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News Release


Friday, March 10, 2006

OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch pointed to the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the federal Ethics Commissioner and all federal political parties in addressing the fiasco of the complaint against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appointment of party-switching David Emerson to Cabinet.

To ensure fair, impartial and competent ethics enforcement in terms of the current complaint and in the future, Democracy Watch called on Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro to resign or delegate immediately his decision-making authority to a provincial ethics commissioner.  Democracy Watch also called for the dismissal of the Ethics Commissioner as soon as possible, and for a merit-based appointment process for the next Ethics Commissioner (and for all other government watchdogs) to ensure that a person such as the current Commissioner who has no relevant experience or expertise is not appointed again to any of these positions (all of which are key to having a democratic, ethical, open and waste-preventing federal government).

The hypocrisy and dishonesty of all involved in the current complaint situation is clear from the following facts:

“Stephen Harper’s hypocritical appointment to Cabinet of the dishonest, party-switching David Emerson is being matched by hypocritical and dishonest criticism from the opposition parties,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  “Canadians should be disgusted by the Prime Minister’s and Emerson’s actions, but also by the opposition parties’ defence of the incompetent, biased Ethics Commissioner.”

“If the federal political parties actually had integrity and wanted effective ethics enforcement, they never would have approved Bernard Shapiro as Ethics Commissioner or, at the very least, they would have voted to fire Shapiro a year ago,” said Conacher.  “If the opposition parties wanted to show any integrity now, they would be as interested in passing a resolution firing Shapiro as they are in passing a resolution to find the Prime Minister in contempt of Parliament.”

Democracy Watch believes the current situation is such a serious threat to fair, impartial and effective ethics enforcement that all party leaders should send formal request letters to the Ethics Commissioner calling on him to resign or at least delegate his decision-making authority temporarily until Parliament has an opportunity to consider firing the Commissioner when it opens in early April.

Some commentators may suggest that the Ethics Commissioner could delegate his decision-making authority to the Deputy Ethics Commissioner or other senior member of his staff, however this would not make things better in any way as the Commissioner’s senior staff formerly worked for the Ethics Counsellor, and the entire Office of the Ethics Counsellor was found to be biased and incompetent by the Federal Court in its July 2004 ruling on Democracy Watch’s court challenge of the Counsellor.

Democracy Watch filed a court challenge of the Ethics Commissioner on September 29, 2005 for bias against maintaining a reasonable standard of enforcement of federal ethics rules for Cabinet ministers, ministerial staff, and MPs (Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Court Cases).  As a result, Democracy Watch does not believe that the Commissioner is capable of issuing rulings that are fair and impartial nor that interpret and apply the federal ethics rules properly.  Democracy Watch expects long-term court challenges will be necessary to obtain fair, impartial and coherent rulings on these and several past complaints it has filed.

“If federal Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro had any sense of integrity or respect for his office and the importance of fair, impartial and competent ethics enforcement, he would have resigned a year ago,” said Conacher.  “He should definitely either immediately resign or delegate his decision-making authority to a provincial ethics commissioner to end, finally, the sham ethics enforcement system that has tainted the federal government for 20 years.”

Democracy Watch will file a complaint with the Ethics Commissioner on Monday against Prime Minister Stephen Harper and David Emerson because of the Cabinet appointment, and will also file a complaint against Paul Martin and Belinda Stronach for her past party-switching Cabinet appointment, and will ask the Commissioner to step aside and delegate his decision-making authority over the complaints given the many actions and statements by the Commissioner since he was appointed in May 2004 that show he is biased and incompetent.

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

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