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Group hopes media will ask party leaders in election campaigns "If you break promises, will you resign?" and "Will you support passage of honesty-in-politics law?"

"Promises make politicians all warm and fuzzy, but don’t make one homeless person warm."
Dry, former homeless person, on CBC Radio (December 27, 2005)

"When all is said and done, more is said than done."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

OTTAWA - Today, with dozens of election promises being pitched by political parties in election campaigns in Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and the Yukon (and elections likely soon in Alberta, Québec), Democracy Watch called on media across the country to ask party leaders and candidates whether they will resign if they are elected and then break their promises to voters, and whether they will support the passage of an “honesty-in-politics” law.

Election debates are the perfect time for the media to pose these two key voter-rights-protecting questions.

No matter how much they study election platforms, voters simply cannot make an informed choice in an election if they do not know which of each party's promises are false, and this is why honesty in politics is a fundamental voter rights issue.  In addition, voter rights are violated when politicians or government officials mislead voters, or politicians switch parties, in-between elections.  For all these reasons an honesty-in-politics law and enforcement system with strong penalties is clearly needed in every jurisdiction in Canada to ensure voters have meaningful rights.

"If they want voters’ trust, all party leaders must pledge to resign if they break their promises, and pledge to pass a law making it easy for voters to challenge dishonesty by politicians and other public officials,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  “Hopefully the media will challenge party leaders on these key pledges, to help ensure the leaders can't mislead voters and escape effective accountability for promise-breaking and day-to-day dishonesty in politics.”

Democracy Watch called on all parties in these provinces and the NWT to promise they will pass a law making it illegal for all politicians, political staff, Cabinet appointees and all other public officials to mislead the public or be dishonest, and making it illegal except in specific circumstances for politicians to switch parties in-between elections.  The law must give citizens an easy way to file a complaint with the ethics commissioner or auditor general for the jurisdiction, and giving the commissioner the power to impose very high fines for dishonesty of any type (The federal Conservatives actually used their so-called "Accountability Act" in 2006 to cut the one federal rule that required federal Cabinet ministers to be honest).

"Voters are sick of politicians baiting voters with promises, and then switching direction when they win power,” said Conacher. "The cynicism-breeding habit of politicians and public officials misleading the public will only be stopped if voters have an easy way to challenge dishonesty, and have the misleader punished, similar to the relatively easy way that exists to challenge corporations and corporate executives that are dishonest."

If any Canadian corporation lies in its advertising, only six Canadians need to sign and send a letter to the Competition Bureau and the Bureau must investigate and determine whether the corporation lied, and what corrective measures are required.  If any corporation or corporate executive misleads their shareholders, the shareholders have the right to go to court and seek compensation.

Immigrants, welfare applicants, taxpayers and other Canadians are also required by law to be honest when filing statements with the government, and face high penalties if they are dishonest.

During federal election campaigns, and during elections in every province and territory except Quebec and New Brunswick, it is illegal for anyone to lie about a candidate, but it is only illegal in B.C. for a candidate to make false statements about what they promise to do or what they have done.  However, the B.C. system for challenging election lies is too costly and inaccessible to citizens, and does not include effective penalties.

According to the Elections Canada-commissioned poll of almost 1,000 non-voters from the 2000 federal election, the highest-ranked reason for decreased interest in politics by non-voters was “false promises / dishonesty / lack of confidence in politicians” while the second-highest ranked change that would make non-voters more interested in politics was “more honesty, responsibility, accountability” in government (Post-2000 Federal Election Survey by Elections Canada).  An Elections Canada survey in 2006 found that 60% of non-voters were turned off politics because of dishonesty and other reasons.

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

Op-ed on the clear and pressing need for an honesty-in-politics law

Democracy Watch's Honesty in Politics Campaign


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© 2011 Democracy Watch