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In TV Appearances, Prime Minister and Opposition Party Leaders Ignore the Fact that the System is the Scandal

(The following letter-to-the-editor, by Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch, was published in slightly different form in the Hill Times on May 2, 2005)

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Dear Editor,

In his infomercial, Prime Minister Paul Martin tried to mislead Canadians about the federal Liberals' actions to clean up the federal government, as the federal Liberals have for 11 years.  But the opposition parties also tried to mislead Canadians by claiming that this is a Liberal scandal, not a federal government scandal.

The Liberals have enacted some reforms, but mainly half-measures with fatal flaws, and Martin has taken some huge steps backwards.  And all of the parties have failed to address several key loopholes in the federal government accountability system.

Martin neglected to mention that, on his first day as Prime Minister, he severely weakened conflict of interest rules so that now (unlike in the past) it is legal for Cabinet ministers to take part in decisions that affect them directly.  Martin also ensured that the watchdog for lobbyist ethics rules remained under the control of a Cabinet minister, even though the watchdog oversees relationships between lobbyists and ministers.

Martin claimed that he has taken action to protect government employees who "blow the whistle" on wrongdoing, but everyone who has examined the draft law has criticized it as a completely ineffective proposal, and Martin has not committed to correcting the bill's many flaws, nor to passing the bill.

Meanwhile, none of the federal parties have done anything to change laws that currently allow politicians and public servants to lie to the public and keep things secret that Canadians have a clear right to know, and that allow secret donations of unlimited amounts of money to nominees and candidates in federal elections.  Nor have any of the parties done anything to increase the currently very weak enforcement and penalties for violating government ethics, openness, spending and hiring rules.

When all is said and done, much more has been said by federal politicians than has been done to clean up the federal government.

As a result, the federal government's weak accountability system is the actual scandal because it legalizes, even encourages, corruption.  No election will change the system, and no federal government will uphold the public interest and fundamental democratic principles until the system is changed.

The key question now is: will any of the federal parties focus on the public interest and take the lead in actually cleaning things up, or will they all just continue to focus on their own interest in winning power?

Duff Conacher, Coordinator
Democracy Watch

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