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Media Release


Tuesday, February 17, 2004

OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch called on the Senate and Prime Minister Paul Martin to show some integrity and strengthen Bill C-4’s proposed ethics system (formerly Bill C-34), remove all loopholes in the Cabinet ethics code for Cabinet, and give other government accountability watchdogs clean-up powers.

Many recent events in Ottawa have shown clearly that the federal government still has a completely ineffective ethics enforcement system (the Ethics Counsellor has rubber-stamped as ethical all the following activities: corporate lobbyists working on Paul Martin’s leadership campaign and his transition team, corporate lobbyists donating more than $2.8 million to Liberal Cabinet ministers’ party leadership campaigns, Cabinet ministers taking expensive gifts and trips with lobbyists, Paul Martin weakening Cabinet ethics rules, and Martin’s conflicts of interest with his sons’ shipping company),

"If Paul Martin and federal Liberals do not correct the serious flaws in the new government ethics law and Cabinet ethics rules, they will continue the sham ethics enforcement scheme they have be running for 10 years," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition.  "Every province and territory has an effective ethics enforcement system, even Nunavut, and Canadians should not have to wait any longer for an effective federal ethics enforcement system."

Even if Bill C-4 passes and finally forces ethics rules to be passed for all MPs and senators, enforcement will still be ineffective because of serious flaws in the Bill.  Bill C-4, which proposed a new ethics enforcement system, was not passed before Parliament closed in November.  Bill C-4 eliminates the lapdog Ethics Counsellor, creates an Ethics Commissioner for Cabinet and MPs, creates a Senate Ethics Officer, and shifts enforcement of the Lobbyists’ Code to the Registrar for Lobbyists.

During the last days before closure in November, the Senate (including several Liberal senators) voted to amend Bill C-4 (then Bill C-34) to remove all independence, investigative powers, and public reporting requirements for the Senate Ethics Officer.  The Speech from the Throne did not promise an independent Senate Ethics Officer, but Paul Martin has re-introduced C-34 as Bill C-4 into the Senate, without the amendments made by the Senate in November.  If Bill C-4 is gutted by the Senate again, senators will remain completely unaccountable on ethics (except for Senator Jack Austin who, in Cabinet as Leader of the Government in the Senate, is covered by Cabinet ethics rules to be enforced by the new Ethics Commissioner).

"Senators have tried once already to gut the independence and effectiveness of their proposed ethics watchdog, and Martin will reveal just how little he cares about government ethics if he doesn’t ensure that the Senate’s ethics watchdog is fully independent and fully empowered," said Conacher.

Even before the gutting of Bill C-4 by the Senate, the bill was severely flawed because it proposed to create ethics watchdogs chosen by the Prime Minister, giving secret advice to Cabinet ministers, taking only partisan complaints, with no accountability because the public will not be able to file complaints about violations, to file access-to-information requests, or to apply to court to review a watchdog’s decision.

Democracy Watch called on Martin to ensure the Senate does not gut Bill C-4, and to strengthen the bill’s proposed ethics enforcement system in the following ways (all opposition parties have publicly supported all of the following measures to strengthen Bill C-4):

Overall, Democracy Watch also believes that the ethics enforcement system would be most effective if one fully independent, fully empowered ethics watchdog agency was created for Cabinet ministers, MPs, senators, public servants and lobbyists.  In addition, Democracy Watch believes that the Auditor General, the Information Commissioner, the Public Service Integrity Officer, and the Public Service Commission should be appointed only with opposition party approval, and need extra powers to fine wrongdoers, to order a clean-up, and to protect whistleblowers.

Even if the flaws in Bill C-34 are corrected, Cabinet ministers and their staff will continue to be allowed to act unethically because Martin introduced or kept the following loopholes in Cabinet ethics rules:

Democracy Watch’s 30-member group Government Ethics Coalition will continue to push for a comprehensive, loophole-free, independently and effectively enforced federal government ethics system.

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

 Bill C-4 information webpage

Federal Cabinet's Ethics Code

Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch's Voter Rights Campaign

Democracy Watch homepage