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News Release

Oliphant Inquiry's Policy Review This Week Opens Door to Closing Loopholes, Strengthening Enforcement of Federal Ethics, Lobbying, Political Finance and Open Government Rules

Democracy Watch, Commission Researchers, Academics and Other Parties Make Presentations on Monday-Tuesday, Federal Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying Answer Questions About Enforcement on Wednesday

Monday, June 15, 2009

OTTAWA - Today, as the Part II Policy Review hearings begin at the Oliphant Commission inquiring into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, Democracy Watch released its submission to the Commission.

As an official participant in the Policy Review, Democracy Watch will be presenting its proposals, and also questioning the Commission researchers, academics, and federal Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying who are all testifying before the Commission (To see the Commission's Policy Review schedule and research papers and submissions, click here).

Democracy Watch's submission calls on Commissioner Oliphant to 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 cleaning up the following problems (To see full, detailed list of the 90 total loopholes in the federal government's accountability system, click here):

  • ethics rules for public officials are not well defined and have many loopholes (e.g. no requirement to be honest), and many people in federal politics are not subject to rules (including some staff and appointees of Cabinet, and all staff of MPs and senators);
  • lobbying rules have loopholes that allow mainly secret lobbying by large corporations;
  • many public officials (especially MPs and senators and their staff) are not subject to any post-employment rules;
  • openness rules have key loopholes, and many government institutions are not subject to openness rules (including the offices of all federal politicians);
  • political finance rules have key loopholes, and some people involved in federal politics are not subject to some key rules (including nomination race and political party leadership candidates, and riding associations and political parties);
  • the bank accounts of Canadian public officials are not tracked for suspicious transactions, as required under the UN Convention Against Corruption;
  • in many cases, there is no way to ensure that an independent investigation of violations of good government rules will actually occur (because the public does not have a clear right to request an investigation in many cases);
  • the Senate Ethics Officer lacks independence and key powers;
  • all ethics and openness enforcement entities lack key powers, especially to penalize;
  • all ethics, openness, political finance and communications/document processing rule enforcement entities lack the resources to ensure anywhere near a 100 per cent chance of catching violators;
  • persons who work in the offices of politicians and political party organizations are not protected from retaliation if they report wrongdoing, and;
  • in almost all cases, no penalty exists for violating ethics or openness rules.

"In his December final report, Commissioner Oliphant will hopefully make clear, comprehensive recommendations to close 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 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.

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

To give just one example of many of how weak the current ethics rules and enforcement system is, it is actually legal for a Cabinet minister to hire or appoint, as a part-time ministerial staff person or part-time ministerial appointee:

  • an in-house, part-time corporate lobbyist (who is not required to register under the Lobbying Act if s/he does not spend more than 20% of his or her time as a corporate employee lobbying); 
  • a person who has acted as a lobbyist on an unpaid basis or; 
  • a person who has lobbied only with regard to the enforcement of federal laws

and then it is legal for that lobbyist to leave the part-time staff or appointee position and, the next day, lobby the minister who hired them or appointed them.  In other words, such a lobbyist/part-time ministerial staff person/appointee is not covered by either the federal Conflict of Interest Act or Lobbying Act.

"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 has 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 December report, Democracy Watch will continue pushing for the many changes needed to finally make the federal government a good government."

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

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