics.  The Conservatives’ so-called "Accountability Act" created the Parliamentary Budget Officer who can review the state of government finances and spending at the request of an MP or senator, to help ensure truth-in-budgetting.  However, the Officer can be fired at any time for any reason by the federal Cabinet, and so lacks the independence needed to do the job properly.  Meanwhile, the Liberals have promised that, if elected, they will empower the Auditor General of Canada to confirm their carbon tax is revenue neutral.
Democracy Watch’s proposed honesty-in-politics law would make it illegal for all federal politicians, their staff, appointees and government officials to make false promises or statements at any time (overriding the parliamentary privilege MPs and senators abuse daily), and would also restrict MP party-switching between elections (To see an op-ed on the subject of party-switching by politicians, click here).  Anyone would be allowed to file a complaint with the federal Ethics Commissioner who would have the power and mandate to impose very high fines on misleaders.
"Broken promises and false claims make our politics dirty just like pollution makes our air dirty, so just like we need laws and taxes to clean up our air, we need an honesty-in-politics law and Political Hot Air Tax to clean up our politics," said Conacher. "The cynicism-breeding habit of politicians and government officials misleading the public will only be stopped when their dishonesty can be easily challenged and punished, similar to how the public can challenge dishonest corporate executives."
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.

Politicians have also passed laws requiring taxpayers, welfare applicants, immigrants, and most professionals to tell the truth when they fill out government forms.
During federal, provincial and territorial election campaigns (except in Quebec and New Brunswick), it is illegal for anyone to lie about a candidate, but it is only clearly illegal in B.C. for a candidate to make false statements to voters (but the B.C. system for challenging election lies in court is very ineffective) -- To see a 2000 B.C. court decision about the Glen Clark NDP government making a false claim during an election, click here -- To see a 2004 Ontario court decision about the Dalton McGuinty Liberal government breaking an election promise, click here.
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."  An honesty in politics law would eliminate this section of the Act.
According to Elections Canada-commissioned polls of almost 1,000 non-voters from the 2000 and 2004 federal elections (the only recent, comprehensive polls 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

Democracy Watch's Federal Election 2008 webpage

To see an op-ed about the honesty-in-politics law proposal, click here

Democracy Watch's Honesty in Politics Campaign page