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News Release

Group's Final Policy Submission to Oliphant Commission Details 20 Unethical, But Still Legal, Actions By Cabinet Ministers and Others in Federal Politics, and 10 Key Flaws in Enforcement Systems

Loopholes in Ethics and Openness Laws Must Be Closed, and Enforcement Strengthened, To Prevent Ethics Violations and Excessive Secrecy

Friday, July 31, 2009

OTTAWA - Today, as the Part II Policy Review hearings of the Oliphant Commission inquiring into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair wrapped up this week, Democracy Watch released its final submission to the Commission.

  • To see a summary of Democracy Watch's initial June 2009 submission to the Commission, click here;
  • To see Democracy Watch's full initial June 2009 submission, click here;
  • To see a broadcast by CPAC of the Commission's Part II Policy Review June 15 hearing, click here, June 16 hearing, click here, June 17 hearing, click here; June 22 hearing, click here and; July 28 hearing, click here;
  • To see the transcripts of the June 15-17, June 22 and July 28 hearings, click here, and;
  • To see the Commission's Policy Review schedule and research papers and submissions, click here.

Democracy Watch's final submission details 20 unethical and excessively secret actions and situations that are still legal for Cabinet ministers, their staff, Cabinet appointees (including deputy ministers), MPs, senators, their staff and other public servants, and 10 key flaws in the federal government's ethics and openness enforcement systems.

The final submission and echoes the call made in Democracy Watch's initial submission that Commissioner Oliphant make more than 60 comprehensive, detailed and strong recommendations for changes to the federal ethics, lobbying, political finance and open government laws and codes, all aimed at closing the dozens of loopholes in rules and flaws in enforcement so that these dangerously undemocratic actions are effectively prohibited (To see full, detailed list of the dozens of loopholes in the federal government's accountability system, click here).

"In his final report this fall, Commissioner Oliphant will hopefully make clear, comprehensive recommendations to close the dozens of loopholes that allow Cabinet ministers to make unethical decisions, and allow secret donations to some political candidates, secret lobbying, and lobbying by politicians and government officials the day they leave office, and he will also hopefully make recommendations to give enforcement agencies the powers and mandate they need to ensure violators of the ethics and open government laws and codes are caught and punished,"  said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.

"The system is the scandal, and until the system is cleaned up scandalous situations will continue to occur regularly," said Conacher.

The 20 unethical and secretive, but still legal, actions and situations that are set out in Democracy Watch's final submission are as follows:

  1. Everyone in government can lie to voters about almost anything with no penalty in many cases;
  2. Cabinet ministers, their staff, and Cabinet appointees (including deputy ministers) and MPs and Senators can make policy decisions in areas in which they have financial interests;
  3. Lobbyists can work for Cabinet ministers;
  4. Lobbyists can work for all MPs (including opposition party leaders);
  5. Some Cabinet appointees don’t have any ethics rules;
  6. Documents the public has a clear right to see can be hidden for years, or for decades;
  7. Part-time lobbyists for for-profit corporations, and unpaid lobbyists, can lobby in secret;
  8. Part-time and junior ministerial staff and “employment exchange program” staff can lobby their Minister the day after they leave;
  9. Staff of MPs and Senators don’t have any ethics rules;
  10. Cabinet ministers, their staff, and Cabinet appointees (including deputy ministers) can leave and lobby part-time the next day (with only a few restrictions on who they can lobby);
  11. MPs, Senators and their staff can lobby the government and their former colleagues the day after they leave;
  12. A lobbyist can become a Cabinet minister responsible for the issues they lobbied about very soon after they are elected;
  13. Cabinet ministers can lobby anyone part-time two years after they leave;
  14. All Ministerial staff and Cabinet appointees (including Deputy Ministers) can lobby anyone part-time one year after they leave;
  15. All of the above loopholes also exist in some form for all public servants;
  16. Lobbyists can give MPs and Senators the gift of unlimited “sponsored travel”;
  17. Anyone can give an unlimited secret gift of money, property or services to any nomination race or non-MP political party leadership candidate;
  18. Political parties and riding associations can maintain secret trust funds for defeated or retiring MPs, and any senator or political staffperson;
  19. Anyone can give a secret, unlimited loan to any Cabinet minister, their staff, Cabinet appointee, MP or senator, and;
  20. It seems, because of lack of effective enforcement and/or vague laws, that MPs can be given appointments, money, property or services by other political parties in return for switching parties in between elections
The 10 key flaws in the federal government's ethics and openness enforcement systems that are summarized in Democracy Watch's final submission are as follows:
  1. The Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer ignore complaints about general unethical behaviour and conflicts of interest, and can refuse to rule on any complaints filed by the public;
  2. Cabinet ministers, their staff, and Cabinet appointees (including deputy ministers) are not required to report to the Ethics Commissioner about their work activities after they leave office;
  3. The Ethics Commissioner and the Senate Ethics Officer do not audit anyone covered by federal ethics rules (and the bank accounts of Canadian public officials are not tracked for suspicious transactions, as required under the UN Convention Against Corruption);
  4. The Commissioner of Lobbying does not audit anyone covered by the Lobbying Act;
  5. No one effectively enforces any of the rules in the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service, let alone conducts regular audits;
  6. Because the Ethics Commissioner, Senate Ethics Officer and Elections Canada do not conduct audits, anyone including lobbyists can easily give a Cabinet minister, their staff, a Cabinet appointee (including a deputy minister), an MP or a Senator or their staff, or any public servant money, property or services in secret, as Karlheinz Schreiber gave former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney money and services in secret;
  7. The Senate Ethics Officer has no independence;
  8. The Ethics Commissioner can make secret rulings;
  9. There are no penalties for violating conflict of interest rules, and;
  10. Political staff are not protected if they blow the whistle on wrongdoing, and the overall whistleblower protection system is flawed.

It is a sad fact that it is more likely people in cities and towns across Canada will be caught and penalized for parking illegally than it is likely a federal politician, government official or lobbyist will be caught and penalized for acting unethically or secretively.  Why?  Because the rules against parking illegally are stricter and more well-defined than government ethics and openness rules, and the enforcement agencies for parking rules are more fully independent, empowered and resourced than the ethics and openness enforcement agencies, and, most incredibly, the penalty for parking illegally is often more significant than the penalty for acting unethically or secretively.

"For 142 years, federal politicians have failed to establish rules and enforcement systems to ensure honest, ethical, open and representative government, and as a result hundreds of billions of dollars of the public's money have been wasted and thousands of people and hundreds of communities have been abused and harmed, often because politicians have been protecting their friends or party supporters or families or themselves,"  said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  "Whether or not Commissioner Oliphant makes strong recommendations in his fall report, Democracy Watch will continue pushing for the many changes needed to finally make the federal government a good, clean government."

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

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